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South Asian Women’s Leadership Forum Hosts Historic Gathering Of South Asian Women Professionals

Press Release

The South Asian Women’s Leadership Forum (SAWLF) held its second annual Congress on Saturday, February 25, 2006 at the global headquarters for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP in New York City. The annual Congress united more than 350 women professionals, representing the U.S.; Canada; Europe; and Asia,. in order to discuss the opportunities and challenges women address as they pursue lives and careers. As a part of the day-long conference, SAWLF presented twenty-six private and public sector women leaders who shared their stories of challenge and achievement.
Founded in 2003 by marketing professional Simi Ahuja, the South Asian Women’s Leadership Forum (SAWLF), is a national, non-profit organization committed to the advancement of South Asian women in the marketplace.
“I started SAWLF in response to a void I saw in the community. When I moved to New York five years ago, I was impressed by the South Asian women professionals that I met but concerned that they lacked the visibility, mobility and ample resources required for professional advancement and leadership development,” Ahuja said in response to Congress’ sell-out participation. “At the time I started SAWLF, I, too, required a professional network - - one I could draw from in order to jumpstart my young business. I found other women had a similar need.”
The Congress 2006 opening keynote presentation featured serial entrepreneur Vani Kola in conversation with Career Catalyst Lakshmi Pratury, a high school friend from Hyderabad, India. It was over twenty years ago in California that the high school friends (Ms. Kola and Ms. Pratury) were reunited after having bumped into each other while both trying to find their footing in a new country. Since then, Ms. Kola has started two successful technology companies and has become one of Silicon Valley’s top ten entrepreneurs. Ms. Kola traveled to Cong! ress from Silicon Valley accompanied by her young daughter, Tara.  Ms. Kola was one several participants who brought their daughter with them as part of a new Mother-Daughter program introduced this year.
Panel Presentation: Women Initiating Change
The opening panel presentation, Women Initiating Change, featured four remarkable women who have impacted change through their professional and personal commitment to private and public sector reform.  Through their work, questions about religious and cultural freedom have been asked; individual liberties have been secured; innovative programs for women have been created; and a sense of community has been expanded. Panelists included: NAACP attorney Vanita Gupta; microfinance specialist Fawzia Naqvi;  Indicorps co-founder Sonal Shah; and Shamina Singh of Citigroup.
Panel Presentation: India: Opportunities in Today’s Marketplace
In response to the growing need for information about professional opportunities in India, Congress 2006 included an interactive dialogue with Consul General Neelam Deo, of the Consulate General of India, New York. Ms. Deo also discussed the current state of the marketplace as well as its impact on working women in India today.
As part of its ground-breaking content, Congress 2006, featured a segment with  Indra Nooyi, the president and CFO for PepsiCo., Inc.,
Meena Mansharamani, the senior vice president for innovation and insights  at Pepsi-Cola North America and SAWLF Founder, Simi Ahuja.
This special segment allowed two leading-edge professionals to engage in a discussion that highlighted winning business strategies and practices as well as their individual experiences of challenge and achievement.
The Wall Street Journal has named Indra Nooyi as one of its "Top 50 Women To Watch." The global ranking is designed to recognize women who have achieved noteworthy successes in business in the past, as well as those who are poised to play important roles in business in the years to come.
Panel Presentation: Women in Media
The afternoon panel presentation, Women in Media, gave panelists featured Monsoon Wedding screenwriter Sabrina Dhawan; Penguin Group Senior Editor Beena Kamlani; Madhulika Sikka of NPR; and Model and Author, Padma Lakshmi, the founder  of Lakshmi Films;  the opportunity to debate and discuss how women, including South Asian women, are portrayed in the mainstream media. Panelists also shared observations on the visibility of women in the present-day media industry and opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
Through a new program initiative, Vertical SAWLF, a “peer network” of women facilitate professional achievement and career guidance for SAWLF participants in law and public policy, finance; and business.
In the Women in Business panel, entrepreneur Shoba Purushothaman of the NewsMarket, Inc. shared effective strategies for building and financing successful businesses. The Women in Law and Public Policy
presentation featured
Ms. Prabha Sipi Bhandari, Esq., VP Senior Counsel,
Mergers & Acquisitions, Viacom, Inc. and
Ms. Megha Bhouraskar, Esq., Partner, Poppe and Bhouraskar LLP
Over 150 finance professionals participated in the Women in Finance segment featuring Ms. Neetu Bhatia, Vice President, BMO Financial Group's Media & Communications Investment Banking Group; Ms. Sheila Hooda, Managing Director, Global Equities Division, Credit Suisse and Ms. Shanthi Weeransinghe, Agency Sales Director, North Shore Financial Group, MetLife
UK comedic sensation Shazia Mirza, delivered her uncensored, no holds barred, one-woman performance as a part of the program's closing reception.
Over 35 companies donated product and services for the annual Congress 2006 silent auction held throughout the day. The auction helped raised awareness and funds for SAWLF’s mentoring program that facilitates professional achievement through career guidance. Contributors included: Northwest Airlines/KLM; The Taj Hotels & Palaces; Raj Bhakta from The Apprentice and fashion designer Payal Singhal.
Congress 2006 also included a diverse and growing number of corporate partners including: MetLife; PepsiCo; Merrill Lynch; the law firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson; Harris Nesbitt ; Kamboh Financial Planning; Goldman Sachs; KPMG; Deutsche Bank and Ernst & Young
“The women at the Congress represen! ted myriad of professional and personal experiences bound together by their common heritage and experiences as women living and working in the U.S. The Congress is a testament to the success South Asian women have achieved, and gave us all a chance to learn from each other’s experiences and be inspired to create new opportunities,” said Congress 2006 participant and New York business owner Antara Prasad of Teyaari.com.
SAWLF serves women professionals across North America; Europe and Asia. SAWLF provides educational pr! ograms and networking opportunities; conducts research; and offers outreach that supports the advancements and accomplishments of women at all stages of professional development.  

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1.hi March 29, 2008Deepti N Baxter 

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SAWLF Founder Simi Ahuja leads an interactive conversation Indra Nooyi and Meena Mansharamani (Nan Melville Photography).

Consul General Neelam Deo Addresses Congress 2006 Participants (Nan Melville Photography).

Women in Media Dhawan; Kamlani; Sikka and Lakshmi (Nan Melville Photography

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