Advance Awards 2021: Introducing the Alumni Award Finalists

Thanh Van Dang

Thanh Van Dang grew up in a small rural village in the north of Vietnam. As a peanut seller on the street, she dreamed of more than having one new tee-shirt per year and travelling beyond the 18km radius from her home. Today, Ms Van Dang is an internationally acclaimed technology entrepreneur and an inspirational figure for women in Viet Nam. Ms Van came to Australia on a scholarship and completed her Bachelor of Computer Science at The University of Sydney in 2004. Her father had bought a computer to hire out to the villagers and a young Ms Van Dang had taken the opportunity to teach herself coding. Since that moment, Ms Van Dang has believed deeply in ‘a beautiful life enabled by technology’. Her own journey is proof of the transformative power of innovation. From her platform as founder and CEO of Savvycom, Ms Van Dang is promoting the future of Vietnam as a digital economy, and a digital nation, evinced by a high growth IT industry already supporting a flourishing wave of local tech startups and investment from foreign giant tech companies.

Ms Van Dang built Savvycom into one of Vietnam’s top 30 leading tech companies in software services and IT outsourcing. The company started with just 4 engineers, and now has a team of over 100, known as Vietnam’s most trusted Tech / Solution Provider. Ms Van Dang has been named by Forbes magazine as one of 15 Global Leaders to Watch in 2017, was the ASEAN Female Entrepreneur of the Year, and is currently the next Asia Society-Victoria Distinguished Fellow. As one of Vietnam’s most influential leaders in STEMM, Ms Van Dang is keen to strengthen the growing relationship between Australia and Vietnam by facilitating strong business connections in tech, innovation, and entrepreneurship, through outreach and people-to-people engagement. A passion topic for Ms Van Dang is the empowerment of women through tech. Her involvement in the Hanoi Women Entrepreneur Association, Cherie Blair mentoring foundation, and Fortune US Department of State partnership mark her as a challenger to the social status quo. Ms Van Dang has great hope for the next generation and a desire to see ‘more and more women who are brave enough to become future leaders alongside men’.

“I have a strong belief in a beautiful life enabled by technology. I also love developing people. Having the opportunity to bring innovation into life by leveraging engineering workforce in Vietnam is what drives me forward every single day.”

Dr Sameer Dixit

Dr Sameer Mani Dixit is an intrepid biomedical researcher, proving to the world that preeminent research institutes are not only vital but viable in emerging nations. From his home country in Nepal, Dr Dixit travelled to the US and then Australia to receive a Ph.D. in Science and Health from Western Sydney University. He returned home to a role with Kathmandu University and became determined to establish health and environmental research as a pathway to a brighter future in a country where research was neglected and disease awareness was low. Co-Founding the Centre for Molecular Dynamics Nepal, Dr Dixit’s entrepreneurial spirit saw him collaborate with the Nepali Government, the World Health Organisation and global research institutes on infectious diseases.

Dr Dixit and his team are shaping national policies with their field and lab-based studies. Holding additional roles as Director of Research across Intrepid Nepal and Nepal Public Health Foundation, Dr Dixit’s guiding light is in pioneering biomedical research that facilitates effective health interventions in Nepal and other developing countries. He is a widely published and recognised expert in human health, One Health, immunology and molecular biology, and is Nepal’s foremost authority on antimicrobial resistance. The Western Sydney University awarded Dr Dixit the International Alumni of the Year in 2017 and today he is looking at setting up a student exchange program with the university. When Dr Dixit is not in the lab, he can be found behind or in front of the film camera. As the co-host of the Good Morning Nepal breakfast show for 3 years, he used his public platform to bring important scientific, political and social issues into the national discourse. A passionate advocate for the role of education in the control and prevention of disease and the betterment of society, Dr Dixit’s ultimate starring role will come when he fulfils his vision is to establish Nepal not only as a hub for natural beauty, but a global centre for science and biotechnology.

“It has been my constant professional quest to understand various infectious diseases and how those impact the local, regional and global population. There can be no better motivation than this.”

Jose Pacamalan

Jose ‘Apollo’ Pacamalan is the ingenious social impact powerhouse behind a range of pioneering provincial agriculture organisations in the Philippines. Mr Pacamalan is the founder of the innovative Rice-Duck Movement Inc. supporting farmers with an organic, climate-smart, accessible, and resilient rice production system. Two ‘life-changing’ years at Flinders University achieving a Master in Environmental Management, inspired Mr Pacamalan to return home to help secure more than 1,000 hectares of conventional rice farms to experiment with incorporating ducks into the production supply chain. The ducks fertilise the rice crops, increase production by eating insects and other pests, and produce meat and eggs, providing both family nutrition and income for the smallholder farmers, who are often living on the poverty line. Mr Pacamalan’s ultimate goal is to increase rice production from 1,000 sacks of milled rice a day to 12,000 sacks daily in order to meet 100% of the province’s demand.

Food Security is a key focus for Mr Pacamalan in an emerging economy impacted by regional conflict, recurring climate crises and a prolonged pandemic. As Head Provincial Agriculturist at the Provincial Agriculture Office, concurrent themes of his work include poverty alleviation, environmental regeneration and decreasing malnutrition. His ability to draw from locally accessible resources and scale income for local livelihoods is astounding. Mr Pacamalan has mobilised private sector support to establish and operate a 7-hectare Provincial Agriculture Development Complex, enabling the continuous distribution of vegetable seedlings for rural and urban farmers and households.

“The only thing that remains constant in this fast changing time is Food Security. The  Integrated Rice Duck Farming System, which I pioneered in the Philippine countryside, could be a major contributor in ensuring that rice supply and its parallel duck meat and  egg community enterprise could significantly respond to the unpredictable food supply  chain during these uncertain times of prolonged pandemic and the recurring natural  calamities!”

He has also implemented an Integrated Coconut Processing facility that will produce 12 coco-based products and allow coconut farmers to receive better prices. A partnership with the CocoPallet company will recover millions of coconut husks to be used as coco-based pallets for export across Asia. Yet another income source Mr Pacamalan is cultivating for farmers is the planting of bamboo for carbon trading and production of laminated boards for export in partnership with the Bamboo Ecologic Corporation. Mr Pacamalan is not only feeding communities, he is feeding hope, knowledge and sustainable agricultural practices to secure the livelihoods of future generations.

‘The greatest accomplishment in my work is when I see poor farmers and households grow in terms of their skills and talents in farming systems.’