STUNNING ACHIEVEMENT

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Since the time she arrived in Australia about 12 years ago, Preeti Daga’s career has been on an upward trajectory. She has one message: dare to dream.

Preeti Daga clearly dons many hats. A public relations professional and a charismatic voice for many causes, her journey from India to Australia has been quite a smooth ride, contrary to the assumption that migrants generally find it hard to get a toehold in the industry of their choice. However, Daga attributes her success to sheer drive, hard work, courage, and most importantly, daring to dream big.

Daga was already a careered media and public relations with a Masters in English from Delhi University when she arrived in Australia 12 years go. She had worked in companies such as Philips Electronics, where she developed and implemented integrated marketing campaigns for the consumer electronics division of the company

But Australia was new. By her own telling, Daga knew nothing about the industry in Australia. “All I knew was, there is a market here and public relations is my forte, and that I should just give it a try.”

It isn’t surprising that Daga fell in love with Melbourne the moment she set foot into the city. And when she got called for an interview with Community Housing Ltd (CHL), Australia’s largest not for profit affordable and social housing provider with over 11,000 properties under management and a global presence that spans across eight countries, it would go on to change her life in more ways than one.

“I started my journey with CHL, which was still nascent and evolving, and I am still with them. As the company grew, I grew,” reflects Daga, who is today the Global Head of Corporate Communications at CHL.

For one thing, Daga quickly learnt to apply her essential public relation skills in the company using it for reputation management, profile building, issues management, advocacy, et al. “The community housing sector emerged from what was previously known as Housing Commission. It stepped in to fill the gap between private rental and social housing and cater to the needs of, say, people who could not afford private rental and were ineligible for social housing,” she explains.

“Over the years, various incentives, schemes and initiatives have come about. The population of Australia has grown to over 25 million, but there is not enough housing, there is a huge gap between incomes vis-à-vis ownership. Where we fit into the puzzle is, we provide rental accommodation at a subsidised rate, we are not into selling.”

It’s an experience that has been enriching. She modestly admits to “being a part of the company’s vision which invested in its people and took the people along with it. I am not taking any credit for the success of the company. It is a collective effort. The fact that my role grew from when I first started shows I am part of the success story. I feel valued.”

But if her years at CHL has taught her much, it has also shaped Daga into a leader of sorts pushing her into the forefront of community and charity works.

“I always wanted to connect and build my network, learn, share and expand not only my skills but my relationships. But when I first moved here, I only knew a handful of people. So, my first network was my diverse colleagues at work who whole-heartedly welcomed me. Australia has a huge culture of giving. Therefore, credit goes to some of my colleagues who really pushed me in that direction,” she says.

When colleagues took her to the AFL games, Daga knew immediately AFL was the heartbeat of Australia. “The journey started from there.” True enough, Daga has been an AFL Diversity Ambassador for about four years now.

Her passion for diversity and inclusion has led to further involvement with a wide range of programs from promoting anti-bullying, awareness of domestic violence to youth mentorship. She is also an ambassador for other premier organisations such as Bully Zero Foundation. Daga has also acted in close to a dozen short and feature movies on topics of mental health and domestic violence, an interest that stemmed from her college theatre days back in Delhi.

An advocate for equality, Daga is also the official Brand Champion for the just-concluded ICC T20 World Cup 2020.

This year, Daga became President of the Australia India Business Council (AIBC), Victoria, the peak business body fostering trade and business dialogue between India and Australia for more than 33 years. She has also served as the Vice President of the Victorian chapter since 2016.

“India is the fastest growing economy, tipped to be in the top five by 2030, so Australia really has to capitalise that opportunity. It’s amazing that the two countries already have a deep relationship and a great bilateral tie. The AIBC is all about how to foster that further, how do we promote the opportunities that exist for Australia to expand and diversify its businesses and provide avenues for Australian companies to grow,” she says.

Learning not to eschew challenges has led her to newer roles. Recently Daga was appointed to the Victorian Multicultural Commission’s (VMC) Regional Advisory Council for the North West Metropolitan Region until 2021 advising on migrant matters to the commission. She is also on the board of Public Relations Institute of Victoria and is the Chair of the Industry Advisory Committee for Public Relations at RMIT University.

Daga has been recognised for her community leadership and honoured with the 2018 Pride of Australia medal, Victorian Multicultural Commission’s Emerging Leadership Award (2018), Non-Resident Indian (NRI) Achievement Award in 2016 and the India Australia Business & Community Awards (IABCA) Awards in 2017.
Asked how she was savvy enough to bag all these roles and awards, Daga smiles, “Nothing happened overnight but one thing led to other where I just kept meeting people and the more I met people, the more networks I made. My perspectives and my connections opened. I was the one to say ‘I can do it, I am not going to sit back’. You throw a challenge at me, I will take it. People were willing to give me that opportunity and support me along the way. I am grateful for that.”

Clearly, Daga has brought with her the career ambitions of educated young women who crave for progress and change and belonging to the overarching strive for equality. “Equality has been close to me right from the time I was growing up. I come from a humble, traditional Jain family where the roles of men and women were clearly defined. I grew up knowing that’s not how I want to be, I used to rebel but I have to give it to my parents who supported and understood me. For them, it was harder to defy their own norms and allow me to do what I wanted to do. I had my fair share of disagreements and battles with them, but they gave me the power of education,” she says, adding, “My biggest motivation growing up was to make my parents proud by my choices.”

Asked how she manages work-life balance, Daga replies, “True that there are only 24 hours in a day. But that doesn’t mean you cannot do the things you love and are passionate about. Each and every role is a passion project for me, so I don’t really see it as work. Over time I have learnt to manage my time effectively. The key thing I have adopted in my working style is to prioritise and re-prioritise regularly and, where possible, delegate within the teams I work with. It’s important to constantly evaluate what you value and work to ensure your work-life balance aligns with those priorities.”

Daga lives by the mantra ‘Work Hard but Live Harder’. Moreover, she says she is blessed with an amazing and supportive partner and a wonderful support system of friends and family. “As much as I love to work, I love spending time with them. I enjoy gardening and cooking so those are my daily stress relievers. Making time for all of this is non-negotiable for me as they are important for me to be able to recharge my batteries to go out each day and do what I love to do and give it my best.”

What about challenges along the way? “One issue faced by most professional working women, including myself, has been the invisible glass ceiling. As we all know women are underrepresented in leadership positions across the board and therefore fewer role models which mean lesser opportunities for career advancement.
“But one thing I’ve learnt is it’s important to always find ways to add value to your organisation and also taking opportunities that may seem risky, uncomfortable and out of your comfort zone at first but offer great exposure and a chance to learn something new and challenging.”

Daga is uniquely doing what she is doing combining responsibility and pleasure. “In an ever-changing world it’s important to be flexible, collaborative and to keep constant learning a priority. I am presently enrolled in a leadership course and an avid listener of podcasts on leadership. I totally love what Indra Nooyi says, “Be a lifelong student”.”

Most importantly, Daga likes to point out that Australia is the place to change your life. “If there is a country that will welcome, embrace and give you that opportunity based on your merit, you are in the right country. But, dare to dream and have courage in your convictions,” she implores.
Who is arguing?

By Indira Laisram