Department of Family and Community Services

2014 Harvey Norman's Young Woman of the Year Award finalists

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This Award shines the spotlight on young women 18-30 years of age who have excelled in aspects of their career or community-related efforts. Four inspirational young women were selected as finalists for the Harvey Norman's Young Woman of the Year category with the winner (selected by public vote) to be announced at the NSW Women of the Year Awards on 7 March 2014. Read more about our finalists below:

Kimberley Abbott from Werri Beach

"I believe the way to help people is not to give them a hand out - it's about giving them a hand up. It's about empowering people with the skills and knowledge so that they can help themselves."

At 23, Kimberley Abbott has already established a reputation as a young leader, entrepreneur, and inspirational change-maker. She is passionate about empowering women to think outside the box and explore all opportunities available to them.

Kimberley is an Engineer at Thales, a multi-national company, where she has been recognised as an emerging leader in a male-dominated environment. Her success demonstrates her commitment and can-do attitude, breaking gender barriers and giving young women a positive role model.

Kimberley's dedication to empowering other young women, particularly in traditionally male-dominated fields, inspired her to start the 'Yes WE (women Engineers) can!' program. The program inspires and supports women to consider a career in engineering and science.

During Kimberley's five years of study she gained two degrees with honours in science and engineering and completed a thesis where she helped develop the world's most advanced artificial heart.

Kimberley is Founder and Director of Roka, a social enterprise developed to break the cycle of poverty through economic empowerment of women. Through the 40K Group, and partnerships with Australian Universities and TAFES, Roka empowers young Australians to be a part of social change by training them to address social issues with their business and entrepreneurial skills. They can then utilise their knowledge and experiences to make real changes for the future.

Working with the 40K Group, Roka also employs impoverished rural Indian women, providing them with economic empowerment and personal pride. As a result education facilities are available to all the children within the village providing them with literacy, numeracy, and life skills and equipping them for a brighter future.

Kimberley's hard work and dedication was recognised in 2013 by the Financial Review and Westpac, when Kimberley was announced as one of Australia's top 100 Women of Influence, and was a finalist in the Young Leader category. In 2012 Kimberley was named Young Australian Citizen of the Year by Kiama Council and was a finalist in the 2011 Pride of Australia Medal in the Young Leader category.

Being a firm believer that knowledge is precious, that we need to take it, feel it, and pass it on, Kimberley also devotes much of her time to mentoring and inspiring other young women to achieve their potential.

Lakshmi Logathassan from Holsworthy

"Not many people have the good fortune of growing up in a country of freedom and equal opportunity. I am one of the lucky few – so why not make the most of my chance to help those less fortunate."

Lakshmi Logathassan is a high-achieving law student from the University of Western Sydney who at just 18, dedicates her time to developing and implementing projects that provide access to education and promote the values of equality and a fair-go for all.

In 2012, Lakshmi seized her opportunity as School Captain of St George Girls High School to initiate the 'Laptop Project'. The project collects government-funded laptops from school-leavers and sends them to students in rural and remote schools in Kenya and Sri Lanka. What began as a school project in 2012 has now, in its third year, branched out as an inter-school initiative amongst several high-schools across Sydney. To date, 250 laptops have been donated, allowing thousands of students to gain access to a better education, and in turn, a world of possibilities.

Having heard of her parents' experiences as migrants, Lakshmi is aware of the various challenges that migrants face when adjusting to a new country. Last year, Lakshmi was a part of a team that successfully applied for the Holroyd City Council Community Assistance Program. The grant is currently funding the 'Laptops for IT Training Program' that aims to provide essential IT training to newly-arrived migrants.

In the summer of 2012-13, Lakshmi travelled to a rural area in Sri Lanka to run an English Fundamentals workshop, teaching the students how to speak and read English. She continues to work with the local schools to develop an English teaching program tailored to the students in that particular region. She has also volunteered with a number of charities including Amnesty International, Legacy and The Australian Red Cross.

Lakshmi's experiences have made her mindful of the fact that many young talents are unable to prosper simply because their circumstances fail to allow them to reach their full potential. Through her studies and community work, she hopes to slowly but surely reverse this situation.

In the future, Lakshmi hopes to combine her education in law with her passion for equality to continue to identify and address key areas of social imbalance. Her achievements highlight that with some confidence and enthusiasm, it is never too early to think big, set goals and make a positive difference.

Bee Orsini from Five Dock

"I share my story because the issue of youth homelessness is so hidden and young people aren't reaching out and getting the help they need."

Bee Orsini is a school liaison officer, presenter and workshop facilitator for The Salvation Army's Education and Outreach Initiative. Bee is dedicated to breaking down barriers that hold young people back from reaching their full potential, by equipping young people to better support themselves and others.

Bee has presented to over 30,000 students, providing them with the opportunity to explore themes such as belonging, building resilience, overcoming adversity, supporting themselves and others, and how stereotypes and attitudes can contribute to social issues.

Bee's role with The Salvation Army is not a job but a passion and purpose as she knows only too well the reality of being homeless. Bee left home when she was young following a severe family breakdown. She didn't have a real home for years and was often in dangerous and self-destructive situations. When living on a friend's couch was no longer viable, Bee found The Salvation Army Oasis. This personal experience ignited Bee's desire and determination to raise awareness of youth homelessness – an issue that affects more than 44,000 people under the age of 25.

In 2013, Bee co-founded The Salvation Army Ambassador Movement, a leadership development platform which aims to equip students to be part of the next generation of history makers, addressing social issues.

Bee has since made enormous inroads in challenging the stereotypes that act as barriers for young homeless people accessing help. Bee has shared the stage with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Sir Richard Branson as well as worked with Cate Blanchett on a youth homelessness initiative. Bee has participated in mission trips, hosted the National Youth Homelessness Awareness Schools Tour and is the 2014 official ambassador for Youth Homelessness Matters Day. She is also a sought after guest speaker, committee member and mentor.

In 2012, Bee was awarded Young and Extraordinary by the Foundation for Young Australian's and named one of the Top 100 Women of Influence in the Young Leader Category by the Financial Review and Westpac.

Bee is an inspirational young woman with a first-hand experience of being homeless which has motivated her to support others to access the information and resources they need to help themselves. Bee strongly believes awareness doesn't equal change, it instead equals the choice to create change in your life.

Jennifer Star from Goulburn

"Being an Australian woman is a privilege -the work I do to empower women and girls in a culture that often does not afford similar support and freedoms has opened my eyes to the opportunities that are available to women in NSW."

Jennifer Star is a young and enthusiastic teacher, who has always excelled academically and in sport. Despite having many options for a bright future in a comfortable, safe environment Jennifer has chosen to dedicate her life to women and children who don't have access to the education and resources that most of us take for granted.

Conscious of her privileged upbringing in Australia, in 2009, Jennifer followed her passion to help others and went to New Delhi, India to work with women and children. With a Masters in International Education from Oxford University, Jennifer decided to use her education to help empower women and children and founded an Education not-for-profit organisation called Tara.Ed (www.taraed.org).

Jennifer remains the driving force in Tara.Ed, committed to achieving her vision of providing quality education for 20,000 children in India and Bangladesh by the year 2020. She is well and truly on her way to achieving her goal with her organisation already impacting 21 schools, 250 teachers and over 8,000 underprivileged children in rural and remote areas of India and Bangladesh.

Tara.Ed has developed a specific focus on empowering young women and in 2013 provided over 50 scholarships to 'at risk' girls aged between 11 and 16, to encourage them to complete a full course of education.

Although India was named the most dangerous country to be born a woman by the United Nations in 2012, Jennifer remains committed to her cause and continues to travel most of the year between India and Bangladesh.

Her work is not limited to India and Bangladesh. Jennifer has also engaged over 2,000 NSW Public School children in rural areas such as Bowral and Goulburn to work with schools in India through the Tara.Ed School Connect program. The program helps the younger generation understand social and cultural issues that other children face around the world.

Jennifer's drive and can-do attitude has seen her compete in a number of elite sporting championships. She was Australia's first medallist in Judo at the Youth Olympics in 2005 and a top-ten finisher in the 2009 and 2011 World University Championships. In her spare time she uses her judo skills to teach self-defence to underprivileged girls in New Delhi's slums.

Jennifer's achievements were recognised when she was named the NSW Young Australian of the Year in 2012. She has also been acknowledged by Oxford University receiving their Vice Chancellor's Civic Award in 2012.

Commitment and dedication have seen Jennifer take the opportunity to challenge herself and really make a difference in a place where help is needed most. Her courage and passion to change the lives of women and children through education is inspirational.