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2015 Women of the Year Awards

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The NSW Women of the Year Awards recognises the outstanding contribution women across NSW make to industry, community and society, and celebrates their significant achievements.

In 2015, the Awards included five categories: the Premier's Award for Woman of the Year, REX Airlines' Regional Woman of the Year, Harvey Norman's Young Woman of the Year Award, A.H. Beard's Community Hero Award and Local Women of the Year.

229 nominations were received from across NSW. The 2015 Women of the Year Awards were presented on 4 March 2015 at NSW Parliament House by the Premier and Minister for Women.

Winner of Premier's Award for Woman of the Year 2015

Professor Minoti Apte OAM, Pancreatic Cancer Researcher, Ingham Institute

Minoti Apte

Professor Minoti Apte is internationally acknowledged as a leading researcher in the field of pancreatic diseases, particularly chronic inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) and pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is one of the most deadly cancers with a five-year survival rate of just six percent.

Professor Apte's work investigates pancreatic cancer at a cellular level to find out how and why the cancer is so aggressive and spreads so quickly. She was the first in the world to develop a method to isolate pancreatic stellate cells (PSCs), a technique which provided a research tool for studying the path that pancreatic fibrosis (scarring of the pancreas) takes. Her group established that PSCs were responsible for producing the prominent scar tissue in pancreatic cancer and that there was a close communication between PSCs and cancer cells. This important finding proved that cancer cells recruit normal pancreatic cells from their microenvironment and turn them into co-conspirators to help the cancer grow and spread to distant parts of the body.

The next phase of Minoti's work is to stop the cancer cells working with normal cells. She is currently leading pre-clinical studies that are anticipated to create a new combination therapy to help improve treatment outcomes for people with pancreatic cancer.

In 2014, she was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for her services to medical research, tertiary education and the Indian Community. Minoti plays an active role in research training through her supervision and mentorship of PhD, Masters and Honours students. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Pancreatology, a specialist journal in her field. Minoti's publications have received over 3400 citations and she is regularly invited to speak at national and international scientific meetings. She has received national and international awards and honours in recognition of her work over the years.

On the community front, Minoti is an active member of the Marathi Association of Sydney, a community organisation that serves a large section of the Indian diaspora in Sydney. She has served on the organising committee, provided programs for community radio, and plays an active role in cultural events through her work as dance choreographer and performer. She is highly sought out by members of the community for advice and guidance on careers in academic/educational fields.

Other awards and media coverage

Minoti was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2014, and is often a speaker for various events.

Winner of REX Airline's Regional Woman of the Year Award 2015

Barbara Cowley, volunteer and fundraiser, SHINE group mentoring program

Barbara Cowley

Barbara Cowley helps young women in the Hunter Valley develop their own personal worth, strength and purpose through a group mentoring and personal development program called SHINE. SHINE aims to help young women realise their potential and prevent problems such as drug and alcohol abuse.

Barbara became a volunteer with the program in 2013 and, realising its far reaching potential, a dedicated fundraiser shortly after. In 2014, in lieu of regular birthday celebrations, Barbara created a new fundraising event called ShineWALK180.

Over seven days she walked 180km from Cessnock to a suburb in Sydney's north. The distance represented the 180-degree turnaround that she saw in the lives of women and girls who attended the program. The $27,000 she raised has helped expand the program throughout the Hunter region. From an initial goal of 10 Hunter girls she has raised enough funding for 385 girls and women to shine. She will repeat the walk in June this year.

Barbara also volunteers her time with Father Chris Riley Youth Off the Streets Reading program, and has organised women's empowerment nights within the Hunter Valley region.

She recently arranged a Breast Cancer awareness event "Unite to Fight" as well as a pop up shop to provide care baskets to women undergoing breast care treatment in local hospitals. She is on the Maitland City Carols organising committee which attracts more than 5000 people annually from across the region.

Barbara is driven by her desire and her belief that the Hunter Valley can, and will be, a location that really encourages and facilitates women to SHINE.

Barbara is also a wife, mother, marketing director and marriage celebrant.

Winner of Harvey Norman's Young Woman of the Year Award 2015

Annabelle Chauncy OAM, joint founder, School of Life Foundation (Uganda)

Annabelle Chauncy OAM

Annabelle is joint founder of the School for Life Foundation (SFLF), which focuses on delivering high quality education in rural Uganda. The Foundation helps build productive and sustainable communities through education. The model is based on community ownership and empowerment, and is designed to be replicated across the developing world.

The School for Life Foundation provides the support students need, including health care, clean water, uniforms and three meals a day. Annabelle works tirelessly to ensure that SFLF continues to grow. Her energy and enthusiasm has enabled her to commence plans for the construction of two new schools in 2015, which will educate 1600 students.

Together with co-founder David Everett, Annabelle has transformed a vision into an organisation that now employs more than 50 people, educates hundreds of children and adults and provides health care and access to clean water for more than 1000 people.

Annabelle manages the Australian operations of the Foundation, overseeing staff, developing donor relationships and organising fundraising, marketing, media and events. In the past four years she has raised over two million dollars.

Annabelle grew up on a sheep and cattle farm in the Southern Highlands. She excelled at school and moved to Sydney for university. In 2007, at the age of 21, Annabelle spent 3 months volunteering in Kenya and Uganda. Her time with women's organisations, street children, medical camps and orphanages motivated Annabelle to work to help provide education for those in need. She returned numerous times and in November 2008 to March 2009. Her experience led her to found School for Life Foundation (SFLF) with David Everett in 2008.

Annabelle channelled her passion and legal experience to establish the international organisation, negotiating with the Ugandan government, local officials and village elders, assisting with recruitment of local teachers and building relationships in Australia.  Annabelle worked as a nanny to support herself while the organisation and first school in Katuuso was established.

Winner of A.H. Beard's Community Hero Award 2015

Lana Borg, Co-founder, Mama Lana's Community Foundation

Lana Borg

When asked to cook a Christmas Eve banquet for Penrith's homeless in November 2013, Lana and her husband Roger realised that there was a great need to help the less fortunate in their local community.

Mama Lana's Community Foundation was born, and has been serving hot home-cooked meals for homeless people in Penrith, four nights a week, ever since. Lana does most of the cooking herself, making more than 400 meals a week in her little kitchen.

Lana's love of cooking began at an early age. Her oldest memory is standing on a chair, stirring the big pot of porridge on a timber-fuelled stove for her three siblings. Making their breakfast and school lunches were the best way she could care for them.

Lana says that one of her life goals and an objective of her foundation is to let people know that there are others out there who truly care, and want to help them get back on their feet.

As a result, not only does the foundation assist those in need of food, Lana also takes crisis calls for families that can't afford to buy food, supplies bedding, blankets and clothing and recently furnished a room for a baby.

When the bushfires ravaged Winmalee in October 2013, Mama Lana pitched in by feeding the firefighters. With the help of friends, she cooked 350 meals a day plus barbecue breakfasts and dinners for the volunteers.

It was going through some hard times herself, including an abusive father, a failed first marriage and business, and Lupus diagnosis which inspired Lana to start Mama Lana's Authentic Italian Meals with her new husband Roger.

Her childhood love of cooking, which got her through many of her life challenges, has led to the success of Lana's business and most importantly outstanding contribution to her local community through the Foundation.