David Cameron’s Woman of the Year, Dame Asha of Vision West Notts, talks of International Women’s Day

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Entering through the doors of the impressive Vision West Nottinghamshire College for this interview took me back to my last visit, over 25 years ago, when I nervously awaited my A Level exam results.

Entering through the doors of the impressive Vision West Nottinghamshire College for this interview took me back to my last visit, over 25 years ago, when I nervously awaited my A Level exam results.

The building is totally transformed since that day in the 1990s but my nerves return as I prepare to meet the Dame Asha Khemka.

As Dame Asha joins me I can’t help but be surprised by her success as this petite, demure Dame welcomes me and tells me how her path in life has led her here.

“I arrived in England on a snowy January day in 1978 from India,” remembers the woman, who was married as a mere girl. “I followed my husband here, who was training to be a doctor, and came with our three young children to a place where I didn’t even know the language.”

It’s not a rags to riches story like you might expect though, as Dame Asha is from ‘good stock’ with family forming part of the Indian judiciary.

“I come from a family with an authoritative background,” she says. “Determination to succeed is in my DNA.”

But in those early days, Dame Asha’s drive to achieve was not directed by her own aspirations but her children’s.

“My focus was totally on my children and my dream was to make them excel and achieve.”

With several scholarships under their belts, which led to a private school education at top schools, their path in life was secured and their mother’s hopes and dreams had been realised through them.

Knowing her children were set for a vertical track allowed Dame Asha to switch her attention away from supporting her husband’s career and children’s education to her own personal career ambition.

“At first I started secretarial college thinking the skills could support my husband’s role but my confidence was boosted by teachers who said I could do more,” she remembers with pride.

A teaching qualification followed which became a turning point for Dame Asha who
 revealed a true tenacity to teach and inspire learners.

“There was a real satisfaction in being in control and shaping my own direction. Now all my focus and ambition translated to me and my husband recognised the need in me and made changes too.”

Over a 20-year period, Dame Asha held various positions within the further education framework before finally achieving the position of principal at West Notts but it wasn’t all plain sailing.

“I met much resistance along the way but I believe I gained people’s confidence by delivering the results I promised,” says Dame Asha.

“My motivation is to make a difference and to do this you have to be brave and bold and be confident to challenge people and processes along the way.

“I have a very analytical mind and I am outcome driven which makes me rigorous and demanding but I also lead by example.

“I may have rubbed some people up the wrong way as I have had to make some hard decisions but I’m not a person who has regrets.

“Mistakes have been made but when things go wrong you reflect, learn and recover.

“It is about being yourself and I’ve never been prepared to change my style or who I am.”

The mistakes may have happened but it is the successes of this formidable woman that have been recognised by many if the number of accolades is anything to go by.

Dame Asha was awarded the OBE for services to education in 2009 and five years later in 2014, she became the first Indian-born in living memory to be named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire.

And in December, Dame Asha was named Woman of the Year by the Prime Minister, David Cameron.

All high praise indeed for someone who recognises her gender and race have enabled her to ascend to this stratum of success.

“I believe that as a woman I can do more and have a better understanding of people and behaviour,” she adds. “Being Asian has also made me more determined as I come from a culture of proving yourself and together with ambitious DNA, an energetic view on life and a supportive family, have contributed to who I am today.”

This woman is without doubt a force to be reckoned with and needs to be as principal of one of the country’s biggest further education colleges with over 30,000 students and also holds the role of chief executive of what is now a multi-million pound business.

Dame Asha now claims that her fight for recognition is behind her as she looks to the future.

She remains as committed as ever to education and in 2008 she founded the Inspire and Achieve Foundation. This is a charity dedicated to transforming young people’s lives and maintains a connection with her home country by ‘spearheading education developments’.

“My position now gives me the platform to inspire,” she adds. “Principals may come and go but I hope I can leave behind a legacy.”