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Your background is your strength - Akhilesh Bansidhar nominated for ECHO Award

Published on 22-11-2022
UvA student Akhilesh Bansidhar is one of three students who have been nominated for an ECHO Award, a prize for successful students with a non-Western background who stand out as a result of their entrepreneurial attitude, organisational capacity, active social involvement and constructive approach to challenges related to exclusion.
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Akhilesh studies Law and Tax Law at the University of Amsterdam. He is also taking Latin American studies at Leiden University. He is currently on exchange in Argentina in Buenos Aires, where he is studying Economics and Law (in Spanish) at the university where Queen Máxima also studied. Alongside his studies, Akhilesh works in various ways to create a more inclusive society. He is the founder of Active Minds, a consultancy that brings young people into discussion with organisations from the public and private sector. He is also the initiator and a co-founder of the non-profit association Labour Migration Foundation, by means of which he works to improve the legal status of migrant workers in the Netherlands.

Photo Akhilesh Bansidhar

Congratulations on your nomination! How do you feel about being nominated?

‘I’m really pleased about it. I feel that ECHO is a very special award in the field of diversity and inclusion, an issue I consider to be very important. For me, this nomination really confirms that I am making a valuable contribution.’

Among other things, you make this contribution through Active Minds, your own consultancy for young people. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

‘Active Minds is a consultancy firm in the areas of diversity and inclusion and youth participation. We bring the worlds of young people with a bicultural background and organisations closer together by arranging and supervising student panels. In these panels, students and organisations can honestly discuss matters such as what diversity and inclusion mean to them. In the process, we create mutual understanding.’

‘For example, students may not feel comfortable with certain organisations, such as law firms on the Zuidas, because they feel that they ought to drink beer every Friday. They can point this out during a panel and organisations can then take this into account. This doesn’t mean that nobody should drink beer or that the policy should be changed completely, but it’s good to listen to the different voices at the table. It increases the adaptability not only of the organisations, but also of the students.’

So you want to bring the worlds of young people and organisations together. Why did you choose this?

‘I think it's very important to work in an organisation in which everyone feels at home. Where everyone enjoys going to work and is accepted for who they are. This will allow us to create a pleasant working environment together.’

In addition to your work for Active Minds, you are also one of the founders of the Labour Migration Foundation the Netherlands. What does this non-profit organisation do?

‘We focus on improving the legal status of migrant workers in the Netherlands, My great-grandparents were labour migrants who went from India to Suriname to work there. They were contract workers on the plantation, filling the labour shortage after the abolition of slavery. Personally, I was born in the Netherlands and owe my position to the efforts of my grandparents. Although we can’t change their legal status back then, we can improve the position of current migrant workers. That's why we work with a diverse group of socially engaged students on this topic.’

What message do you want to convey with your current efforts to promote diversity and inclusion?

‘I would like to be a role model. I feel that diversity and inclusion are also about motivating each other. Personally, I would like to motivate students with a bicultural background to build a network. I also really want to tell them to make the most of their studies and seize the opportunities they are given. Don’t regard of your background as something you should be ashamed of, but as something to be proud of. Because we will only be able to build an inclusive future once we can all be proud of who we are.’

‘In my case, it all comes together in a quote: “Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness, it is the key to growth.” For me, this quote shows that it is sometimes difficult to bring about change in the areas of diversity and inclusion, because adaptation is always complicated. But it is an important step. It ensures growth and for me, this is a prerequisite for a better society.’

About the ECHO Award

With the awards ceremony, the national expertise centre for diversity policy ECHO helps to shine a light on excellent students with a non-Western background who can contribute to creating equal opportunities for all. Winners are rewarded with a fully organised summer course at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in the United States.