My ANU Gala MC Speech – the fire lit within

I was the MC at the Australian National University (ANU) Melbourne Alumni Gala Dinner to farewell our beloved Chancellor Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC for his service. Gareth is a great public figure, public policy maker and intellectual who used his profile to give voice and a platform to Asian-Australians to talk about the serious under-representation of Asian-Australians in our society.

In my 6 minute speech, I talk about Gareth’s contribution to the Asian-Australian and ANU communities and the fire that has been lit in me through the creation of the Inaugural Asian-Australian Leadership Summit this year, which resulted in

Video by Wesa Chau, Founder of Cultural Intelligence.

Image and audio layering by Wilari Tedjosiswoyo.


Gareth Evans is a phenomenal trailblazing public leader, intellectual and policy maker. In the words of the late Kofi Annan in describing Gareth’s contribution and legacy, he said “One of Australia’s leading figures and one of the world’s great internationalists”.

But what some of you may not be aware of, is Gareth’s willingness to use his influence in the public space to support the social issues that require a champion and ally.

So if you would indulge me for just one moment, let me share with you what Gareth is to me.

In March this year, Gareth delivered a ground-breaking speech titled ‘Asian-Australians: Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling’ at Asialink’s Sir Edward Dunlop Lecture in Sydney. I describe the speech as ground-breaking because it kickstarted the momentum that resulted in the Asian-Australian Leadership Summit. A joint collaboration between ANU, PwC and Asialink who are both with us tonight, and represented by Sung Lee and Penny Burtt respectively.

It was the largest and far-reaching event that ANU was co-created and hosted in Melbourne. It was held here at the State Library Victoria and brought together over 300 influential and emerging Asian-Australian and non-Asian-Australian leaders from across the country to address the serious under-representation of Asian-Australians in senior leadership positions.

The numbers are stark – while 12% of the Australian population are Asian-Australians, only 1.6% are represented in the most senior of leadership positions.

This was a significant event, as never before had we discussed this topic and its associated issues at the national level underlying this – the lack of role models for future generations, differences in leadership style and the existence of the ‘Bamboo Ceiling’.

The Bamboo Ceiling represents the barriers that exclude ethnic Asians from executive positions on the basis of subjective factors such as ‘lack of leadership potential’ and ‘lack of communication skills’ but these factors cannot be explained by job performance of qualifications.

For many Asian-Australians such as myself, we have an amazing capacity to flow and function seamlessly between different cultures. Coupled with this, it also brings a range of complexities such as family pressures and at times, not feeling fully accepted in either culture.

On a personal level, this was the first time that I, as a 38 year old Asian-Australian Woman, felt a sense of belonging. It was the first time that I felt I belonged because of my identity and not only because of my achievements and connections.

And I wasn’t alone.

This summit provided a platform for extraordinary individuals to connect with each other, to openly discuss this issue and to take bold and courageous actions to change the leadership landscape of Australia.

It has activated the Asian-Australian network, and as a leader and public figure, Gareth has empowered many individuals to accept themselves for who they are and to truly live their potential.

This summit has lit a fire in me. A bonfire even. A burning desire that is driving me to help the next generation of Asian-Australians. Recently, I publicly launched my project, to support and mentor Asian-Australian Women in their 20s and 30s to align their life and career paths with their true desires, strengths and values.

To become real leaders of the 21st Century.

I am doing this through sharing my stories and learnings on my website –

This is the impact that Gareth has on the ANU Community.

This is the impact that Gareth has on our country.

And for reasons such as this, I am incredibly proud to be an ANU Alumna.

This is who Gareth is to me.

Gareth – on behalf of the Asian-Australian Community, fellow ANU Alumni and Friends, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for your work in championing this summit and for all your work that you do in advancing equality, inclusion and cohesion.

Jean Sum – 2019 ANU Gala MC



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