Mobilising a democratic election involving more than 900 million voters over 75 days is a massive undertaking. It is even more remarkable when unprecedented numbers of women, people with disabilities and transgender voters turn up.
That was the Indian general election in May 2019 where Mr Ashok Lavasa, one of the country’s three election commissioners, oversaw the push for systemic voter education and greater electoral participation.
Mr Lavasa has been named the International Alumnus of the Year at Southern Cross University’s inaugural Impact Awards at the Lismore campus. He and his wife travelled from India to attend the event. Created to mark the University’s 25th anniversary, the Impact Awards celebrate the people—both staff and alumni—who push boundaries, create change, and lead the thinking to make a better world.
In his acceptance speech, Mr Lavasa shared wisdom gained from almost four decades as a public servant in India.
“The world faces three challenges: preserving, promoting and strengthening democracy; proceeding with development, especially in impoverished countries, while preserving the environment; and finding resources. So in the process of preserving the environment I don’t accept that development should not take place. Remember the International Labour Organisation moto, poverty anywhere in the world is a threat to prosperity everywhere,” he said.
He urged Southern Cross to work in this direction: that while employing technology for development, aiming to maintain the ethics or the ethnical core that is going to save this world and planet.
Vice Chancellor Professor Adam Shoemaker said the University was grateful to Mr Lavasa for making the journey to attend the 25th anniversary Impact Awards.
“Mr Lavasa’s achievements are, in a word, magnificent. It is humbling to realise that the power of his achievements lives on in every ballot cast in the world’s largest democracy. There can be no greater example of the ability of higher education to cross international borders and to effect change that matters most to people everywhere,” he said.
Mr Lavasa has held a number of leadership positions during his 37 years as a public servant in India since graduating with a MBA from Southern Cross University in 1997. He has been finance secretary; environment secretary; joint secretary in the economic affairs department; and principal secretary of the power and renewable energy department.
His successes are significant. Mr Lavasa was the leader of India’s official delegation at COP 21 when the Paris Agreement was negotiated in 2015. He has been directly involved in facilitating foreign direct investment, multilateral and bilateral financing for social sector programs and infrastructure development, promotion of global trade, combating climate change and desertification, finalising nationally determined contributions for limiting carbon emissions, fostering energy efficient technologies, promotion of renewable and non-fossil sources of energy, and evolving a market mechanism for carbon credits.
Mr Lavasa lived in Lismore in 1996 and 1997 while completing his Master of Business Administration at Southern Cross University. Even then his global outlook and understanding of human relationships were finely tuned. He was instrumental in organising a cricket game, ‘Hit Racism for Six’, in 1996 in the wake of Pauline Hanson’s racist comments during her maiden speech to federal parliament.
He was nominated for the 2011 Southern Cross Business School Alumnus of the Year.