Najma Habeeb

Brand flame overlapping fireworks with text Happy New Year and the Centre logo
Author Tim Thomas
Date 20 December 23

It has been a busy and rewarding six months since commencing as the inaugural CEO of the Centre for Australia-India Relations (the Centre). Whilst there have been many highlights, perhaps the most memorable was the launch of the Centre by Prime Minister Albanese in May during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Australia. 
Since then, I have travelled across Australia and to India meeting with key stakeholders across government, educational and cultural institutions, business, and the Indian diaspora to discuss opportunities in the relationship and how the Centre can target its programming and support to create the greatest impact. The level of interest and engagement from stakeholders has been exceptionally positive.  There is a strong view that the Centre can make a tangible and enduring impact to uplift the relationship across a range of economic, cultural, and policy dimensions. There is clear ambition to transform the trade and investment relationship in a way that builds endurance in the relationship. A key part of that will be through the living bridge of our Indian diaspora and a Team Australia approach in sectors of the economy that matter most to the stability and prosperity of our region.
Our inaugural Advisory Board, made up of eminent Australians from sectors across the breadth of the bilateral relationship, has met twice since their appointment, including travelling to India to meet with key Indian government ministries, education and cultural institutions, and business representatives. I have greatly appreciated the Board’s energy and passion, and tremendous personal support in my first year as CEO. I would especially like to acknowledge the support of the Advisory Board Chair, Swati Dave, who has provided invaluable counsel and guidance in how we make this Centre as outcome-focused as possible, with an emphasis on delivery.
A foundational milestone for our first six months of operations has been the development of our inaugural three-year Strategic Plan. This plan outlines our vision and key priorities across our four pillars of work, supporting the long-term transformation of our economic relationship underpinned by mutual understanding and deep people-to-people ties. I am pleased to share the Strategic Plan with you today, following approval from our Foreign Minister and significant contributions from our Advisory Board and many of our key stakeholders. Importantly, our inaugural Strategic Plan has given us the opportunity to define who we want to be as an exciting new addition to the Australia India architecture – inclusive and collaborative, innovative and adaptive, bold and ambitious, and impact and outcomes driven.
I look forward to sharing more information about the range of new initiatives we are developing for delivery in 2024. We will continuously look to amplify the great work that our ecosystem is already delivering, and signal through our programs and through strategic partnerships where our collective focus can truly move the dial in the bilateral relationship.
A core part of the Centre’s role is the delivery of our various grant, scholarship, and fellowship programs. The Centre has already delivered an inaugural funding round for six projects under our Maitri Cultural Partnerships program. These are now well underway, and I look forward to seeing the first creative collaborations roll out in 2024. We aim to launch the next round early in the new year.
The Maitri Scholars and Maitri Fellowships programs are both currently open for applications and will close in January. The Scholars program offers exciting opportunities to attract top Indian STEM PhD and Masters’ students to study at Australian universities while the Fellowships program will facilitate a two-way exchange of strategic thinkers and foreign policy and trade experts. Both programs will deepen the understanding of contemporary perspectives in each country and forge new and lasting bonds.
In January 2024, the Centre will support Australia's strong presence at the Tamil Nadu Global Investors Meet and the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit. These summits will enable Australian participants to showcase their capabilities to key Indian business and government stakeholders and facilitate new trade and investment opportunities.
The Centre’s achievements in our first six months of operations are testament to the hard work of its staff, including those involved in its pre-launch establishment phase.
May I take this opportunity to wish you season’s greetings for the holiday period and a happy and healthy 2024!
Best wishes