Australia’s Asian Top 40

A diverse group of individuals who’ve made an outstanding contribution to Australian life have been named among the 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians for 2021

13 September 2021 | Asian-Australian Leadership Summit (Image: Marcus Reubenstein)

Vietnamese-Australian actor, comedian and writer, Diana Nguyen, has been named the overall winner of the 2021 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards, for her leadership, creativity and humour in shining a light on inclusion and diversity in contemporary Australia. In a period of enormous upheaval and uncertainty for artists and entertainers, Nguyen reminds Australia of the power of authentic storytelling and community connections. Her renowned web series – Phi and Me – and podcast platforms including The SnortCast, have shown resourcefulness, great initiative and have had deep national resonance.

Amongst the 40 awardees this year are professional footballer and Olympian, Samantha Kerr, Captain of the Matildas and team member of the Chelsea Football Club in the Women’s Super League; environmental engineer, Qilin Wang, who transforms wastewater treatment plants into carbon-neutral energy generators; Frances Voon, a refugee lawyer advancing the rights of forced migrants; and Seiji Armstrong, a trust and safety specialist leading a dedicated team at Google’s headquarters to protect child safety and eradicate Covid19-related racial vilification online.

“These awards shine the light on the extraordinary pipeline of Asian-Australian talent with a view to ensuring that the boards and leadership teams of Australia’s most significant organisations are more reflective of our diverse population,” says Jason Johnson, founder and Managing Partner of Johnson Partners and co-convener of the Awards.

This year, an additional award category was introduced: The Under 25 Rising Star, in response to an abundance of submissions from high achievers under the age of 25. Zahra, an Australian of Palestinian-Iraqi heritage, is an international advocate for gender equality and refugee rights, who worked with the Australian embassies in France and Mexico to deliver the UN Generation Equality Forum in June this year.

“There is a growing awareness and confidence among young Asian-Australians to step up as leaders, be recognised and be role models for others. It is an exciting near future for Australia and for organisations, like Asialink, dedicated to driving meaningful creative engagement with our region,” says Dr Pippa Dickson, Director of Asialink Arts and co-convenor of the Awards.

“Chronic under-representation will inevitably impact Australia’s future success. The Awards broaden the diversity agenda and highlight the achievements of Asian-Australians. As a past recipient, it continues to inspire me to meaningfully contribute to the nation’s most important issues,” says Tuanh Nguyen, Director of Legal at PwC Australia and co-convenor of the Awards.

The Awards – now in their third year – were announced during a virtual presentation on 7 September. As an initiative of the Asian-Australian Leadership Summit, co-convened by Johnson Partners, Asialink at the University of Melbourne, PwC Australia and the Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership at the Australian National University. The Awards confront the serious under-representation of Asian-Australians in senior leadership positions across Australia’s public institutions and private sector corporations by recognising the extraordinary achievements and accomplishments of Asian-Australians aged 40 years and younger in a variety of fields including the public service, corporate and entrepreneurship, sport, science and medicine, education and the arts, legal and professional services, not-for-profit and community advocacy.

“These awards are critical because it is a reminder of the need to advance efforts in elevating Asian-Australian representation in senior leadership roles across Australia’s public institutions and private sector corporations. To achieve cohesion and equality, leaders and decision makers are required to take a greater intersectional approach in our wider diversity and inclusion agenda at all levels of Australian society”, says Jieh-Yung Lo, Director of the Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership at the Australian National University and co-convenor of the Awards.

The 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians Category Winners:

Diana Nguyen, Actor, Comedian, Writer I Vietnamese-Australian. Smashing viewer numbers with her Vietnamese-Australian family comedy web series – an industry first regarding its concept – Phi and Me has won international awards. Spurred by its popularity, Nguyen founded the podcast The SnortCast in 2019, embracing line-up shows with balanced gender representation, and most importantly, a commitment to cultural diversity regarding casting policies.

Juliet Catherina Widyasari Burnett
, Dancer, Choreographer, Director, Writer and Activist I Indonesian-Australian Widyasari Burnett is a member of Belgium’s Opera Ballet Vlaanderen. She is currently preparing to launch A_PART, an online studio and stage for Australian and Indonesian artists to collaborate through commissioned projects and live online performance in response to the pandemic and the long-term issue of accessibility to the arts.

Frances Voon
, Executive Manager, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Sydney I Chinese-Australian Voon has dedicated her career to advancing the rights of forced migrants. Having worked abroad for the UN, she now resides in Australia providing strategic leadership insights to promote principled policy making on refugee acceptance laws. She also serves on the Board of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service which provides free legal support to people seeking asylum in Australia.

Seiji Armstrong
, Head of Machine Learning, Trust & Safety, Google I Japanese-Australian
As a quantum physicist, Armstrong has progressed from developing AI-powered cyber security solutions to protect Fortune 100 banks and retailers to ensuring the internet is a safe place for all digital users for Google. His strategies counter abuse protections across a wide range of verticals such as violent extremism, child safety, and more recently, Covid-19 racial vilification.

Stanley Wang
, Principal, Abbotsford Primary School I Taiwanese-Australian
As an educational leader, Wang has led cultural shifts towards diversity and inclusion within language teaching teams, enabling students to engage with their language studies and appreciate the contribution mixed races make towards
Australia’s cultural identity.

Jeanette Kar Yee Cheah
, CEO & Founder, Hacker Exchange (HEX) I Malaysian-Australian
Cheah runs multiple educational programs teaching crucial innovation and entrepreneurship skills to the next generation of global leaders, connecting Australians to Singapore and the broader APAC region. Her company highlights economic opportunities within these markets, helping foster global network relationships and placing the spotlight on Asian professionals, founders and investors.

Jayr Teng
, Barrister, Victorian Bar I Filipino-Australian
Teng is the first Filipino-born legal member of the Mental Health Tribunal and the first Filipino-born barrister to practice in
Victoria. He currently advises the government on human rights issues arising from Covid-19, and acts on behalf of the Victorian Public Sector Commission in the Royal Commission, addressing violence abuse neglect and the exploitation of people with a disability.

Celia Tran
, Principal Adviser, Victorian Multicultural Commission I Vietnamese-Australian
Tran is considered a trusted advocate for cultural diversity, anti-racism and meaningful community engagement. She is recognised for her ongoing commitment to supporting multicultural communities. Using her voice within the Victorian Public Sector, she advocates for systemic change, more inclusive workplaces and a greater representation of culturally diverse employees within public service.

Qilin Wang
, Associate Professor; FRSN; Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow, University of Technology Sydney I Chinese-Australian. An award-winning environmental engineer, Wang is most recognised for his work in the technology sector turning wastewater treatment plants into carbon-neutral energy generators. He is the lead inventor on an international patent for a waste-to-energy technology which is in the process of global commercialisation.

Samantha Kerr
, Professional Footballer; Captain, The Matildas; team member, Chelsea Football Club I Indian-Australian As of 2021, Kerr is the all-time leading scorer in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the United States and previously held the record in the Australian W-League. She currently plays for Chelsea in the English FA Women’s Super League. A proven goal scorer throughout her career, Kerr is also the captain of the Australia women’s national soccer team (the Matildas).

, Global Advocate for Gender Equality, UN Women I Palestinian/Iraqi-Australian
As a 21-year-old first generation Australian of Palestinian and Iraqi heritage, Zahra is a local, national, and international advocate for gender equality, equitable representation within decision making and refugee rights. She recently worked with the Department of Foreign Affairs in France and Mexico to deliver the Generation Equality Forum.

40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians (2021)

Overall Winner

Diana Nguyen
Actor, Comedian, Writer

Arts & Culture

Juliet Catherina Widyasari Burnett
Founder and Director, A_PART

Maria Tran
Managing Director/Artist, Phoenix Eye

Mindy Meng Wang
Composer/Producer/Modern Guzheng Performing Artist

Astrid Jorgensen
Director, Pub Choir

Robert Denish Wood
Creative Director, Centre for Stories

Community & Advocacy / Not for Profit

Frances Voon
Executive Manager, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW Sydney

Erin Wen Ai Chew
Founder and National Convener, Asian Australian Alliance

Isabel Lo
Founder and Chair, Media Diversity Australia

Mong Linh Do
Director, Wattle Fellowship, University of Melbourne

Giancarlo de Vera
President, Australian GLBTI Multicultural Council, Australian Centre for Disability Law, People with Disability Australia and Out for Australia

Peter Cai
Director, Australia-China Relations, Lowy Institute For International Policy


Seiji Armstrong
Head of Machine Learning, Trust & Safety, Google

Catherine Mah
Head of Corporate Strategy, TPG Telecom

Wing Yan Gloria Yuen
Chair of Cultural Inc and Head of Regulatory Response, NAB

Tracy Le,
Chief Data and Analytics Officer (Acting), ‍PEXA


Stanley Wang
Principal, Abbotsford Primary School

Jessica Yustantio

Academic, The University of New South Wales (UNSW)

Lee Martin
Senior Lecturer, Deakin University

Taj Pabari
Chief Executive Officer, Australian School of Entrepreneurship (ASE)


Jeanette Kar Yee Cheah
CEO and Founder, Hacker Exchange (HEX)

Lisa Teh
Director and Founder, CODI Agency & Lisnic

Nick La
Founder, Weploy

Reggie Ba-Pe III
Founder, Club Media

Professions and Legal

Jayr Teng
Barrister, Victorian Bar

Amit Singh
Managing Director, Accenture

Hiroko Ito
Solicitor, Herbert Smith Freehills

Thuy Huong Rebecca Baggiano
Senior Associate, Fragomen (Australia) Pty Ltd

Public Sector/Government

Celia Tran
Principal Adviser, Victorian Multicultural Commission

Osmond Chiu
Senior Policy and Research Officer, Community and Public Sector Union

Charishma Kaliyanda
Councillor, Liverpool City Council

Nancy Lu Yang
Deputy Consul-General of Australian Consulate-General in Chengdu

Science & Medicine

Qilin Wang
Associate Professor, University of Technology Sydney (UTS)

Associate Professor Xiaowei Wang
Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute

Eric Chow
Associate Professor and Unit Head Monash University and Alfred Health

Noushin Nasiri
Head of NanoTech Laboratory, Macquarie University

Associate Professor Sumeet Walia
Associate Professor, RMIT University


Samantha Kerr
Professional Footballer

Under 25 Rising Star

Global Advocate for Gender Equality, UN Women

Yash Dutt
Founder and CEO, Yuva AI