Om Dhungel

Om Dhungel

Master of Business Administration (2001)

Founding President and Senior Advisor, Association of Bhutanese in Australia, Sydney

UTS International Alumni Award 2017

Om Dhungel is an outstanding advocate for refugees. Drawing on his own experiences as a Bhutanese refugee in Australia, Om has forged a remarkable career helping others in need and shaping the agenda in rethinking approaches to refugee resettlement.

“Every individual, whatever the situation may be, has strengths,” says Om. “If we help them discover those strengths, people are able to look after themselves.”

In 1992, Om crossed from Bhutan to Nepal to escape arrest and torture for his political views; leaving behind his wife, two-year-old daughter and a stellar career in telecommunications with the Government of Bhutan.

“Every individual, whatever the situation may be, has strengths. If we help them discover those strengths, people are able to look after themselves.”

For six years he volunteered in refugee camps in Nepal, focussing on advocacy and children’s education, became a spokesperson for the Bhutanese Coalition for Democratic Reforms, and co-edited and published monthly news bulletin The Bhutan Review and Bhutan annual human rights reports. Om came to Australia in 1998 and began an MBA at UTS to build on his business leadership skills. Every spare hour he worked in a supermarket “to scratch together money to live on and pay for fees”. He was eventually granted asylum and permanent residency in Australia in 2000.

Today he draws on those financial survival skills gained while studying, when teaching his workshop ‘Rethink: Solving problems by breaking them into smaller parts’.

“In my final year, one of my teachers helped me apply for a $5,000 scholarship,” Om recalls. “That support and the fantastic counselling service at UTS saved me when I was on the verge of giving up.”

Om’s MBA has had a significant impact on his career, setting him up for leadership roles at Telstra and in the community, including his role as Founding President of the Association of Bhutanese in Australia.

In 2016 he was selected as a Westpac Social Change Fellow, and has now established a consultancy facilitating a strength-based approach to refugee settlement and community development, helping refugee communities to cultivate and channel the resources and skills that refugees bring with them.

By strategically drawing upon their skills and strengths, refugee communities can take the lead in addressing issues, setting their own agenda and shaping their own future.

“We need to change the debate on refugees from ‘sharing the burden’ to ‘sharing the opportunity’. If we change the resettlement model from a needs-based approach to one that focused on strengths, more people will see the socioeconomic contribution of refugees.

“I’ve been really fortunate in having wonderful family support, and every single day I see if I can help somebody. When you help people find work that’s meaningful, they can achieve a lot more.”

2017 Alumni Awards Om Dhungel

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