Priya Shankar ASA on Bollywood-inspired community events

Priya Shankar ASA.

Priya Shankar ASA organises Bollywood-themed events to raise funds for paediatric healthcare.

By Kate Langmore

“Bollywood” is not a word you would necessarily associate with Auckland, but Priya Shankar ASA explains there is a very large Indian population in the city.

Add to this the fact that Shankar grew up in a musical family, with a father in a Bollywood band, and that she now performs as a Bollywood singer herself – and you have the perfect recipe for an Auckland Bollywood fundraiser.

“I put together our first Bollywood for Starship event in 2013,” recalls Shankar. “It was quite small – there were probably only 200 people attending in a little community hall. My husband and I put together the whole thing ourselves.”

Today, the event is a colourful evening of food, music, performance and dancing, drawing out hundreds of Aucklanders to party the night away.

“Many of the people who come are from Barfoot & Thompson,” says Shankar of the large real estate agency she has been employed at for 15 years, now as CFO. With more than 2000 contractors and staff, Shankar says there is little need to advertise ticket sales.

“We also have sponsors on board who pay NZ$2300 each (A$2222) and get a table as part of their sponsorship – mostly regular suppliers for Barfoot & Thompson,” she adds.

Shankar chose Starship Hospital – a public children’s hospital – as the recipient of her fundraising efforts, as Barfoot & Thompson is a long-standing supporter of the Starship Foundation. Fundraising events run by staff, including quiz nights, sausage sizzles and battle of the band events, are frequent and welcomed.

“Every year, Starship Hospital tells us what they are raising money for – it could be buying ventilators, doing up the mother’s room in the hospital... This year, it’s refurbishing their NICU [neonatal intensive care unit] ward, so this brings added meaning to the events.”

It also means everyone is happy to chip in their time and resources for free or at a nominal cost.

The bands, dancers, MCs and DJs – many of whom Shankar knows through family and music contacts – volunteer their time and talent. Catering and venue costs are subsidised.

This makes it seem almost simple to pull off, but, talking to Shankar, it becomes clear there are many moving parts to oversee and, increasingly, legal hoops to jump through. Thankfully, “being an accountant helps, as your costing, budgeting and negotiation skills come to play”, says Shankar.

“Many staff from Barfoot, and Starship, now come to help out. For the last event, in 2019 – which was our biggest yet – I even had the support of a health and safety manager, as applying for things like a liquor licence nowadays takes a lot of time.”

When Shankar isn’t managing the financial operations of more than 75 branches, pulling together fundraising events, performing or home-schooling her 13-year-old son during lockdown, she can be found online, studying for her CPA Australia qualification.

“I started my CPA last year. I was missing study, and I always want to keep learning and stay up to date with accounting practices,” she says.

Hopefully information on those Bollywood nights will reach further afield. “Absolutely,” she agrees. “I think people are itching to get out and do something good for the soul.”

About Starship Foundation

The Starship Foundation is the leading provider of paediatric healthcare in New Zealand and the South Pacific, delivering family centred care to infants, children, young people and their whānau (extended family) in hospital and in the community.


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