My Life: Purnima Tanuku

Purnima Tanuku
Purnima Tanuku
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Purnima Tanuku is a woman of many talents.

As head of the National Day Nurseries Association she lobbies government for fair treatment for the country’s 15,000 day nurseries.

But she is no stranger to sticking her neck out.

She was the first ethnic communities officer for Leeds City Council and became the first Asian female managing director of an Environmental Regeneration Trust.

When she arrived at the NDNA ten years ago the organisation had barely more than 20 staff. Today it employs over 60 people and has offices in Wales and Scotland as well as the base in Huddersfield.

Having lost her father at an early age, Purnima moved to Yorkshire from her native Andhra Pradesh state of India to be with her husband, a doctor, after she finished her Masters degree.

The pair met at university.

Arriving in Yorkshire, Purnima jumped at the chance to further her experience and worked in a variety of jobs for the public, private and voluntary sectors.

It was while working in Leeds that the mother of three realised where her strengths lay.

“I was sent on a management training programme and I suddenly realised that management and leadership was where my strengths lay.

“I knew that was what I wanted to do with my career.”

A trailblazer for Asian women, Purnima has no fear of speaking her mind.

“Whenever people see an Asian person there are still a lot who see the stereotypes and automatically think they are a doctor or a nurse. It can take me a lot of time to explain what I do.”

Whatever organisation she works for or heads she gives it her all. That goes for her passion for the arts as well as in business.

Classical Indian dancing is her particular passion.

“I trained as a dancer in India from the age of five,” explains Purnima.

“I did lots of competitions when I was younger but then I went to university and got interested in different things.”

It was only when she moved to the UK and had her own children that her love of dancing was rekindled.

“My daughter was about six or seven and I saw a poster for Indian classical dancing classes. I took my daughter but when the teacher realised I was also a trained dancer she encouraged me to take it up again.”

Being Purnima, she couldn’t just sit back and dance, and when she was asked to become involved in the setting up of Kala Sangam, the internationally- renowned South Asian Academy of Performing Arts, based in Bradford, she couldn’t refuse. The company, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, works with local and international artists, delivers a touring programme and outreach activities across the UK and abroad. Purnima, 61, is now chairman of the organisation and believes the academy is about far more than performing arts.

“We work with some of the most vulnerable people in the community and also Asian women with mental health issues. They are coming to the centre and doing art work which is really rewarding to see. It also helps break down the stigmas attached to mental illness.”

Although Purnima now lives in Lancashire, much of her time is split between Yorkshire and London where she is no stranger to lobbying politicians and decision-makers.

Awards for Purnima Tanuku

Purnima Tanuku was awarded the OBE in 2011 for services to families and holds an Institute of Directors Voluntary and Charitable Sector Award for Yorkshire and Humber region.

Purnima was also Highly Commended at the Institute’s first ever UK Director of the Year Awards in 2010.

She has been involved with the Bradford-based Kala Sangam South Asian Academy of Performing Arts since it started 20 years ago and is now its chairman.