Changing the Face of the Boardroom: Asoka Basnayake

Asoka Basnayake is Changing the Face of the Boardroom

In this interview series, we take a look at life as a ‘non traditional’ board member and the benefits they bring to boards and organisations.

Today we are profiling Asoka Basnayake. Asoka has a spectacularly unique background that she utilises on the many boards that she is and has been involved with. She is truly changing the face of the boardroom and I am happy to be sharing some of her story here today.

Get on Board Australia (GOBA): What board(s) do you sit on?

Asoka Basnayake (AB): Currently I am on the Ethnic Advisory Board, New Zealand Police Auckland City (since 2013). Previously I have been a Member of the Ethnic Peoples’ Advisory Panel – Auckland Council (2013-2016); Member and Media Spokesperson, Ethnic Peoples’ Advisory Panel – Auckland Council (2010-2013);

Deputy Chairperson and Member of the Board of Migrant Action Trust; and Member of the Management Board of Access Community Radio Member of South Asia Trust.

GOBA: What is unique about you as a board member?

AB: Apart from the obvious (female migrant), I have expert knowledge in cultural diversity. I am Sri Lankan born and have lived, worked and travelled in over 50 countries. I speak three languages fluently including Russian. I have worked for years in the refugee/migrant sector and have been published widely as a writer on migrant issues, including a book on migrant employment issues.

I’ve also worked in higher education, education sectors, Equal Employment Opportunities, with disabled people, refugees and migrants and in women’s studies for over 20 years. I now manage my own consultancy practice advising on managing diversity and intercultural communication.

GOBA: How did you get your board seat?

AB: My first board position was at the Asian Advisory Board NZ Police. I was asked to be on it when I was working in the migrant sector after I participated in a series of workshops that set up the Asian Strategy of NZ Police through my then work.  I was invited to be on most and applied for the Council board role. You never know where a board opportunity may come from!

GOBA: How does your uniqueness benefit the board / organisation?

AB: Many organisations today have a focus on diversity and inclusion. My expertise in the area is much valued by my current board and the boards I have served on previously.

GOBA: What has your experience on a board been like? Do you feel that your differences are a benefit or a hindrance?

AB: Initially, I was not comfortable sitting on a board, although I had sat on a few before I moved to NZ. I then gained more confidence when I realised that my knowledge is valued and I could contribute meaningfully. I believe that my differences add value to all of the board positions I have held.

GOBA: What advice would you give to people in a similar situation to you?

AB: Give it a go! Being on a board is very rewarding.

Connect with Asoka on LinkedIn, Twitter, and her blog.


Many times I am told by aspiring board members that they feel like they are not qualified for the boardroom, or that they have nothing to offer. Much of this self-opinion comes from the perception that is reinforced in messages about the boardroom; you have to be old, connected, conservative, and extremely educated to be on a board.

I call BS on this!

I am certain that there are many wonderful board members out there who don’t fit the traditional “pale and stale” stereotype of company directors / board members. People who came to the boardroom along the path less travelled, with a unique career background or because of some rare characteristic that has proved invaluable for an organisation.

I know they’re out there and I want to profile them to show aspiring directors that they do have something to offer. That the boardroom is somewhere they can thrive and give back; and that their uniqueness can have extraordinary value to an organisation. I want organisations and people everywhere to know it too.


Nicole Nader

The Board of Mr.Perfect

Vicky Welgraven

Marie Skrodzki

Anita Keestra

June Magasu

Gemma West

Subscribe to Receive Articles, Resources, and Tools to Support Your Board Career 

* indicates required