By Narelle Coulter
The Berwick Business Group aims to celebrate and promote the best of Berwick. The group’s young, dynamic president Ritesh Prasad sees his role as a way of giving back to the community which embraced his family after they were forced to flee their native Fiji.
A walk around Berwick Village with Ritesh Prasad can be a lengthy undertaking.
The president of the Berwick Business Group knows all the small business owners in and around High Street.
He continually stops to say hello, wave to someone on the opposite side of the street, shake hands and chat.
“Sometimes I pop out of the office to grab a sandwich and get back two hours later,” he said, laughing.
Mr Prasad is principal and senior financial planner at MLC Berwick. He is also the dynamic, young face of the Berwick Business Group.
Mr Prasad is brimming with enthusiasm for Berwick and its commercial heart.
He says he and other members of the business group want to put some “zing” into the picturesque village.
The business group was formed three years ago at the prompting of the late Mick Morland who was concerned at the void left when the Berwick Chamber of Commerce folded.
The business group has 80 members, who are dedicated to promoting trade in Berwick, creating employment and helping the City of Casey tackle the region’s commuter drain.
Mr Prasad wants to grow membership to 100 by the end of the financial year.
He sees his role as as a way of giving back to the community who embraced he and his family when they were forced to flee their native Fiji.
As he says “Fiji is very well known for its coups”.
He was 15 when he left his homeland with his mother, sister and brother, evicted because of their Fijian-Indian heritage.
The family arrived at Melbourne airport on 22 July, 1995, with 50 dollars Fijian to their name.
“We had to move because we were given an ultimatum – either leave or we will kick you out. It’s a scary thing when the soldiers come to your house and point guns at you,” Mr Prasad said.
“It’s a very sad moment every time I look back. Fiji was the country I was born in, it was what I knew. But I have always been the kind of person who looks at the glass half full. There is a man upstairs who has a path for me and I’m going to take it. That path has brought me here. This is where I am meant to be.”
The Prasads settled in Hampton Park. Mr Prasad worked a series of jobs to help his family make ends meet – delivering pizzas, mowing lawns, running beside a rubbish truck collecting bottles, truck driving and security.
His real talent however lay with numbers. After finishing school, he got a break as a phone based consultant for a superannuation fund. He moved into financial planning and was eventually poached by the ANZ and later Bendigo Bank.
MLC Advice is his first foray into owning his own small business.
His role with the business group brings back fond memories of being taken as a child to free entertainment put on by community and business groups.
“I remember when I was a kid we used to go to the community events done by Casey Cardinia business groups.
“I thought it was really cool what they were doing, to be able to put on entertainment for the kids. That stuck with me and I though OK I’d like to be involved with this and when the opportunity came I jumped on board.”
When asked about how he came to find himself in the position of president he roars with laughter.
“My hands were pushed up!”
He agreed to be the group’s figurehead on one condition: he wanted two vice-presidents and two secretaries to help shoulder the workload.
He described the executive, comprising vice-presidents Michelle Beadle and Casey May and secretaries Magda Dabaco and Caroline Ward as “fantastic”.
“I’m very thankful to my team and fellow board members. They are absolutely fantastic.
“Everyone is a local, self employed business owner. They understand the community, they live here, they eat here, their kids go to the local schools.
“We are all family orientated and very down to earth and approachable.”
The group holds monthly lunches and stages three major events each financial year – a Christmas celebration, a kids’ Easter egg hunt and a VIP fashion event.
He said the lunches are invaluable networking opportunities. One business has garnered $20,000 worth of work through contacts made at one lunch.
“In two months he has been able to employ three more staff. That is an opportunity for three people in the community to have full time jobs.
“That tells me that what we are doing is actually working.”
Mr Prasad’s other talent was revealed when the DJ booked for last year’s Easter event cancelled the night before due to illness. Mr Prasad stepped in and spun tunes for the day.
“Every time we have an event everybody now presumes Ritesh will be DJ,” he said, grinning.
“I’ve got the equipment so I’m happy to be part of it. It also promotes my business. I’m in the MLC marquee and people come up and want to know what I do. It’s good for business. I’ve picked up a few clients that way.
“Music always been a big part of my life. It’s my go to thing. It helps me focus.”
When asked what is his favourite music, he rocks back in his chair and with an impish grin says “I love rock ‘n’ roll, I love AC/DC. I never say that to anybody.”
As well as working on the fashion event and the Christmas festivities, Ritesh and his board are in talks with the Berwick Farmers’ Market about a possible move from the Old Cheese Factory to High Street.
The business group was also instrumental in getting CCTV cameras installed in Adams Lane to deter graffiti.
A new plaque will also be installed soon near Coles promoting the traders in and around Adams Lane.
Mr Prasad said the business group is dedicated to working to promote all businesses not only within Berwick but in the wider Casey community. The group has members from Hampton Park, Narre Warren and Cranbourne.
“It’s exciting that anyone running a business in the City of Casey can be part of it. We want to make sure we work with everyone and anyone out there.
“We are a very young, enthusiastic group and we are looking to grow. It is very challenging as an individual business, but if we have a pool of money we can do a lot more not just for the businesses but for the kids.”
Mr Prasad hopes his community involvement, (he is also a member of Casey Rotary) will imbue his children, three and 18 months, with a sense of community as they grow up.
“This county has given me a lot. I want to pull my sleeves up and give back to the community.”
The Berwick Business Group’s VIP fashion event will be held on Friday 6 October, from 5pm.