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Darwin-based optometrist Helen Summers won a major award at the 2013 Telstra Australian Business Women’s Awards in Melbourne last night, 14 November.

Ms Summers beat a field of top businesswomen to win the prestigious Business Owner Award at a gala ceremony at Crown Melbourne.

It is a far cry from when she opened her practice in 1998 without a bank loan, using only her savings and second-hand equipment.

‘It’s an absolute honour and great for optometry, for independent optometry, for rural and regional business and for women,’ an ecstatic Ms Summers said.

Telstra chief operations officer and awards ambassador Kate McKenzie said the judges described Ms Summers as an innovator and expert in her field who both used and delivered commercially leading-edge technology and services.

‘She makes a strong social responsibility contribution through her Vision 2020 goal in indigenous communities and via her roles within her industry,’ Ms McKenzie said. ‘She is an inspiring leader in her profession and an astute and articulate owner of a well-established business.’

In September she became the 2013 Telstra Northern Territory Business Woman of the Year, and also won the NT Business Owner Award and Business Innovation Award. She received $12,000 prize-money from CommBank’s Women in Focus program for winning.

Ms Summers owns Helen Summers Optometrist Eyecare Plus Darwin, which provides optometric services to Darwin residents and outreach services to remote indigenous communities.

Her work as a graduate optometrist in Kenya inspired her to establish outreach services to under-serviced regional and remote indigenous communities in Katherine, Nhulunbuy, Jabiru, Kakadu, Adelaide River, Batchelor and Arnhemland.

‘I am passionate about making a difference in the lives of others and striving for the Vision 2020 goal of reducing preventable blindness by providing vision care in remote indigenous communities,’ she said.

‘There’s still a remarkable lack of health and vision services in remote Australia; we experience first-hand the extent of that need.’

Ms Summers has embraced new technology to offer an extensive range of products and services including high-standard clinical care, comprehensive examinations to manage diabetic vision care and glaucoma, and visual perceptual and neuro-optometry services for children and adults with reading difficulties and autism.

She recently set up a scheme that donates frames and ready-made spectacles to assist in providing vision care in remote indigenous homelands and to those suffering financial difficulty, including refugees.  

At the Northern Territory awards, Ms McKenzie said Ms Summers was an outstanding ambassador and a tremendous role model for Australian businesswomen. She said the Northern Territory judges were impressed by her leadership qualities and emotional intelligence.

‘She is well respected in her industry and the community, particularly for her passion for every individual to have access to eye care and other health services,’ the judges said.

Winner of the 2013 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year was Rosemary Vilgan, CEO of QSuper superannuation fund. Ms Vilgan, Ms Summers and three other award winners share a prize pool of $200,000 from Telstra and CommBank’s Women in Focus.

All finalists become part of an exclusive national business alumni. 

Ms Summers is a member of the Optometrists Association Aborigines and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Working Group, chairwoman of the Australian Optometric Panel and a director of Guide Dogs SA/NT.

Her new practice which is set to open soon will be Australia’s first flagship concept store with Nikon branding. It will use the latest technology and innovations in vision care for consulting, dispensing, retailing and health education.

She hopes this technology will create greater opportunities to collaborate with interstate peers and better help patients.

Helen and Ita Buttrose - CROPPED

Helen Summer with Ita Buttrose at the 2013 Telstra

Australian Business Women’s Awards in Melbourne on 14 November

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