3 June 2008

Wotif.com co-founder, philanthropist and University of Queensland alumnus, Graeme Wood, has been named the 2008 Queenslander of the Year while a UQ student and Afghan refugee is Young Queenslander of the Year.

Mr Wood was presented with his award by the Premier, Anna Bligh, at a ceremony held at Parliament house on June 1.

In accepting the award Mr Wood said Queensland was the ideal location to launch a global business like Wotif.com and encouraged Queenslanders to give back to their communities.

“I hope this becomes an example to people who have the capacity to give more back to Queensland, Australia and the world in general,” Mr Wood said.

“Queensland is undergoing an unprecedented development of personal wealth, too much for anyone to do anything sensible with, and here is a great opportunity to look beyond our own shores and personal interests and try and do something and put something back into the community that has helped us acquire that wealth in the first place.”

In 2000 Mr Wood, who holds a Bachelor of Economics and Master of Information Systems from UQ, founded Wotif.com with fellow UQ graduate Andrew Brice.

Wotif.com has grown into Australia and New Zealand’s leading accommodation website that attracts 3.2 million visits and 200,000 bookings a month.

Wotif.com was listed on the Australian stock exchange in June 2006 and in October 2007, Mr Wood retired from his role as CEO and Managing Director of Wotif.com enabling him more time to dedicate to his philanthropic activities initiatives such as the Graeme Wood Foundation and the University of Queensland Endowment Fund (UQef).

The UQef was founded in 2007 and supports academic initiatives such as scholarships, named professorial chairs and specific research programs in areas of particular social need. Mr Wood has already specified that part of the fund will be used to establish a research and education centre targeting youth drug and alcohol abuse.

Mr Wood’s win makes it the third time in as many years the award has been given to a UQ staff member or alumnus. Founder of the popular Triple P Parenting Program, Professor Matt Sanders, was named Queenslander of the Year in 2007, with Professor Ian Frazer, co-creator of the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil, awarded for his achievements in 2006.

In further success, UQ Bachelor of Science student Homa Forotan (Moorooka) was named the 2008 Young Queenslander of the Year.

Ms Forotan arrived in Australia in 2005 as an Afghan refugee and went on to achieve an OP1 before being awarded a Group of Eight scholarship.

She is active in the UQ Muslim Student Association and radio 4EB ethnic broadcasting for Afghans, and said she was keen to do her part in promoting harmony between cultures and a positive image of refugees and the Islamic faith.

Ultimately, Ms Forotan hopes to practice medicine in all three of her “homelands”: Afghanistan, Australia and Pakistan, where she and her family stayed before moving to Brisbane.

She said she was “truly humbled” to have won the Young Queenslander of the Year award.

“I'd like to take this opportunity to convey my deep thanks to the Queensland Government, who considered me for this prestigious award regardless of my faith, cultural background and other differences,” Ms Forotan said.

“It shows to me that I can be a proud Queenslander and continue contributing to the wellbeing of Queensland and Australia as a proud Muslim. The system is fair so we should avail (ourselves of) opportunities with determination.”

Media: Sam Ferguson from the Faculty of Business, Economics and Law (07 3365 6662, sferguson@bel.uq.edu.au) or Cameron Pegg at UQ Communications (07 3365 2049, c.pegg@uq.edu.au)