In a ceremony held at the United Nations, Asia Society honored Aasif Mandvi, Kiran Bir Sethi, Chanda Kochhar as ‘Asia Game Changers.’ Philippine boxing great Manny Pacquiao and nine other dignitaries were honored as the second annual class of Asia Game Changers for making a transformative and positive difference for the future of Asia and the world. Honorees also included Chinese telecommunications magnate Lei Jun, Indian/American comedian and actor Aasif Mandvi, and Emirati fighter pilot Mariam al-Mansouri. Chanda Kochhar, the CEO of ICICI Bank won the award for taking the Bank to the next level of achievements.
Kiran Bir Sethi, an education innovator whose Design for Change organization has improved learning outcomes across India, spoke of the importance of spotlighting instructors. “It’s because of honors like [Asia Game Changers] that the response goes from ‘oh, you’re just a teacher’ to ‘teachers are game changers’.”
Other honorees spanned the scientific, artistic, and military world across the continent: Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura, inventors of LED light bulbs and 2014 Nobel Prize winners for physics; and Li Cunxin, the Artistic Director of the Queensland Ballet.
After receiving the award, Pacquiao credited his humble upbringing in a village outside General Santos City, Philippines, for forming his desire to give back to the community. “I’ve experienced in life not having shelter and having to sleep in the street,” he said. “So even with my success I will never forget my past.”
Against the backdrop of New York’s East River and Queensboro Bridge, Pacquiao and his fellow awardees mingled with Asia Society trustees, officers, and other guests from around the world. Josette Sheeran, Asia Society’s President and CEO, began the ceremony by noting that Asians have received insufficient recognition for their contributions to the world. “More than 950 Nobel prizes have been awarded since 1901, and less than six percent have gone to Asians — even though 60 percent of the world’s population is in Asia and Asia has 50 percent of the world’s patents.
“We at Asia Society want to recognize the brilliance of Asia — those who are changing the world for the better.” In his acceptance speech, Mandvi spoke of comedy’s role in eroding negative stereotypes and tackling issues — such as Islamophobia — that often elude more conventional comedians. Recounting a career that began in Off-Broadway productions before achieving widespread recognition a decade ago as the “Middle East Correspondent” for The Daily Show, Mandvi struck a characteristically humorous tone in his remarks. Referring to Pacquiao, his fellow awardee, Mandvi joked: “Little known fact about Manny — he also always wanted to be a fake news correspondent. I guess I won that, Manny. Good luck.”
Pacquiao was introduced by John McEnroe, the American tennis great. “I was fortunate enough to meet Nelson Mandela, and one of the things he said to me was that sports have the potential to change the world,” McEnroe said. “And Manny Pacquiao is one of the individuals who can do that.”