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The Asia Foundation Honors National Geographic Society and Dr. Sakena Yacoobi at Second Annual Lotus Leadership Awards Luncheon

New York, June 7, 2012 — Today, The Asia Foundation and The Lotus Circle honor the National Geographic Society at the second annual Lotus Leadership Awards Luncheon in New York City. For 10 consecutive years, The Asia Foundation has partnered with the National Geographic Society to improve the lives of Afghan girls through education and large-scale refurbishing of heavily damaged girls schools, including the Rabia-e-Balkhi Girls School and the Lama-e-Shaheed Girls School. John Fahey, National Geographic’s chairman and CEO, will accept the award and make remarks.

“We value the National Geographic Society as both a partner and a path-breaker,” said David D. Arnold, president of The Asia Foundation. Since the Taliban were driven out of Afghanistan, the two organizations launched a series of projects that have dramatically improved girls’ schools and education for thousands. This has included upgrading the infrastructure and refurbishing classrooms; creating science labs with modern equipment; establishing a school library; providing maps, text books, and other educational materials; and furnishing one of the few school-based computer centers in the country. “Together, we have been able to ensure that Afghan girls can receive a high-quality education in a positive, safe learning environment. We are proud that our partnership is transforming the future for Afghan girls and fostering the next generation of Afghan leaders,” Arnold said.

The Asia Foundation was selected as a partner by National Geographic in 2002 after photographer Steve McCurry rediscovered Sharbat Gula, the “Afghan girl with the haunting green eyes,” whom he had photographed in a refugee camp in Pakistan, never learning her name. Her image was featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine in June 1985—becoming one of National Geographic’s most iconic photographs—and again in April 2002 after McCurry found her in Afghanistan after a 17-year search and learned her name. At that time she asked if the Society would provide education to girls in Afghanistan—something she had been denied. An education fund was established, and the partnership between National Geographic and The Asia Foundation was launched.

Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, will also receive a Lotus Leadership Award for her critical contributions to the education and health of Afghan women and children. Professor Yacoobi is a world-renowned teacher, leader, and advocate: She launched the first learning centers inside refugee camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan; risked her life to run illegal home schools for girls during the Taliban reign; pioneered student-centered learning and teacher training in Afghanistan; and created first-of-their-kind specialized health clinics for women, enabling many women and their families to see a doctor for the first time ever.

In addition to the award, The Asia Foundation and National Geographic Society will present Dr. Yacoobi and the Afghan Institute of Learning with a $20,000 unrestricted gift to be used to address the organization’s most urgent programmatic needs. To make this grant possible, the National Geographic Society generously matched funds raised by The Lotus Circle.

“Dr. Yacoobi is a trailblazer and a great role model for girls and women everywhere,” said Carol Yost, director of the Women’s Empowerment Program at The Asia Foundation. “Her belief—that if you can empower one woman, you empower her family and her community—is the basic premise of The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program. The members of the Lotus Circle, which is hosting its annual awards event in New York today, make it possible for us to reach girls and women across Asia to ‘Tell Her She Can.’”

As part of the awards program, Dr. Isobel Coleman, senior fellow and director of the Civil Society, Markets and Democracy Program at Council on Foreign Relations, is a featured panelist, along with Dr. Yacoobi. Broadcast journalism veteran Lynn Sherr, who has reported on women’s issues for 30 years as an ABC News correspondent, is host and moderator.

The Asia Foundation is the premier nonprofit, nongovernmental organization working to promote reform, development, equality, and prosperity in Asia; The Lotus Circle is a community of individuals working with The Asia Foundation to advance the rights, roles, and opportunities of women in Asia.

To increase awareness about the need for women’s empowerment and education, In Asia, The Asia Foundation’s highly regarded weekly blog, features this week a special interview by Carol Yost with Dr. Isobel Coleman.

The Lotus Leadership Awards were launched, conceived, and organized by Lotus Circle Advisors, including 2012 Luncheon Chair Ida Liu and 2012 Vice Chairs Carol Rattray, Missie Rennie, and Masako Shinn, and Gina Lin Chu.

Learn more and follow updates on Facebook and on Twitter at: @Asia_Foundation.

Watch “The Lotus Circle: Making a Difference” and “The Power of Girls’ Education,” online films created by The Asia Foundation.

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