September 24, 2012 — Earlier this summer in New York City, more than 240 supporters gathered for the second annual Lotus Leadership Awards to honor Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, and the National Geographic Society (NGS) for their long-standing commitments to improving the lives of Afghan girls through education. The Lotus Leadership Awards recognize outstanding individuals and organizations that have made major contributions to the well-being of women and their communities in Asia.
Together, over the last decade, The Asia Foundation and the National Geographic Society have made large-scale improvements to girls’ schools that have impacted the lives of thousands of Afghan girls, their families, and their communities. The partnership began in 2002 after photographer Steve McCurry rediscovered Sharbat Gula, the “Afghan girl with the haunting green eyes” he photographed for a 1985 cover of National Geographic. Gula asked NGS to provide education to girls—something she had been denied. The National Geographic Society turned to The Asia Foundation to partner because of our knowledge and experience. “We value the National Geographic Society as both a partner and a path-breaker,” said David D. Arnold, president of The Asia Foundation. “We are proud that our partnership is transforming the future for Afghan girls and fostering the next generation of Afghan leaders,” Arnold said. John Fahey, the National Geographic Society’s chairman and CEO, accepted the award.
Dr. Sakena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, received the 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.
As part of the awards program, Dr. Isobel Coleman of the Council on Foreign Relations was a featured panelist, alongside Dr. Yacoobi. Broadcast journalism veteran Lynn Sherr, who has reported on women’s issues for 30 years as an ABC News correspondent, hosted and moderated.
The Lotus Leadership Awards were launched, conceived, and organized by The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Circle Advisors, including 2012 Luncheon Chair Ida Liu and 2012 Vice Chairs Carol Rattray, Missie Rennie, Masako Shinn, and Gina Lin Chu.