The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Circle Gathers before the Sixth Annual Lotus Leadership Awards

New York City, May 10, 2016 — The Asia Foundation and the Lotus Circle, a community of U.S. individuals, foundations, and corporations who raise private capital to rapidly respond to challenges and opportunities facing women in Asia, gathered today at the Manhattan home of Janet and Tom Montag for a luncheon to honor the First Lady of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan Mrs. Rula Ghani. The reception was held the afternoon prior to the sixth annual Lotus Leadership Awards, during which Mrs. Ghani, selected as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2015, will be recognized for her efforts to improve living standards for Afghan women.

Dr. Vartan Gregorian, president of Carnegie Corporation of New York, will accept a Lotus Leadership Award on behalf of the institution for its partnership with The Asia Foundation to improve access to university and advanced level education to Afghan women.

Mrs. Montag is a Lotus Advisor and philanthropist, and she and Mr. Montag are co-chairs for this year’s Awards. Earlier this year, Mrs. Montag graciously opened her home to The Lotus Circle for a conversation with Lael Mohib, founder of the Enabled Children Initiative, spouse of Afghanistan’s ambassador to the U.S and former chief of staff at the American University of Afghanistan, and Clare Lockhart, a trustee of The Asia Foundation and co-founder and director of the Institute for State Effectiveness and Senior Fellow, Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale University. Missie Rennie, a Lotus Circle Advisor, Trustee Emerita of The Asia Foundation and a former CBS News executive producer and winner of a George Foster Peabody Award moderated the discussion on women’s rights in Afghanistan.

Asad Rahman, Vanessa Rahman and Bank of America Merrill Lynch Managing Director Soofian Zuberi. Photo by Whitney Legge

Asad Rahman, Zana Salzman and Bank of America Merrill Lynch Managing Director Sofian Zuberi. Photo by Whitney Legge

The Montags are joined this year by co-chairs Masako and James Shinn and Lin and Stephen Jamison. Ms. Shinn founded The Lotus Circle and was interviewed by The Wall Street Journal in 2011. Ms. Jamison created The Young Lotus Circle, a diverse group of young professionals who support The Asia Foundation’s Women’s Empowerment Program and whom recently gathered at cutting-edge contemporary Chinese art gallery Klein Sun Gallery in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.

In a post for The Asia Foundation’s widely-read blog In Asia, released on the eve of the gala, Ms. Jamison writes: “The Lotus Circle takes every donation and funnels it directly to the field where you can see immediately how it is making an impact on the ground in Asia. All the local offices report directly back to The Asia Foundation which gives us a direct pipeline of seeing how our dollars are making an impact on the lives of people in Asia.”

Lotus Advisor and Sixth Annual Lotus Leadership Awards Co-Chair Janet Montag. Photo by Whitney Legge

Lotus Advisor and Sixth Annual Lotus Leadership Awards Co-Chair Janet Montag. Photo by Whitney Legge

David D. Arnold, president of The Asia Foundation, welcomed Mrs. Ghani and warmly acknowledged The Lotus Circle during the intimate lunch, asserting that the individuals involved are “an influential band of activists and philanthropists.” He remarked that “women’s empowerment is an important part and major part of what The Asia Foundation does in Afghanistan.”

Mr. Arnold introduced Jena Karim, The Asia Foundation’s deputy country representative for programs in Afghanistan. Ms. Karim said that, as a woman who works in Afghanistan, she is profoundly inspired by Mrs. Ghani for “championing their [women’s] rights and bringing in her brand of pragmatic empathy.” She added that “a lot of promises have been made” to Afghan women and girls but because of Mrs. Ghani these there is a sense that progress may be realized and “that is so significant.”

Mrs. Ghani said to the individuals attending the luncheon: “I want to thank all of you for caring about Afghanistan. People are feeling more courageous and it’s helping in pursuing their dreams.” Muslim clerics and scholars (ulema) enjoy high levels of trust in Afghanistan, and Mrs. Ghani highlighted a local Asia Foundation supported project that has allowed for 2,880 Afghans in 18 provinces to be trained on women’s rights in Islam and the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women, including creation of a call center, promoted through radio PSAs, that offered counseling and referrals to more than 1,000 callers a month—70 percent, she noted, are men.

The Lotus Circle and their guests. Photo by Whitney Legge

The Lotus Circle and their guests. Photo by Whitney Legge

During the afternoon, guests discussed their delight that former U.S. First Lady Laura Bush will deliver a special video message to First Lady Rula Ghani. The evening gala is now platform for advancing the rights and opportunities of women and girls and attended by global leaders.

Other Lotus Circle members attending the reception included: Swati Bhisé, Meredith Ludlow, Janet Montag, Missie Rennie, and Gina Lin Chu.

Proceeds from the evening will support innovative women’s empowerment projects at The Asia Foundation. The Asia Foundation is grateful to Premier Sponsor Bank of America Merrill Lynch. MasterCard and Vista Equity Partners are Golden Benefactors. Bravia Capital; Carnegie Corporation of New York; EY; Kirkland & Ellis; and Morgan Stanley are Benefactors. Special thanks to The Estee Lauder Companies.

The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia. Our Women’s Empowerment Program develops women’s leadership, increases women’s rights and security, and creates new political and economic opportunities for women.

Read our In Asia blog for more.

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Related locations: New York
Related programs: Empower Women, Lotus Circle

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