The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Leadership Awards 2020

Ziauddin Yousafzai of Malala Fund, Mastercard, The Gender Lab Honored as Allies in the Fight for Gender Equality

San Francisco, April 15, 2020 — The Asia Foundation, an international development nonprofit addressing Asia’s most urgent problems, celebrated its 2020 Lotus Leadership Awards: Allies in the Fight for Gender Equality in a virtual event on April 15. Presenters included broadcast journalist and Lotus Circle Advisor Sydnie Kohara and 2020 Awards co-chairs Leyli Zohrenejad and Janet Montag.

The annual Lotus Leadership Awards recognize outstanding individuals and organizations for their contributions towards women’s and girls’ empowerment in Asia. The 2020 Awardees are an extraordinary group of allies who are fighting for gender equality across business, nonprofit, and grassroots communities.

Honoree Ziauddin Yousafzai co-founded the Malala Fund with his daughter Malala in 2013 to campaign for girls to go to school. During the Virtual Awards program, he remarked: “We need to have more feminist men, feminist communities, feminist governments to come forward and make gender equality a reality.” Together, Ziauddin and Malala champion every girl’s right to 12 years of free and safe quality education.

Mastercard was honored for empowering women entrepreneurs with access to digital tools, financing networks, and skills training, creating a path to a better quality of life for women and their families. Ajay Banga, chief executive officer of Mastercard and a member of its board of directors, commented: “If you don’t do the right thing in society, you don’t allow society to grow, there’s no way your business can keep growing in a broken society…The fact is that we’ve got to allow the digital economy to work for everybody everywhere.”

Co-founded by Akshat Singhal and Ayushi Banerji, The Gender Lab strives to change a patriarchal society one boy at a time. “We saw that one part of the problem not being talked about was how patriarchy pushes men and boys to be a certain way, and how certain behaviors and actions are also created, tolerated, and propagated because of how the system is…We decided to work at the root of the problem to unbox the very idea of masculinity and what it means to be a man,” remarked Ayushi.

Over the course of one year, 2,500 adolescent boys from 61 schools in Mumbai, Indore, and Delhi, India took a journey to redefine masculinity and stand up to gender-based violence. During the Awards, The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Circle announced a $10,000 gift to The Gender Lab to continue their crucial work.

Watch the event:

Covid-19 poses exceptional risks to marginalized communities, including for women and girls in Asia. Support for short-term, high-impact activities that can be implemented quickly to address urgent needs is more crucial than ever. The Asia Foundation’s Lotus Circle—a community of philanthropists advancing women’s rights and opportunities across  18 countries in Asia—and its unique funding model directly seed and sustain innovative projects to make a real difference in the lives of women and girls across Asia.

Two weeks ago, the Covid-19 Lotus Rapid Response Fund launched and has directly responded to the needs of women and girls in Asia, including expanding domestic violence hotlines in Indonesia and Cambodia; supporting remote learning for young women studying STEM in Laos and Cambodia; helping women entrepreneurs in Malaysia transition their businesses online; supporting food security for women with disabilities, caregivers, and elderly people in Indonesia; and distributing hygiene kits to at-risk populations in Pakistan.

A number of activities are still in the pipeline, and funds raised from the Lotus Leadership Awards will support these critical efforts. The Asia Foundation is grateful for the support of institutional partners: Premier Sponsors Bank of America and Mastercard; Golden Benefactor Kirkland and Ellis; and Benefactor EY.


The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia. Informed by six decades of experience and deep local expertise, our work across the region addresses five overarching goals—strengthen governance, empower women, expand economic opportunity, increase environmental resilience, and promote regional cooperation.

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