Asia Foundation Mourns Death of Lotus Leadership Award Honoree Vartan Gregorian

April 19, 2021 — The Asia Foundation was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Dr. Vartan Gregorian, whom the Foundation honored in 2016 with a Lotus Leadership Award in his role as president of Carnegie Corporation of New York. Dr. Gregorian accepted the award, which recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations for their contributions towards women’s and girls’ empowerment in Asia, on behalf of Carnegie’s partnership with The Asia Foundation to improve access to university and advanced level education to Afghan women.

Upon receiving The Lotus Leadership Award, Gregorian said: “The Asia Foundation and I go back to when I was a graduate student at Stanford University. Today, your president, David Arnold, is leading a vibrant, mission-driven organization that works well with other organizations on important global issues. In Afghanistan, I know you are respected for approaching pressing challenges in partnership with the Afghan government and citizens, focusing closely on governance and education to address economic and social needs. In my view, together we are empowering inspiring, self-reliant individuals and institutions –through knowledge – so that they are able to tackle the complex development challenges of their country and their region.”

A fearless and transformative leader in the fields of education and philanthropy, Gregorian led Brown University, was provost at the University of Pennsylvania, taught at the University of Texas, UCLA, and San Francisco State College, and led the Carnegie Corporation, but perhaps his most prominent achievement was reviving the New York Public Library.

Deeply passionate about books, Gregorian was a champion of The Asia Foundation’s long-running Books for Asia program which provides textbooks and educational materials to schools, universities, research institutes, and public libraries in 18 developing countries throughout Asia. He spoke at a Books for Asia event, “The Power of a Book,” in New York, saying: “To read is to be human. As a young boy in Iran, books provided me salvation and imagination. Without books and access to stories, I wouldn’t be here today. I am eternally grateful to The Asia Foundation for taking the power of books around Asia.”

Vartan Gregorian’s lifetime of service and personal mission to support access to education and opportunity, including for girls and women in Afghanistan, was an inspiration to many. In an interview with The Asia Foundation’s InAsia blog, he shared his views on the power of education: “In some traditional cultures, it’s seen as taboo for women to seek education or attend school. In these cases, boys are the only ones whose education is supported. As a result, society deprives itself of its greatest treasure, a whole generation of women, pillars of society who aren’t able to access education and the opportunities it avails. When you educate a woman, you educate a whole generation.”

Gregorian was deeply committed to and passionate about Afghanistan, which he prioritized at Carnegie. He authored a seminal work on the history of Afghanistan, The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, and supported the country’s development generously. In the interview for InAsia, Gregorian said of Afghanistan: “We did three things to support the country’s development: We provided a roof for Kabul Library at Kabul University; we helped build back the libraries, many of which had been destroyed during conflict; and the Corporation gifted a collection of digitized treasures to libraries and universities—books, maps, photographs, historical knowledge—from the holdings of the Library of Congress. Subsequently, the U.S.-Afghan Women’s Council, headed by Laura Bush, contacted me specifically about women’s education and how critical it is to the country’s ability to succeed, and so we decided to support women’s education there, as well. Afghanistan has had many setbacks in its modern history. This has led to so much waste of human resources and material resources and hindered potential growth.” You can watch the full speech Dr. Gregorian gave upon accepting the Lotus Leadership Award, and read the interview he conducted with our InAsia blog at the time of his award. We are proud to have been allies in the fight for education with such a fearless warrior, and we commemorate his remarkable life of service.

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