Asia Society tonight honored Jack Ma, Chairman of the Alibaba Group, and 12 other leaders and institutions as its inaugural class of Asia Game Changers. The ceremony, held at the United Nations in New York City, recognized those making a transformative and positive difference for the future of Asia and the world. Honorees included Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, Shanghai Normal University professor Zhang Minxuan, and Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
Ma, who was recognized as Asia Game Changer of the Year for his philanthropic contributions and innovative vision, spoke last at the ceremony.
"I never thought I'd have a chance to be at the United Nations," he said, who recounted his company's rise from humble beginnings. "Small is beautiful," Ma told the audience, adding that he was there to represent "all the small guys." Drawing on his early years as a teacher, Ma said that that as an educator "You believe knowledge will change people's lives," and explained that for him, the title CEO is an acronym for "Chief Education Officer" of his company. Goldman Sachs and SoftBank were strategic partners for the Asia Game Changer of the Year Award presented to Ma.
In closing, Ma revealed what he called the "secret code" of Alibaba: "Keep your dream alive, because it might come true one day."
"The Asia Game Changer Awards are designed to fill a glaring gap — a lack of recognition of people who are truly transforming ideas into action and improving lives in Asia," said Asia Society President Josette Sheeran. "Our inaugural honorees represent an extraordinary range of geography and achievement. What they share in common are vision, passion and proven impact, wherever and however they happen to be changing the world."
Stephen Bird, Chief Executive Officer for Citi Asia Pacific, introduced the award for 17-year-old Pakistani education activist Yousafzai, hailing her as "a force for progress in the entire world." (Citi is the underwriting partner for the 2014 Asia Game Changer Awards and Dinner.) Yousafzai then addressed the ceremony via video message from Birmingham, England, where she is completing her studies.
"I thank the Asia Society for this honor, of being included in [this] list of remarkable people," Yousafzai said. "There are so many countries and there are issues that children are suffering through, but there are game changers as well who are going to speak, who are going to change the game, and who are going to work for their future. We have to do it together."
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon saluted the "array of remarkable Asians" being honored, noting that "the world got a head start" on the evening's proceedings with last week's announcement that the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize would be shared by two Asians, the Pakistani Yousafzai and India's Kailash Satyarthi.
Honorees were selected based on input from Asia Society's global network. In addition to Ma and Yousafzai, the 2014 awardees are Shigeru Ban, Founder, Shigeru Ban Architects; Madhav Chavan, Co-Founder and CEO, Pratham Education Foundation; Illac Diaz, Founder, MyShelter Foundation and Liter of Light; Fashion Girls for Humanity; Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, Minister and Senior Advisor to the Indonesian President; Saad Mohseni, Chairman, MOBY Group; Jacqueline Novogratz, Founder and CEO, Acumen; Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Founder, SOC Films and President, The Citizens Archive of Pakistan; Playing for Change; Pawan Sinha, Professor, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT; and Zhang Minxuan, Professor, Shanghai Normal University.