Asia Society Honors Remarkable Game Changers for Providing Inspiration During a Challenging Year
October 22, 2020 — Asia Society recognized six extraordinary honorees at the seventh annual 2020 Asia Game Changer Awards, a celebration of individuals and groups who saved lives, changed lives, and lifted spirits during a most challenging year, in an inspiring virtual ceremony on Thursday night.
The honorees came from a wide range of professions and locations. They included BTS, global superstar musicians from South Korea; Vikas Khanna, celebrity chef and philanthropist from India; the celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma; South Korean entertainment impresario Miky Lee; philanthropists Joe and Clara Tsai; and tennis champion Naomi Osaka. The evening also featured a special message from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as well as a tribute to the frontline health care workers who proved to be so consequential in treating patients infected with COVID-19.
BTS, a K-Pop group that has topped music charts, sold out stadium tours, and amassed a global following — known as the “ARMY” — that is millions strong, were honored for their support for ending all forms of discrimination. In June, the group donated $1 million in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
BTS accepted their Asia Game Changer Award with humility that belied their enormous fame. “It’s hard to believe whenever we, seven ordinary guys born and raised in different parts of Korea, are praised for changing the world,” said BTS member Min Yoon-Gi. “We’re not sure if we deserve such high praise.”
The group was quick to credit their followers for playing a large role in their philanthropic work of 2020. “We think it is those who are with us that change the world, not us,” said Kim Tae-Hyung.
The global popularity of BTS has occurred alongside a broader explosion of Korean popular culture across the world. The person arguably most responsible for this trend is entertainment impresario and 2020 Asia Game Changer Miky Lee, who, among other achievements, served as the executive producer of the award-winning film Parasite.
“She hasn’t just changed the game.” said former World Bank head Jim Yong Kim, who introduced Lee. “She invented the game.”
In her acceptance speech, Lee, who has devoted her career to bridging cultural gaps between Asia and the West, said that “we all stand as equal members of a global community of artists.”
Few individuals merit membership in this community more than Yo-Yo Ma, the celebrated cellist who has recorded more than 100 albums, won 19 Grammys, and performed for eight U.S. presidents. In the early days of the pandemic, Ma began performing what he called “songs of comfort” to his social media accounts, inspiring a movement that later elicited contributions from James Taylor, The Indigo Girls, and other musicians. For this, Ma was awarded an Asia Game Changer Award.
“I accept this award with great pleasure because I am so glad that the Asia Society exists,” he said. “I love the Asia Society. Not [just] because it represents the continent of Asia, but because from the events and posts you have in so many locations — New York, Texas, California, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Melbourne — what I believe the Asia Society is trying to do is help peoples in the [Asian] diaspora and people on the continent communicate in order to create stronger fabrics in society.”
Few individuals epitomize the mission of Asia Society better than Vikas Khanna, who rose from humble origins in India to become a Michelin-starred chef in New York. Khanna was selected as an Asia Game Changer for helping feed millions of people in his native country whose lives were turned upside down by the pandemic.
“Asia Society is one of the most important organizations which unites East and West, and I’ve always been proud of its work,” he said in receiving the award. “Standing here and accepting the Game Changer Award in 2020 has been one of the proudest moments of my life.”
When New York City’s health care system buckled under the weight of COVID-19 in March and April, Joe and Clara Tsai, two of the world’s great philanthropists, got to work. Through their eponymous foundation, the Tsais donated millions of masks, goggles, and ventilators to hospitals and nursing homes in New York, and later spent millions of dollars ensuring personal protective equipment reached health care workers in San Diego and Detroit.
“It took a global pandemic for people to realize that no system is perfect,” Joe Tsai said, in accepting his 2020 Asia Game Changer award with his wife. “And the world depends on the conscience and responsibility of those who are in fortunate positions to step up where they’re needed most.”
The 23-year-old Naomi Osaka has already solidified her place in tennis history. Born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, Osaka became the first Asian player to be ranked number one in the world, and her tournament winnings and lucrative endorsement deals have made her the highest-paid female athlete in the world. But in 2020, Osaka earned global respect for her actions off the court: her vocal advocacy for Black Lives Matter.
“She has redefined what it means to use your voice for social justice, to speak up against systemic racism in our criminal justice system, and to not let anyone shut you down,” Caroline Kennedy, former U.S. ambassador to Japan, said in introducing Osaka.
“I really appreciate what the Asia Society has done for decades to build bridges between cultures to help us all have a better understanding of each other,” Osaka said in her acceptance speech. “Certainly, this world could use a little more understanding right now. So thank you for all you do.”
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expressed similar sentiment through a special message presented during the ceremony.
“I would like to exercise gubernatorial prerogative and nominate another Game Changer from the people of the state of New York: and that is the Asia Society itself,” he said.
“The Asia Society performed a vital role for the state when we needed it the most. [They] helped us in the midst of the most crucial period in dealing with the pandemic, when New York State feared our hospital system would be overwhelmed and we were having difficulty staffing our hospitals.”