|From left: Nikkei Asia Prize recipients Dogmid Sosorbaram, Madhu Pandit Dasa from the Akshaya Patra Foundation and Jiang Lei at the awards ceremony in Tokyo on May 29|
The awards, now in their 21st year, are given to those who are making a difference in the Asian region. "The world is facing many uncertainties," said Fujio Mitarai, chairman of the selection committee and head of the influential Japanese business lobby Keidanren. "Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important to shed light on knowledge and activities that can be shared across the globe. The winners fit that bill."
The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which serves daily meals to 1.5 million children at 11,000 schools across India, was recognized for economic and business innovation. During the ceremony, Chairman Madhu Pandit Dasa said: "Akshaya Patra firmly believes that every nation's destiny is in the quality of life that it offers to its children. Not only the destiny of nations but the destiny of our entire civilization, especially so when the world is moving toward a single global economic village."
Dasa, the chief priest at a well-known Hindu temple, founded the nongovernmental organization in 2001. Today, it runs 24 central kitchens in 10 of India's 29 states. It has no religious agenda and provides meals to Muslim schools as well.
"According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, out of 794.6 million hungry people in the world, 195 million are in India," Dasa said. "India is home to a quarter of the undernourished population in the world. Why this hunger and poverty? Did God create this? No, this is created by human beings and can be solved only by humans, with God's grace."
Dasa stressed that people are not powerless to change this dire situation. "We can unleash the compensating force of compassion in the hearts of the rich to share their wealth, at least to meet the basic needs of humanity." His foundation aims to serve 5 million children by 2020, and is building eight more central kitchens. "Our aspiration is that no child in India should go hungry, and that hunger should not be an impediment for education."
Jiang Lei, a professor at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry, took the science and technology prize. Jiang is known for his research on the way living organisms work, and his findings have paved the way for materials that mimic those features. Using carbon nanotubes, for example, he artificially recreated extremely water-repellent structures based on the legs of pond skaters. These structures can be used as coating materials to protect delicate objects.
Another significant achievement was the recreation of the surface structure of fish scales, which repel oil and dirt. The results are now used to protect ship hulls. "Over 700 vessels that navigate the seas use my technology," Jiang said.
The scientist spent time in Japan during the 1990s and said he took inspiration from Japanese research methods. "The Japanese way of research thinks of the application of that research from the very beginning," he said. During his remarks, Jiang showed the audience a famous painting by surrealist artist Rene Magritte. The piece, called "Clairvoyance," depicts a man painting a picture of a bird while looking at an egg. "What this man is doing," Jiang said, "is what I do in the world of biology."
The culture and community award, meanwhile, went to Dogmid Sosorbaram, a Mongolian actor, singer and former political activist. He is the first Mongolian to win a Nikkei Asia Prize.
The art of change
Born in 1958 into a nomadic family in southern central Mongolia, Sosorbaram spent much of his youth sitting astride his horse and singing songs. He went on to major in theatrical performance at university, and subsequently became a key figure in the pro-democracy movement that gathered momentum in 1989.
Reciting poems and singing at political rallies, he helped to unify opposition parties into the currently governing Democratic Party. At the party's first national convention, held in February 1990, he was the opening speaker.
"I am merely an actor, a singer and a director, but I take pride in being one of the first members of Mongolia's democratic movement," he said in his acceptance speech. "I also feel pleasure in deepening mutual understanding between Mongolian and Japanese arts and culture." Sosorbaram then wowed the audience with a traditional Mongolian folk performance.
The Nikkei Asia Prizes were created in 1996 to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Nikkei Inc.'s main Japanese-language newspaper, The Nikkei. Past winners include professor Yuan Longping, the Chinese father of hybrid rice, in 1996; Dr. Manmohan Singh, who won in 1997 and would later become prime minister of India; and Dr. Muhammad Yunus, managing director of Grameen Bank, who was honored in 2004 and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.
More Info: http://www.nikkei-events.jp/asiaprizes/en/index.html