When Ami found out that Roots of Health won the Asia Society’s Asia 21 Public Service Award for this
year, I knew very little about the Asia Society in general and less about the Asia 21 group. But Ami had
attended lectures, events and seen special exhibits at the Society’s museum at its headquarters in New
York City when she was working for Human Rights Watch. And I gathered from the application process
that this was a very prestigious international group and that the Asia 21 initiative involved mostly young
people. (No one at the Summit over 40.) (I attended the Summit, with special permission from the
organizers, as an observer. )
By the time Ami and I set out for New Delhi I knew a bit more: I knew the Society was founded by John
D. Rockefeller III in 1956 for the purpose of teaching Americans more about Asia. I guess it started
with a strong educational thrust, but much of this education was done through culture and arts. The
Society’s mission includes the statement “We seek to increase knowledge and enhance dialogue,
encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of arts and culture, policy and
business, and education.”
And of course it grew with the times and spun off many subgroups, of which the Asia 21 Young Leaders
Initiative is but one. In Asia and in the Asia 21 Initiative one certainly doesn’t get the feel that it is
primarily to educate Americans – it seems to be an Asian organization with some American presence.
This year in New Delhi it seemed to me that most of the participants were Indian, Pakistani, or Afghan
– naturally, because of the location. But one of the initiatives that was discussed during the conference
was the possibility of bringing more Indian and Pakistani young leaders together to deal with some of
the tensions between these two countries.
The participants were truly outstanding people and the form the conference took was very interesting.
There were no lecture sessions but instead ideas thrown out that many could, and did, respond to:
How do you define leadership? What do you think makes a good leader? What kind of ‘aha!’ or
breakthrough moment led you to where you are now, as an innovative leader in whatever field? The
inequalities in most societies have worsened in recent years: do you think this trend will continue or will
there be a moment of reversal?
Much time was also given over to collaborative projects and this I found particularly interesting.
Participants were given the opportunity to submit an idea for something they wished to collaborate on
– energy projects, world book projects, scholarship schemes, and so on. These were presented with
posters and very short descriptions during the project fair, after which the other Summit Fellows moved
around the hall and signed up for what they were interested in contributing to. The next day the small
groups met and mapped out the projects on which they would work together over the next year or
so. So instead of just going home with nice memories, they leave with collaborative work cut out for
them! Ami sat with a solar energy group, I with a scholarship group. Another friend, Anya Tan Lim, who
pioneered the Anthill Galleries, a handicraft cooperative in Cebu, is now part of a weaving cooperative
which is Filipino, Pakistani, and Nepali!
Part of the Public Service Award involves this kind of collaboration and help from the current class of
Asia 21 Fellows, so we met with them – a lovely bunch – and talked about ways in which they might
assist us. Of course they all want to visit us in Palawan but they also have valuable experience to share
in strategic planning, grant writing, etc. One is Filipino – a doctor from Manila who is interested in both
nutrition and maternal health. They are part of the group that chose Roots of Health to receive the
Public Service Award, so they are already invested in the idea of helping us along. We are really looking
forward to working with them in the coming year to strengthen Roots of Health!