Aga Khan, Dev Patel amongst 2017 Asia Game Changers awardees

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Dev Patel with a BAFTA award for ‘Lion’. Photo: Reuters.

NEW YORK – The talented Indo-British actor Dev Patel and His Highness the Aga Khan, spiritual leader to the world’s 15 million Ismaili Muslims, are among the 9 recipients of the 2017 Asia Game Changers awards, announced by the Asia Society, on August 8.

The awards, now in their fourth year, recognize those making a transformative and positive difference for the future of Asia and the world. Honorees are nominated and selected by members of the Asia Society’s global network.

The 9 honorees will attend the Asia Game Changer Awards dinner and celebration at the United Nations, New York, on November 1. The evening will feature a performance from Wu Tong, the Chinese musician and composer, who is also one of the awardees this year.

The 2017 awardees are:

  • Asia Game Changer Lifetime Achievement Award: His Highness the Aga Khan – Founder, Aga Khan Development Network; for using philanthropy to lift millions of Asia’s most vulnerable.
  • Sonita Alizadeh (Afghanistan) – rapper and activist; for using rap music to empower the girls of Afghanistan.
  • Jean Liu (China) – President, Didi Chuxing; for revolutionizing transportation in China.
  • Aisholpan Nurgaiv (Mongolia) – eagle huntress; for breaking gender barriers at a remarkably young age.
  • Leng Ouch (Cambodia) – environmental activist; for risking his life to expose an environmental calamity.
  • Dev Patel (India/United Kingdom) – actor; for using celebrity to place a spotlight on India’s poor.
  • Sesame Workshop – nonprofit organization; for proving that learning can be fun — and have a profound impact — anywhere in the world.
  • Wu Tong (China) – musician and composer; for showing that musical virtuosity knows no bounds.
  • Tadashi Yanai (Japan) – founder, UNIQLO; Chairman, President and CEO, Fast Retailing; for making philanthropy fashionable.

“In a world of challenges, it is important to honor the dreamers and leaders, those who take action and those who inspire us to build a better world,” said Asia Society President Josette Sheeran, in a statement. “This year’s Game Changers have each made a significant difference through a unique vision, perseverance, and courage.”

Previous Asia Game Changers include ICICI Bank CEO Chanda Kochhar; Alibaba founder Jack Ma; comedian and activist Aasif Mandvi; Acumen CEO Jacqueline Novogratz; Xiaomi founder and CEO Lei Jun; documentary maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy; architecture icon I.M. Pei; education activist Malala Yousafzai; film director Zhang Yimou, among others.

For Dev Patel, 26, the year keeps getting rosier after his accolades for the film ‘Lion’, including nominations from the Academy and the Golden Globes. It may culminate in an even bigger high when his next, much-anticipated film ‘Hotel Mumbai’, based on the 2008 terror attacks, opens later this year.

Patel, who became the face of Indian actors in Hollywood after his role in Slumdog Millionaire, is transforming the lives of many people in India, with his charitable endeavors too. Asia Society has made a great choice in selecting him as one of their honorees this year.

Patel’s #lionheart campaign has raised over $250,000 in support of India’s millions of homeless children.

Patel has embraced India tightly, despite his British roots, and is proud of it.

“They feel a strong ownership over me,” Patel has said, of his fans in India. “Which is more than welcome in a big way.”

Still from ‘Daughters of Destiny’ on Netflix.

While Patel’s laudable charitable work is just getting noticed, and no doubt, he will strive to do even more after being named as a ‘Game Changer’ by Asia Society, a remarkable, and wonderfully well-made documentary on Netflix, ‘Daughters of Destiny’, which focuses on Shanti Bhavan, a K-12 free residential school for poor children – founded in Tamil Nadu by the Indian American philanthropist Abraham George – is an eye-opener for those who want to contribute to India, and help fight the ravages of poverty.

The documentary, made over seven years, and directed by Vanessa Roth, had its debut on Netflix, last month. It’s the kind of film one wishes goes on to win an Oscar, and do India proud.

For India needs many more philanthropists like Abraham George and his son, Ajit George, an equally dedicated and committed philanthropist, with a large heart, and remarkable vision.

India needs hundreds of Shanti Bhavan-type schools, if it has to become a developed nation.

For most NRIs and Indian Americans, the issue of philanthropy has often raised issues of transparency, and doubts if the money they give to charity for causes in India, is utilized properly or not.

While there are many terrific organizations out there doing some commendable work to help the poor in India – with American India Foundation being a leader – it’s heartening to note that the efforts of people like Abraham George, Aga Khan and Dev Patel is being brought forward to a global audience.

It’s the kind of attention India needs.