For more than 20 years, the United Nations Foundation’s Global Leadership Awards have recognized the extraordinary contributions of individuals and organizations striving to further the work of the UN and advance its goal of a more peaceful, just, and sustainable world for everyone, everywhere.

Today, the Awards are presented at “We The Peoples,” a signature event named for the inspiring opening words of the UN Charter and honoring the profound vision of the UN’s founders: to save future generations from the scourge of war, reaffirm faith in human rights and equal rights, ensure justice and international law, and promote social progress and freedom.

UN Foundation President and CEO Elizabeth Cousens is delighted to invite you to join us on the eve of Human Rights Day in honoring global changemakers and pathbreakers at a virtual ceremony on December 9, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. ET.

About the Awards

Now more than ever, it is important to showcase extraordinary leadership in a turbulent world, and our 2021 honorees truly embody the spirit of We The Peoples, just as those we have previously honored.

Our Champion of Global Change Award recognizes enlightened leadership in working towards a more prosperous and equitable world for us all. Previous honorees include Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, His Highness the Aga Khan, U.S. Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, UN Secretaries-General Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, and Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie.

We also seek to honor the extraordinary compassion, courage, and determination of UN frontline workers with our UN Heroes Award. And in 2021, we will inaugurate a new SDG Vanguard Award to recognize leaders whose work and impact reflects the urgency of the SDG agenda and the imperative to leave no one behind.

Champion for Global Change

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

Director-General, World Trade Organization

In recognition of pathbreaking leadership and determination to ensure a more equitable, prosperous, and sustainable world for everyone, everywhere, the UN Foundation recognizes Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala as a 2021 Global Champion for Change.

With more than 40 years of experience and expertise at the highest levels of international finance, politics, and development, it is no surprise that TIME magazine named her one of the 100 most influential leaders and people of 2021.

Currently the first woman and first African to hold the post of Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), she leads the world’s largest international economic organization, and the UN agency responsible for regulating and facilitating international commerce.

In previous years, she served as Nigeria’s first female, and longest-serving, finance minister, and has also been a senior adviser, official or board member of several leading public and private international finance institutions, including 25 years at the World Bank, rising to the second-highest position of Managing Director.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala has further served as Chair of the Board of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. In 2020, she was appointed as an African Union COVID-19 Special Envoy and WHO COVID-19 Special Envoy, and helped establish the COVAX Facility, a global partnership designed to provide COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income countries.

To discuss her illustrious career, and make the award presentation, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala will be joined in conversation by Mark Malloch-Brown, President of the Open Society Foundations, UN Foundation Board member, and a former UN Deputy Secretary-General.

Professor Muhammad Yunus

Founder, Grameen Bank, and Nobel Laureate

In recognition of enlightened leadership and innovation to enhance human dignity, equity, and justice, the UN Foundation recognizes Professor Muhammad Yunus as a 2021 Global Champion for Change.

A lifelong social activist and innovator, Prof. Yunus has spent almost half a century designing innovative social programs to empower the rural poor. A pioneer who believes credit is a fundamental human right, he founded the Grameen Bank in 1983 to extend microcredit and microfinance to basket weavers in Bangladesh—previously considered too poor to qualify for bank loans. His work inspired a global movement to lift millions of small entrepreneurs out of poverty, earning him a Nobel Peace Prize and the nickname “Banker to the Poor.”

Prof. Yunus also created Gram Sarkar (“village institution”), a form of local governance that prioritizes participation by rural people, an approach later officially adopted by the Bangladeshi government. In addition, he helped launch a green revolution in his country through a unique approach to collective agriculture called Nabajug Tebhaga Khamar (“three-share farm”).

As well as the Nobel Prize, he has received many accolades, including the World Food Prize and the Independence Day Award, the highest honor in Bangladesh. He has served on the Global Commission of Women’s Health, the Advisory Council for Sustainable Economic Development, and the UN Expert Group on Women and Finance. Professor Yunus serves on the UN Foundation Board of Directors.

We are honored that UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J Mohammed will join Professor Yunus to discuss his achievements, and make the presentation.

UN Heroes

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Human Rights Workers

In recognition of the courage and compassion of UN frontline human rights workers, and their determination to defend and protect the most vulnerable people everywhere, the UN Foundation honors the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and UN Human Rights Workers with the 2021 UN Heroes Award.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) embodies the world’s commitment to the political, social, cultural, economic, and civic freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and enshrined in the UN Charter.

Its many thousands of frontline workers across the globe are committed to protecting rights and freedoms everywhere. They work to prevent and highlight violations and abuses, especially among vulnerable or marginalized communities, and by collaborating with governments, NGOs, and civil society, UN Human Rights workers help ensure that human rights are protected under the rule of law.

Presented on the eve of Human Rights Day, frontline human rights workers in the field will accept the UN Heroes Award on behalf of all their colleagues.

SDG Vanguard Award

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

Accepted by: Hoesung Lee, Chairperson, IPCC

In recognition of steadfast commitment to scientific excellence, and extraordinary leadership in helping the world understand the facts, risks, and solutions to climate change, the UN Foundation recognizes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with its inaugural SDG Vanguard Award, given to those who advance progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in this final Decade of Action. IPCC chair Hoesung Lee will accept the award on behalf of the IPCC.

As the UN body for assessing the science of climate change, the IPCC brings together the world’s leading experts and scientists to tackle the biggest and most urgent global challenge of our time—climate action. Encapsulated in SDG 13, delivering meaningful and robust climate action is critical to the future of our planet, and therefore to our ability to advance all the Goals.

Created in 1988 by the UN Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, the IPCC provides scientific information to governments at all levels to help develop smarter climate policies. Its reports play a critical role during international climate negotiations, including the most recent gathering at COP26, helping countries, companies, civil society actors, and citizens come together around a common, science-based language of climate action, that helps us understand how to keep the path to 1.5C open.

As chair of the IPCC, Dr. Hoesung Lee has led efforts to make the IPCC’s reports more relevant and understandable to not only the world’s policymakers, but its everyday citizens as well. In addition to this role, he is also a professor in the economics of climate change, energy, and sustainable development at Korea University in Seoul.

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL)

Accepted by: Damilola Ogunbiyi, CEO, SEforALL

In this final Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs, the world’s ability to make progress across all 17 Goals hinges on our determination and commitment to tackle the climate crisis. At such a pivotal moment, the UN Foundation is delighted to honor the leadership and contribution of Sustainable Energy For All (SEForAll) for its leading role in ensuring a clean energy transition that leaves no one behind and brings new opportunities for everyone. Our inaugural SDG Vanguard Award will be accepted on behalf of SEForAll by its CEO Damilola Ogunbiyi.

Now in its tenth year, SEforALL partners with the UN and leaders in government, the private sector, financial institutions, civil society, and philanthropies to drive faster action toward the achievement of SDG7—access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all by 2030, in line with the Paris Agreement.

Taking over as CEO in 2020, Damilola Ogunbiyi also acts as Co-Chair of UN-Energy and as Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All. In addition she is co-chair of the Global Commission to End Energy Poverty. Before leading SEforAll, she was Nigeria’s first female Managing Director for the country’s Rural Electrification Agency, successfully negotiating a project to rapidly construct solar mini-grids and solar home systems across Nigeria.

To discuss SEforAll’s impact and to make the presentation, Damilola Ogunbiyi will be joined in conversation by Jay’Len Boone, the 2019-2020 U.S. Youth Observer to the UN, and a young climate activist and student who runs his own sustainability nonprofit in San Antonio, Texas.

Featured Speakers

Amina J. Mohammed

Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations

One of the pre-eminent and most celebrated international diplomats of our time, Amina J. Mohammed is a driving force for accelerated implementation across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Agreement. Tasked with implementing the Secretary-General’s agenda, her role involves ensuring the UN delivers for everyone everywhere, starting with those furthest behind.

Having been a key figure in the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals both within the UN and in her home country Nigeria, Ms. Mohammed served as Special Adviser to former Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with the responsibility for post-2015 development planning. She was one of the foundational architects of the Sustainable Development Agenda, leading the process that resulted in global agreement in 2015 by every government, and the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

She also served as Nigeria’s Minister for the Environment before being appointed Deputy Secretary-General by Antonio Guterres in 2017.

We are honored that Ms. Mohammed will appear in the We The Peoples awards show in conversation with Global Champion for Change honoree Professor Muhammad Yunus.

Jay’Len Boone

UNA-USA 2019-20 U.S. Youth Observer to the UN

From climate change to the COVID-19 crisis, Jay’Len Boone served as U.S. Youth Observer to the UN during a pivotal period. In that time, he connected thousands of young people across the U.S. with UN leaders, diplomats, and activists across the globe. During his tenure, he attended the UN General Assembly as a representative of the United Nations Association of the USA (UNA-USA) — a U.S. grassroots movement with more than 20,000 members nationwide housed at the UN Foundation — and helped lead the UN’s first Youth Climate Action Summit, which brought together more than 600 youth leaders from 140 countries.

As a university student in Texas, Boone founded Sustainable Youth in Action, a nonprofit organization that trains and equips young people to enact sustainable solutions in their own communities. At the We The People’s awards show he will appear in conversation with Damilola Ogunbiyi of SEForAll.

Elizabeth Cousens

President and Chief Executive Officer, UN Foundation

Named as its third President and Chief Executive Officer in 2020, Elizabeth Cousens leads the UN the Foundation’s next generation of work to support the United Nations, and is host of this year’s We The People’s awards presentation.

As a diplomat, negotiator, and thought leader, Cousens brings more than 20 years of experience on the frontlines of global policymaking and innovation all over the world. Before joining the Foundation, she served at the U.S. Mission to the UN in New York and later as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN Economic and Social Council, in which role she led U.S. negotiations on the SDGs. She has also served on the boards of UN agencies, funds, and programmes, and was U.S. representative to the UN Peacebuilding Commission.

Mark Malloch Brown

President, Open Society Foundations and former Deputy UN Secretary-General

Mark Malloch-Brown is a former diplomat, government minister, UN official, and journalist, whose work in international affairs over four decades has helped to advance human rights and justice.

Currently serving as president of the Open Society Foundations, he has also previously served as UN Deputy Secretary‐General, Chief of Staff under Kofi Annan, and Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP). He also covered Africa and Asia as minister of state in the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office and was knighted for his contribution to international affairs. He spent several years in senior roles at the World Bank, and began his career as a journalist at The Economist, and as an international refugee worker. He is a current member of the UN Foundation Board.

At the We The Peoples awards show, Malloch-Brown will appear in conversation with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and present her with the Global Champion of Change Award.

Rajesh Mirchandani

Chief Communications Officer, UN Foundation

As Chief Communications Officer, Rajesh Mirchandani leads an award-winning team of multi-skilled communications professionals in positioning the Foundation among its many audiences, partners, and stakeholders to drive support and engagement on UN priorities. He sits on the Foundation’s leadership team, and is a regular event panelist and moderator. He is the Master of Ceremonies for this year’s We The Peoples award presentation.

Mirchandani brings more than twenty years of experience as an international journalist and anchor for the BBC, having reported from around the world on a wide range of topics, from natural disasters to U.S. Presidential elections. After leaving journalism, he led communications at the Center for Global Development, an influential Washington, D.C., think tank.

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