Michelin-star chef Vikas Khanna will be honoured with the prestigious 2020 Asia Game Changer Award for feeding millions across India amid the COVID-19 pandemic through a massive food distribution drive that he coordinated, thousands of miles away from his Manhattan home. The Asia Game Changer Awards, launched by the Asia Society -- a US-based non-profit organisation -- in 2014, identify and honour true leaders who make a positive contribution to the future of Asia. Khanna, 48, is the only Indian among the six honourees named by the leading organisation on Wednesday. Preeminent cellist Yo-Yo Ma, tennis champion Naomi Osaka, Korean boy band BTS, producer of Oscar-winning film ''Parasite'' Miky Lee and business leaders and philanthropists Joe and Clara Tsai are the honourees of the Asia Game Changer Awards "for their responses to the year''s twin traumas of COVID-19 and racially motivated violence".
Khanna is being honoured “for dropping everything to feed millions in India at a time of great need and suffering”.
As the COVID-19 pandemic hit India, Khanna, sitting thousands of miles away in New York, launched a food distribution drive that steadily reached millions across the country. Since April, Khanna’s #FeedIndia initiative has distributed 35 million meals, including cooked and dry ration, as well as 500,000 slippers, 3.5 million sanitary pads, two millions masks and other essential supplies across hundreds of cities throughout India.
Khanna told PTI he feels “humbled” by the honour from an eminent organisation that has played a tremendous role in promoting Asian culture. "I’m humbled to be among such a great line-up of awardees,” he said.
From actor Dev Patel to Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai, Khanna said, over the years the Asia Society has honoured people who wield tremendous “cultural influence” over millions around the world.
Khanna, who had earlier said that he feels the past 30 years have been preparing him for this moment of humanitarian crisis, added, "This has been the most gratifying (time) in my culinary career."
The virtual event to honour the awardees will be held in October and will also feature a special message by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a performance from Yo-Yo Ma, and a feature to honour frontline health care workers in the US and Asia.
“In this time of profound global challenge, our 2020 Game Changers shine a beacon of love and courage across our divided globe,” Asia Society President and CEO Josette Sheeran said. “They have met the moment, and they have inspired the world. We are honoured to bring them to our signature global event.”
The Asia Society said while Khanna has been feeding people since he was a child, “but not until 2020 did it become a matter of life or death.”
Watching the hardships and struggles of millions of people across India as the pandemic hit, Khanna issued a “heartfelt plea for information on communities in need” from his Manhattan apartment.
Khanna partnered with India’s National Disaster Relief Force for logistical and on-the-ground support and his movement soon received aid from grain companies, tech firms, and offers of industrial kitchen space in Mumbai.
The popular Korean boy band is being honoured for raising their voices and inspiring their huge global audience to stand against any form of discrimination, while Asia Society lauded Lee for shining a light on inequality and blazing a trail for Korea on the global stage. The organisation said Yo-Yo Ma is being awarded for “a lifetime of achievement, and providing ''songs of comfort'' to millions when the world needed it the most.”
Osaka, who won her second US Open title this month, is being honoured "for using her large global platform to call for racial justice and social change".
As COVID-19 tightened its grip on New York, and the severe shortage of medical supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) in the US became apparent, the Tsais “swept into action”.
"As co-founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, sourcing from China was in Joe Tsai’s DNA,” Asia Society said adding that through their eponymous foundation, the Tsais donated millions of masks, goggles, and ventilators to hospitals and nursing homes in New York, then the epicentre of the coronavirus.
Past awardees include PepsiCo’s former CEO Indra Nooyi, South Delhi Deputy Police Commissioner Chhaya Sharma, Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Co-Founder and CEO of non-governmental education organisation Pratham, Madhav Chavan.