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United Nations Relations

Spirit of the United Nations Awarding Ceremony

New York, United States—The 10th annual Spirit of the United Nations awarding ceremony was held on the theme “SDG Success—The Spiritual Indicators.”

The 2016 awarding ceremony in particular honored the efforts of the United Nations in its new path to improve the lives of all people through the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development.

The ceremony was held on October 25, 2016, at the UN Church Center by the NGO Committee on Spirituality, Values, and Global Concerns-NY (CSVGC-NY), which is chaired by the Universal Peace Federation.

The following five distinguished awardees received the Spirit of the UN Award:

  • H.E. Dr. Aksoltan Ataeva, ambassador and permanent representative of Turkmenistan to the United Nations (Diplomat Award)
  • Ms. Lopa Banerjee, chief of the Civil Society Division of UN Women (UN System Award)
  • Mr. Lu Haifeng, secretary general of the Global Forum on Human Settlements (NGO Award)
  • Ms. Hayley Gocha, social entrepreneur and youth leader (Youth Award)
  • Ms. Audrey Kitagawa, D.D. (Special Award). 

Emcee Mr. Richard Jordan, the NGO representative of RASIT (the Royal Academy of Science International Trust) UN Operation, opened the ceremony, recollecting the history of the awarding ceremony and the individuals who had the vision for its role at the United Nations.

He called upon Ms. Deborah Moldow of the World Peace Prayer Society to offer a universal invocation. In honor of the Spirit of the United Nations, Ms. Yilan Zhao, a pianist from Shanghai, China, performed the Concerto for Love from Paul de Senneville and the Lyphard Melody from Richard Clayderman and Canon. The Edward R. Murrow High School Choir and String Section elevated the spirit further with sacred music and their dynamic rendition of “Let’s Talk about Love.”

Remarks continued with CSVGC-NY Chair Genie Kagawa, who spoke about the 2016 Spirit of the United Nations awarding theme of “SDG Success—The Spiritual Indicators.” She noted the growing appreciation for the role of spirituality at the United Nations after more than a decade.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, the first honoree of the Spirit of the United Nations awarding ceremony, emphasized giving primary focus to spirituality in solving global challenges. He is highly encouraged by civil society’s initiatives for the equality and empowerment of women and the culture of peace as an important part of the transformative agenda of the SDGs.

Ms. Diane Williams, the founder of CSVGC-NY, outlined the history of the committee from 2004 until today. Most importantly, she recounted the vision of the early founding of the League of Nations in 1919, and later the United Nations in 1945, which ignited a dream for a universal organization that would create unity and harmony among nations. She demonstrated how the UN secretary-generals have embodied the Spirit of the United Nations, helping to build the UN as a unifying body that expresses the consciousness of one world. In 1956, Dag Hammarskjold initiated the Meditation Room to create an atmosphere of stillness and focus toward building the shared vision of a world of oneness.

The keynote speaker, H.E. Dr. Caleb Otto, the ambassador and permanent representative of Palau to the United Nations, recounted the important work of the UN, culminating in the 2030 Development Agenda, which was voted upon by the UN General Assembly at the end of 2016. He acknowledged the important work of the CSVGC-NY and the importance of spirituality being integrated into the important work of the member states at the UN. He cautioned that if member states focus only on their national interests, they have the tendency to lose the broader perspective. We need to appeal to the UN community to reignite the value of spirituality in the UN and work under its broad umbrella, he said. He also recommended the promotion of global citizenship as a necessary element for the United Nations to take steps forward to achieve oneness throughout the world.

The first distinguished awardee represented the diplomatic community. H.E. Dr. Aksoltan Ataeva is the longest-serving diplomat at the UN, having served as ambassador for the past 22 years. In addition, she is the only female elected as dean of the Diplomatic Corps. H.E. Ataeva recalled her history as a medical doctor, becoming the first diplomat of a new country called Turkmenistan. In guiding the foreign policies of her nation, she has tried to take a neutral stand, avoiding aggressive positions and striving to serve neighboring countries. Turkmenistan was able to develop a strong economic foundation, which has allowed it to give assistance to refugees from nearby countries.

Ms. Lopa Banerjee, the UN System awardee, is the chief of the civil society section UN Women. Throughout her career in UN Women, Ms. Banerjee has distinguished herself as a pioneer for the advancement of women. In her commitment to work for gender equality and the empowerment of women, she has been a strong advocate for the full participation of women in decision-making and in challenging the status quo. She is a woman leader who has redefined leadership by her emphasis on values. In the backdrop of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she is presently leading the discussion on the theme “Planet 50-50 by 2030—Step It Up for Gender Equality,” galvanizing the attention of government to the real progress actually being made for women’s empowerment.

The NGO awardee for the Spirit of the United Nations award is Mr. Lu Haifeng, the secretary general of the Global Forum on Human Settlements (GFHS) and the president of the Shenzhen Better City Institute. Under his leadership, GFHS has successfully held Annual Conferences on Global Human Settlements in China, the United States, Brazil, Germany and Colombia for 10 consecutive years. Mr. Lu has long been engaged in international exchange and cooperation in the field of human settlements. GFHS provides a platform for high-level dialogue with local governments, NGOs, and businesses which contribute their own efforts to the building of sustainable cities and human settlements, and the implementation of the UN Habitat Agenda.

A dynamic and elegant interlude was provided by violinist Rebecca Cherry, a renowned musician who has won critical acclaim, including a Clio Award, for her groundbreaking performances and writing in television and film. She has appeared on numerous and well-known TV specials and with symphony orchestras in North America and Europe. In celebration of the Spirit of the United Nations, Ms. Cherry performed the Adagio from the Bach Sonata No.1 in G Minor.

The awarding continued as Ms. Hayley Gocha, a social entrepreneur and youth leader, received the Spirit of the United Nations Youth Award. Ms. Gocha stands out as a very talented and socially responsible youth leader at the UN. As co-chair of the Youth Assembly at the UN in 2016, she drafted the assembly’s program agenda to reflect the 17 Sustainable Development Goals and oversaw the two-day conference of more than 70 speakers. She is also a Partnerships Associate of Ashoka, a global organization that identifies and invests in social entrepreneurs: individuals with innovative and practical ideas for solving social problems.

The final Sprit of the United Nations award, the Special Award, was presented to Ms. Audrey Kitagawa, the chair emeritus of CSVGC-NY, for having participated in laying the foundation for the committee. In a very moving response to the bestowal of the award, Ms. Kitagawa spoke about her spiritual journey and the journey of all people flowing like rivers toward a large ocean of universal love. Ms. Kitagawa has had a distinguished career as a former trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions and a founding trustee of the New York City Peace Museum.

The 10th CSVGC-NY awarding ended with a traditional cake-cutting celebration with distinguished awardees in honor of the 71st anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. The Chagall stained-glass window of the UN was featured on the topping of the cake, a symbol and reminder of the spiritual roots of the UN and the vision of the ongoing work for oneness at the United Nations.

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