Rotary International Receives United Nations Association Humanitarian Award
October 25, 2007

The United Nations Association of New York honored Rotary International and The Rotary Foundation with its 2007 Humanitarian Award on October 25 at United Nations in New York. Other honorees included Antony Burgmans, former chairman and CEO of Unilever, and Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil's One Drop Foundation. All three organizations were honored in recognition of their significant efforts regarding the global water crisis and their on-going commitment to sustainable development worldwide. The UNA awards are presented annually in observance of United Nations Day (24 October) with this year's award ceremony focused on the global water crisis.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, warmly welcomed the honorees and guests at the Annual Humanitarian Awards Dinner Reception. From left to right are Wilfred J. Wilkinson, President of Rotary International; Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil and the One Drop Foundation; and Ambassador Joseph Verner Reed the Master of Ceremonies. Antony Burgmans, former chairman of Unilever, the third honoree is not in this photo.

The Secretary-General commented that while it may be hard to believe when living in New York with plenty of rain, and rivers surrounding the city, the world's waters remain fragile. The need for a sound and sustainable approach to water resource management is pressing and water reserves continue to be wasted and degraded throughout the world. He wanted to make a point to congratulate tonight's honorees for their contributions because each of them deserves not only tonight's award, but also our collective gratitude and support.

At the evening’s Gala dinner the attendees were welcomed by Peter Rajsingh, President of the UNA-NY and the Master of Ceremonies was Ambassador Joseph Verner Reed, the former Ambassador of the United States of America to the Kingdom of Morocco and U.S. Representative of the United States to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

Rotary International
Rotary received an elegant Tiffany Crystal with the inscription:
To Rotary International: “For its leadership for bringing clean water to poor communities around the world”.

President Wilfred noted that in the years since Rotary International has started focusing on water as one of its annual service projects, we have learned just how much can be accomplished with relatively little, how a single small water project, perhaps a pump or a filter, can change the life of a community. Clean water has a great impact on nutrition, education, health, family interaction. We also learned that beneficiaries of water projects must be active participants in the project. A successful water project enables children to be healthier, and then can go to school, and can bring a community together.

In his concluding remarks, our president also clarified that for Rotarians there is no excuse not to help with the global water effort because as Past RI President, Bill Boyd said, we need to continue to try, and even though we may not succeed, we will have not failed.

The One Drop Foundation
The second honoree was Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, and the newly created One Drop Foundation. One of the foundation's main starting objectives is to fund and provide safe drinking water to selected communities in the developing world. One Drop also aims to support a public awareness regarding the global water crisis in developed countries, starting with Canada, the United States, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Hong Kong and Australia.
While the Cirque du Soleil started from very humble beginnings in 1980, it now employs more than 3000 people in three continents with over 30 millions attendees around the world. Many of the company’s employees are also contributing and are in full support of One Drop Foundation. The Tiffany crystal that was presented states: To Mr. Laliberte' for his creative vision and energy to help with the global water crisis.

At the Gala Dinner, Mr. Laliberté presented thoughtful insight to the reasons for creating a humanitarian foundation. He mentioned that his parents taught him that sharing what you have with others is very important. So, when he left home and went on the road at 14 years old to entertain people, he realized that our planet can be made better. At this early age he then committed to continue the “circle of life” and to give back what life gave him when he had the resources to do so. As a result, for his company’s 25th anniversary they have created the One Drop Foundation. Water is the “Source of Life” and sadly, one person is dying every eight seconds from the lack of clean safe water. The One Drop Foundation plans to spend the next 25 years to lend a hand to curtail the global water crisis, Mr. Laliberté elucidated.

The third honoree, Antony Burgmans, the former chairman of Unilever was born in the Netherlands and joined Unilever in 1972 as a marketing assistant. After excelling in several international divisions of the company, in 1994 he advanced to Chairman of the Europe Committee, which coordinated Unilever's European activities. In May of 2005, he became Chairman of Unilever. Among his many civic-minded contributions, he chaired the CEO panel at the World Water Forum in The Hague, the Netherlands, in 2000 and again in Osaka, Japan, in 2003. Mr. Burgmans connected with the attendees when he outlined his commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility. But before he made his comments, he pointed out that the “perception of time is different when you speak, or if you listen”. So he made certain that his comments were brief.

Mr. Burgmans understood at an early age that earning money and behaving responsibly are “completely compatible”. He gave an example when his company faced a dilemma when a number of NGO’s, including the World Wildlife Federation, were rightfully concerned about the over-fishing of Scandinavian waters. However, they unjustifiably saw Unilever as one of the main culprits of harming ocean life. As a result, Unilever, under Mr. Burgmans guidance, met with the WWF and offered to fund the monitoring the commercial activities of Unilever. As such, the WWF could certify that Unilever was acting environmentally responsible. The partnership worked perfectly, but Mr. Burgmans noted that several Scandinavian governments criticized the program because they believed that this was not the traditional role of business. The honoree clarified that governments should not be against business, and industry should not be against government. “Business is not the problem, it is part of the solution”, he emphasized, and firms should be proud of their contributions because it is the “decent thing to do”.

The Tiffany crystal that was presented to Mr. Burgmans stated: "To Mr. Burgmans for his lifetime commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility and the promotion of sustainable economic development."

The evening’s Gala was motivating, even inspirational. The related philosophies of Guy Laliberté to complete the “Circle of Life", and that of Antony Burgmans that “ Business and Social Responsibility Are Fully Compatible”, are visions that Rotarians certainly espouse. All three of the recipients of the UNA Humanitarian award started from humble beginnings, excelled in their respective professions, and found it necessary to contribute to help solve some of the world’s persistent problems in their own way, and one village at a time.

Last year, the United Nations Association honorees were Robert L. Corcoran, president of the General Electric Foundation and Ann M. Veneman, executive director of UNICEF, for their significant work in global education.