The United Nations Association of New York
2016 UN Day
Humanitarian Awards Dinner
Commemorates 71st UN Anniversary




From left: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Madame Ban Soon-taek; 2016 Humanitarian Award Honorees: FIA President and UN Special Envoy for Road Safety Jean Todt, and actress Michelle Yeoh, FIA Road Safety spokesperson and UNDP Goodwill Ambassador | All photos:

Commemorating the 71st Anniversary of the United Nations, this year's UN Day Gala Dinner took place on October 26th at the J. W. Marriott Essex House in New York, when the United Nations Association of New York announced the honorees for its annual Humanitarian of the Year awards. Many dignitaries and other distinguished guests attended the gala, the theme of which was "Improving Global Road Safety."

This year the gala honored Jean Todt, the President of the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA), along with actress Michelle Yeoh, who is FIA's High Level Panel for Road Safety spokesperson, as well as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador.

In April of 2015, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the appointment of Jean Todt as his Special Envoy for Road Safety. Mr. Todt is well-known by the general public for leading the Ferrari Formula One team through many Grand Prix successes, eventually becoming its Chief Executive Officer. With Mr. Todt's guidance, the United Nations has played a critical role in raising global awareness of a problem of immense magnitude, which sees millions killed, and millions more injured, on the world's roads every year.

According to Abid Qureshi, president of the United Nations Association of New York, "The cost is not only great in human terms, with road accidents being the leading cause of death globally for young people, but also in terms of the economic loss to societies.

"During Mr. Todt's tenure at the helm of FIA, he has successfully focused attention on road safety, demonstrating that the world of auto racing is, perhaps paradoxically, the perfect breeding ground for a world leader in road safety," stated Qureshi. "Through his tireless efforts, he has successfully brought the issue to the forefront of the development agenda of world leaders."

FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) is a leading global road safety philanthropy, which enables innovative injury prevention programs and pilot projects. Its ground-breaking advocacy helped secure the UN Decade of Action for Road Safety and is promoting road safety as important part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals agenda.

From left: 2016 Humanitarian Award Honorees Jean Todt, and Michelle Yeoh; UNA-NY Executive Director Ann Nicol and UNA-NY President Abid Qureshi. | All photos:

In accepting his award, Mr. Todt expressed that "we cannot accept that every year 1.25 million people die on the road; 50 million people are injured." He urged citizens to treat road deaths and injuries with the same urgency as other public health pandemics.

Michelle Yeoh, his partner, has been an outspoken advocate for road safety, supporting this cause for many years. An acclaimed actress and director, Yeoh has served as Global Ambassador for the Make Roads Safe campaign, and has supported many other philanthropic efforts. In March of 2015, she was appointed as a Goodwill Ambassador by the UN Development Program, where she has used her influence as performer and advocate to shine a spotlight on global development issues — for example, successfully raising awareness of and mobilizing support for the recently-launched UN Sustainable Development Goals.

At the podium, honored guest UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, also lauded the honorees.

"Mr. Todt and Ms. Yeoh have mobilized sustained commitment towards road safety. As a former racing champion, Mr. Todt is a competitor to his core. Now he is competing to save lives. Michelle Yeoh is a powerful advocate for road safety through the Safe Steps and the Make Roads Safe campaigns," he said. "Road safety is no accident. Most deaths are preventable and take place in developing countries. Mr. Todt and Ms. Yeoh are creating awareness that road safety is not a privilege, but a basic human right. I thank them for their work."

Not unaware that he was approaching the end of his term as Secretary-General, Ban offered a few farewell comments with gratitude to those present.

"And I thank everyone here tonight for your commitment to creating a safer, more sustainable and peaceful world for all. It has been an enormous privilege to serve the United Nations and the people of the world for the past ten years. There is no let-up in the challenges we face. The number of crises has multiplied and they are more devastating and intense than ever before. But I believe that together, we have laid stable foundations for the future. Our problems were created by people. They will be solved by people, working together in global solidarity."

In return, Feike Sijbesma, Chief Executive Officer of Royal DSM and a Humanitarian Award honoree at our 2010 gala dinner, graciously acknowledged the many efforts and accomplishments of the outgoing Secretary-General over the years.

"Allow me to express my deep respect and honor the biggest humanitarian of our day: Mr. Ban-Ki Moon, who over 10 years led the UN through some of its most difficult times. You worked extremely hard, respected everyone, and fought for everyone: addressing the silent cries of the world's poorest people, contributing to world peace, its development, and to human rights," acclaimed Sijbesma. "But to me one of your greatest achievements definitely was promoting sustainable development. Under your leadership the world has accepted the new strategy of the Sustainable Development Goals."

And all of us at the UNA-NY give Ban Ki-moon — himself a recipient of our 2008 Humanitarian Award — a farewell bow, with heartfelt thanks for all of his worthy leadership and his endless ways of inspiring the young people and future generations to come who will serve as cause of a better world.

For this celebration of UN Day, UNA-NY was pleased to welcome the return of Cirque du Soleil, whose founder Guy Laliberté was an honoree at its 2007 dinner, and some of whose performers enchanted the dinner audience with their acrobatic feats, in excerpts from two of their most beloved shows.

Rounding out the evening, we also invited Amanda Grossi, one of our 2016 Summer Scholars recipients, and UNA-NY Youth Representative Juan Pablo Celis, to share some of their experiences and inspirations this year.

To all of them, and to our gala attendees and sponsors, who generously continue to acknowledge and support the important work of the UN, we express our deepest gratitude for their ongoing passion and commitment.

The United Nations Association of New York is the host UN chapter of UNA-USA. It is dedicated to supporting the principles and vital work of the United Nations, strengthening the UN system and promoting constructive U.S. leadership.

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