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Yōhei Sasakawa (笹川 陽平 Sasakawa Yōhei, born January 8, 1939) is chairman of The Nippon Foundation, the World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, and Japan's Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by leprosy. As chairman of The Nippon Foundation, Japan's largest charitable foundation, he is seen as a pioneer in guiding public-interest activities by the private sector in modern Japan. Sasakawa received his degree from Meiji University’s School of Political Science and Economics.
Overview of activities
After serving as chairman of the Japan Motorboat Racing Association, and as a director of the Japan Foundation for Shipbuilding Advancement (now the Ocean Policy Research Foundation), Yohei Sasakawa was named president of the Nippon Foundation in 1989. In July 2005, he was appointed chairman, following the retirement of Ayako Sono, the previous chair.
Known as a social entrepreneur with insight into a wide range of issues, Sasakawa is internationally recognized for his proactive planning and leadership on a global scale. Key projects include:
- Medical examinations for 200,000 children victimized by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident;
- Establishment of a system through which users would pay for the support of safe navigation through the Strait of Malacca;
- Development of the next generation of leaders through a global scholarship network of 69 universities;
- Establishment of a program to bring 2,000 Chinese doctors to Japan for training, and;
- Development of Arctic Sea lanes that are usable year-round.
His international aid activities have focused on three areas essential to life: food security, healthcare and education. His aid activities within Japan have focused on areas not addressed by government policies, including the development of the nation’s nongovernmental organizations and volunteer activities, the enhancement of services for senior citizens and those with disabilities, and the donation of 20,000 care vehicles to social-welfare organizations throughout Japan.
Both within Japan and around the world, Sasakawa works on the front lines of humanitarian aid, believing that effective support for public interest activities demands not only funding, but personal commitment and participation.
Sasakawa has continually stressed that modern problems demand collaborative solutions, and has built wide-ranging networks encompassing the political, governmental, academic, and private sectors. One such example is Forum 2000, which he has overseen with former Czech President Václav Havel for 11 years. This initiative brings together experts and distinguished individuals from around the world to discuss global issues, and has generated a number of innovative programs as a result of their interaction.
His domestic work also transverses a wide number of areas, including the development of measures to combat maritime piracy, the publicizing of the operation of North Korean spy ships, the training of hospice nurses, and the building of networks to support crime victims. Sasakawa is also known for his efforts to ensure passage of Japan’s Basic Ocean Law in 2007, and his central role in organizing the Tokyo Marathon. Through his focus on cooperation, he has been able to achieve goals that would not have been possible working single-handedly.
Yohei Sasakawa sees leprosy elimination as a personal mission, inherited from his father, Ryoichi Sasakawa. In 1965, he accompanied his father to a leprosy treatment facility in South Korea, and the shock at seeing, first-hand, the discrimination faced by people affected by leprosy, convinced him of the need for leprosy control, leading him to conduct own activities.
Sasakawa works to advance dialog between people affected by leprosy, government leaders, the media, and other parties in many countries, with a particular focus on places where the disease is endemic. He focuses a special amount of effort on promoting an accurate understanding of the disease: particularly the fact that it is curable and as part of this drive, he has served as WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination since May, 2001.
In the 1990s, Sasakawa worked to promote the distribution of multidrug therapy (MDT) as a means of controlling leprosy. However, realizing that people affected by leprosy, and even their families, continue to face discrimination in areas such as employment and education even after they have been cured, he has advocated that leprosy be approached not simply as a medical issue but as a social one involving human-rights concerns.
In July 2003, he visited the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, seeking to bring the issue before the United Nations Human Rights Committee (now the United Nations Human Rights Council). Subsequently, in March 2004, he raised the matter at a plenary session of the Commission. As a result, in August 2004, the Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights initiated studies to formally address leprosy and its related discrimination issues as a human-rights issue, eventually unanimously approving a resolution calling on national governments, leprosy-related organizations and UN institutions to improve the current state of affairs.
Since then, Sasakawa has continued to work to resolve leprosy’s social aspects, for example establishing the Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation in 2006 to assist the independence of people affected by the disease.
Sasakawa’s international achievements in controlling leprosy have resulted in a number of international prizes, such as the Yomiuri Shimbun’s Yomiuri International Cooperation Prize (2004), and India’s International Gandhi Award (2007). Most recently, the Japanese foreign ministry appointed him as its Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by Leprosy.
Today, Sasakawa is also active in the very different field of maritime issues. He has proposed the establishment of a new fund through which users would voluntarily contribute to the costs involved in securing maritime safety in the Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest sea lanes. By explaining the need for this, in light of today’s international conditions, he advances activities intended to overturn the traditional idea that use of all sea-routes should be free of charge. In addition, he is advancing new initiatives to address maritime issues in Japan, including the establishment of the nation’s first Basic Ocean Law, working to change the Japanese paradigm that it is a country protected by the sea, to one that protects the seas. Beyond the shores of Japan and the wider region, Sasakawa also established in 2004 the United Nations - Nippon Foundation Fellowship Programme to contribute to the building of a new generation of ocean leaders and professionals.
Advocating for the importance of information disclosure by public-interest groups, Sasakawa maintains a daily blog (in Japanese) of his activities and thoughts. Under Sasakawa’s leadership, The Nippon Foundation’s disclosure efforts have won high marks amid government reforms of the public interest field. In addition to creating a website (CANPAN CSR Plus) that helps businesses to participate directly in social-welfare activities, fulfilling their corporate social responsibility (CSR), Sasakawa advocates for work toward a society based on an integration of national and local governments, nonprofit organizations, and corporate CSR efforts. The aim is a society where all members participate in creating the common good.
Major achievements at the Nippon Foundation
- 2000 Built an international network of maritime universities
- 2000 Initiated The Nippon Foundation Fellowships for Asian Public Intellectuals (API Fellowships) in five countries in Asia
- 1999 Provided pediatric medical assistance to victims of the Chernobyl Disaster
- 1993 Chaired an international joint research program to develop an Arctic shipping route
- 1991 Contributed extensively to the WHO program to eliminate leprosy
- 1987 Established the Sasakawa Medical Scholarship Program to train 2000 Chinese medical doctors
- 1987 Created the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (SYLFF), a grant-in-aid program which has resulted in a network of 69 major universities worldwide
- 1986 Initiated the Sasakawa Global 2000 Program to enable African nations to achieve self-sufficiency in staple crop production
- 1967 Provided support for a navigational safety program in the Malacca-Singapore Straits
Other professional positions
- WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination
- Japan's Ambassador for the Human Rights of People Affected by Leprosy
- Trustee, Fondation Franco-Japonaise Sasakawa
- Trustee, United States-Japan Foundation
- Trustee, Scandinavia-Japan Sasakawa Foundation
- Trustee, The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation
- Advisor, The Tokyo Foundation
- Advisor, The Sasakawa Japan-China Friendship Fund
- 2017 Ocean’s 8 Award, The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO
- 2017 Health and Human Rights Award (International Council of Nurses)
- 2017 Plus ratio quam vis Medal (Jagiellonian University)
- 2017 Health-for・All Gold Medal (WHO)
- 2016 The Award of Distinction of the President of Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
- 2015 International Maritime Prize (IMO)
- 2014 The Rule of Law Award (International Bar Association)
- 2013 Gold Medal for Merits (Republic of Serbia)
- 2013 Friendship Medal (Socialist Republic of Vietnam)
- 2011 Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Sahametrei (Cambodia)
- 2011 Commander of the Order of Recognition (Central African Republic)
- 2010 Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog (Denmark)
- 2010 Order of Timor-Leste (East Timor)
- 2010 Ethiopian Millenium Gold Medal
- 2010 Commander of the Order of the White Rose of Finland
- 2010 Commander's Cross with Star of the Order of the Falcon (Iceland)
- 2010 Commander of the Order of the Defender of the Realm (Malaysia)
- 2010 Commander of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit (Norway)
- 2010 Commander First Class of the Royal Order of the Polar Star (Sweden)
- 2010 Dr. Norman E. Borlaug Medallion of the World Food Prize
- 2010 The Diploma of an Academician of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences
- 2010 The Patriarch’s Chart of the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill
- 2007 Order of the Pole Star (Mongolia)
- 2007 Coast Guard Legion of Honor (Degree of Maginoo)
- 2006 Commander of the National Order of Mali
- 2006 International Gandhi Award
- 2004 Yomiuri International Cooperation Prize (Japan)
- 2003 Commander of the Royal Order of Monisaraphon (Cambodia)
- 2003 National Construction Decoration (Cambodia)
- 2003 Officer of the National Order of Madagascar (Republic of Madagascar)
- 2003 The Special Award (World Maritime University, Sweden)
- 2001 Václav Havel Memorial Medal (President Václav Havel, Czech Republic)
- 2001 Millennium Gandhi Award (International Leprosy Union)
- 2000 Decerne la Medaille d'Honneur de Menerbes (France)
- 2000 International Green Pen Awards honour Pacific Environmental Journalism (Fiji)
- 2000 Grand Officer of the Order for Merit (Romania)
- 1998 Al Hussein Bin Ali Decoration for Accomplishment, First Degree (Jordan)
- 1998 Health For All Gold Medal (World Health Organization)
- 1997 China Health Medal (Republic of China)
- 1996 Francis Skorina Medal (Belarus)
- 1996 Commander of the Order of Merit for Distinguished Service (Peru)
- 1996 Kin Inka Sho (Peru)
- 1996 Order of Friendship (Russian Federation)
- 1996 Order of Merit, Third Class (Ukraine)
- 1995 Order of the Grand Star of Djibouti (Republic of Djibouti)
- 1989 Grand Officer of the Order of Mono (Togo)
- 2017 Doctor of Laws, University of Minnesota, USA
- 2016 Doctor Honoris Causa, Sofia University, Bulgaria
- 2013 Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University, University of York, The United Kingdom
- 2012 Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities, University of Malaya, Malaysia
- 2012 Honorary Degree of Doctor of Agricultural Development Honoris Causa, Hawassa University
- 2010 Honorary Academician, Russian Academy of Natural Science
- 2009 Honorary Professorship, Yunnan University, China
- 2008 Honorary Degree of Doctor in Humane Letters, University for Peace
- 2008 Honorary Professorship, Dalian University of Foreign Language, China
- 2007 Honorary Doctor of Humanity, University of Cambodia, Cambodia
- 2007 Honorary Professorship, Guizhou University, China
- 2007 Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Rochester Institute of Technology, USA
- 2006 Honorary Professorship, Dalian Maritime University, China
- 2005 Doctor Honoris Causa, Jadavpur University, India
- 2004 Honorary Professorship, Shanghai Maritime University, China
- 2004 Doctor Honoris Causa, World Maritime University, Sweden
- 2004 Honorary Professorship, Heilongjiang University, China
- 2004 Honorary Professorship, Harbin Medical University, China
- 2003 Honorary Professorship, China Medical University, China
- 2003 Doctor Honoris Causa, The Academy of Management, Mongolia
- 2000 Doctor Honoris Causa, The University of Bucharest, Romania
- 2000 Doctor Honoris Causa, The University of Cape Coast, Ghana
- 2000 Honorary Professorship, Yanbian University, China
Today, he writes editorials for the magazine Seiron, published by Sankei Shimbun, and contributes essays to the newspaper FujiSankei Business I.