A Bangladeshi vaccine scientist and a microfinance pioneer from Pakistan were among the five recipients of this year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award — regarded as the Asian version of the Nobel Prize — announced on Tuesday.

Apart from Dr Firdausi Qadri from Bangladesh and Muhammad Amjad Saqib from Pakistan, the other winners are Filipino fisher and community environmentalist Roberto Ballon, American Steven Muncy for humanitarian work and refugee assistance and Indonesian torchbearer for investigative journalism, Watchdoc.

Breakthrough research

Qadri, 70, who has a doctorate from Liverpool University, UK, joined International Centre For Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, (an international health research institute based in Dhaka) in 1988.

Today, she is credited with developing affordable oral cholera vaccine and the typhoid conjugate vaccine for adults, children, and infants. Most of her work is focused in congested slum areas of developing countries.

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She is being recognised for “her passion and life-long devotion to the scientific profession; her vision of building the human and physical infrastructure that will benefit the coming generation of Bangladeshi scientists, women scientists in particular, and her untiring contributions to vaccine development, advanced biotechnological therapeutics and critical research that has been saving millions of precious lives,” the award citation said.

Akhuwat, a unique scheme

Pakistani development worker Muhammad Amjad Saqib, 64, has developed a “first-of-its-kind’ interest-and-collateral-free microfinance programme, Akhuwat, which uses places of worship to disburse zero-interest loans, recording a phenomenal loan repayment rate of 99.9 per cent.

Akhuwat has taken up a vast array of social support programmes in education, health services, “clothes bank”, anti-social discrimination and Covid-19 emergency aid.

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Saqib is being recognised for “his intelligence and compassion that enabled him to create the largest microfinance institution in Pakistan; his inspiring belief that human goodness and solidarity will find ways to eradicate poverty; and his determination to stay with a mission that has already helped millions of Pakistani families”, read the citation.

Service to humanity

Steven Muncy, 64, from the US, is being recognised for “his unshakable belief in the goodness of man that inspires in others the desire to serve; his life-long dedication to humanitarian work, refugee assistance, and peace building; and his unstinting pursuit of dignity, peace, and harmony for people in exceptionally difficult circumstances in Asia.”

Fifty-three year old environmentalist, Roberto Ballon from the Philippines is being recognised for “his inspiring determination in leading his fellow fisherfolk to revive a dying fishing industry by creating a sustainable marine environment for this generation and generations to come, and his shining example of how everyday acts of heroism can truly be extraordinary and transformative,” the official award statement read.

Investigative journalism

Watchdoc, Indonesia, is lauded for its emerging leadership in “its highly principled crusade for an independent media organisation, its energetic use of investigative journalism, documentary film-making, and digital technology in its effort to transform Indonesia’s media landscape, and its commitment to a vision of the people themselves as makers of media and shapers of their own world.”

Award presentation in Manila

Established in 1957, the Ramon Magsaysay Award is Asia’s highest honour.

It celebrates the memory and leadership example of the third Philippine president after whom the award is named, and is given every year to individuals or organisations in Asia who manifest the same selfless service and transformative influence that ruled the life of the late and beloved Filipino leader.

This year’s Magsaysay Award winners will each receive a certificate, a medallion bearing the likeness of the late President, and a cash prize.

They will be formally conferred the Magsaysay Award during formal Presentation Ceremonies to be held on November 28 at the Ramon Magsaysay Centre in Manila.