2022 Global Citizen Awards: Sundar Pichai among five peacemakers honored by Atlantic Council


Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet along with four other peacemakers from across the world were honored at the eleventh annual Atlantic Council Global Citizen Awards.

Apart from the award, Pichai was also referred to as a business statesman at the gala.  Professor Klaus Schwab[Above left], the very first recipient of the Council’s Global Citizen Award a decade ago, had this to say about Pichai when he introduced this Indian-American peacemaker: “I now have the opportunity to introduce a great business statesman, Sundar Pichai.”

“Many in the audience may know my special definition of leadership. Leadership comprises five dimensions: brain, soul, heart, muscles, and good nerves. And you, Sundar, are certainly one of the very few who excels in all of those five dimensions,” Professor Schwab added.

Pichai grew up in Chennai and after completing his studies in India, he went on to receive a master’s degree from Stanford University and an MBA from Wharton School. “You joined Google as an employee in 2004 and became the CEO of Google in a little over ten years, in 2015. And soon afterward the CEO of Alphabet. I think this trajectory speaks for itself,” he added.

Pichai’s heart said, Professor Schwab makes him a business statesman whose passion and compassion have touched many people around the world. In response to the shock of Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine, Pichai immediately came to the aid of the Ukrainian people and he was personally involved in helping raise 50 million dollars in donations, as well as providing practical help in the form of thousands of Chromebooks and learning platforms directly to Ukrainian high school students.

Professor Schwab showered praises on Pichai as the “business statement” came on the podium to address the audience. In his concluding remarks, Professor Schwab said: “You also continue to combat misinformation and disinformation campaigns, which directly impact the plight of the Ukrainian people. You were one of the first companies to apply the sanctions regime against Russia, while at the same time keeping Google research services open to allow Russians to remain in touch with global perspectives. Your engagement in Ukraine is just one demonstration of true corporate global citizenship, having the courage to speak out and act when fundamental values are violated and humanitarian engagement is needed.”

Pichai began by thanking Schwab “for that generous introduction and for your steadfast leadership of the World Economic Forum”.

Addressing the audience, Pichai said: “I know our collective thoughts tonight are with the United Kingdom and all the people around the world mourning the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Her legacy of public service continues to be an inspiration to many of us. I also want to say a sincere thanks to Fred Kempe and the Atlantic Council for the important work you do to shape our global future. And, of course, thank you for bringing us together tonight. We needed it after the pandemic.”

“I’m truly humbled to receive this award. It’s even more meaningful to receive it alongside such an accomplished group of honorees. Congratulations to all of you. Above all, we are here to honor another group that deserves our focus—the people of Ukraine, who continue to face unspeakable hardship, and those working tirelessly to help them; people like Dimitri, an entrepreneur I met based in Kyiv. In 2021, Dimitri founded a startup to provide online mental health services. When the war began, he committed to offering mental health care to all Ukrainians, especially those who can’t afford to pay for it. He’s now reinvesting 100 percent of his profit towards that goal,” Pichai said.

The Google CEO then told the audience about Tomic, a Polish journalist who shares his passion for science through YouTube. Seeing the destruction, the war was causing to kids’ education, he worked with a teacher and interpreter to launch a new Ukrainian-language science channel. Children who have been forced to leave Ukraine can use YouTube to keep learning in Poland.

“I’m also thinking of ten-year-old Yana, who left Ukraine with her family and enrolled in school in Poland. With the help of Google Translate, she has made a new best friend despite the language barrier. Yana and her family are among the seven million refugees from Ukraine in Europe today. The need is unprecedented, and so is the response,” Pichai said.

He said that in Warsaw he was struck by how many Google employees were hosting multiple families in their homes. “That was typical in the region. And the generosity continues today.”

“In the US, I’m inspired by the effort to welcome Ukrainian and Afghan newcomers. Again, it’s led by everyday people who are stepping up to help. The private sector can scale these efforts and fill gaps with technical expertise, resourcing, and innovation. Google has long supported immigrants, dreamers, and refugees,” he added.

Since 2015, Google has provided more than $45 million in grants and 30,000 hours of employees’ time to help refugees. The company has also directly supported refugees and newcomers through various products. “This is a cause that’s embedded in Google’s DNA and it’s one I care deeply about,” he said.

More than twenty years ago Pichai immigrated to the US. “When I arrived, I was met with open-mindedness, tolerance, and acceptance, all of which helped ease my path. Looking back on that period of my life what I remember most are the people who made me feel welcome. Because of them, I started to feel as much a part of this country as I did growing up in India. It was my choice to come to the US,” Pichai recounted.

He said that for refugees, it’s often not a choice at all. “That’s why we need to work even harder to make sure they feel supported on their journey. The opportunity to help more people feel welcome is why I agreed to co-chair the CEO Council for Welcome.us. It’s a nonprofit focused on welcoming Afghan and Ukrainian newcomers to the US, and the council is a broad base of businesses like Accenture, Amazon, ManpowerGroup, Pfizer, and more,” he added.

“We are focused on helping refugees with initial resettlement, matching people with jobs, and raising awareness via our megaphone as business leaders. The goal is to create solutions that can be repeated and scaled. It’s especially important at a time when there are more than a hundred million people displaced from their homes, a number that will only grow as the threats of climate change, food security, and economic uncertainty increase,” Pichai said. “As we build a global response, we have a responsibility to ensure people everywhere can benefit from the opportunities technology creates, be it creating the infrastructure that widens access, advancing technologies that can enable progress, or making sure the internet remains free, open, and safe for everyone.”

The 2022 Global Citizen Awards ceremony was held on Monday, September 19, in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The Atlantic Council presented the 11th annual Global Citizen Awards. The awards salute leaders—heads of state, business leaders, award-winning artists, actors, and actresses—who have demonstrated outstanding and unique contributions to the transatlantic relationship and the health of the global community.

This year the honorees, apart from Pichai, included Finnish President Sauli Niinistö and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson who have launched national bids to join NATO, shedding long histories of military non-alignment in their countries. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has been advocating for inclusive global prosperity and leading the Group of Twenty (G20) nations—who will meet in November in Bali. He is also trying to build bridges to peace in Ukraine and Forest Whitaker, an Academy Award-winning actor and UNESCO special envoy for peace and reconciliation.

At the gala, the efforts of two renowned leaders that the world lost this year were recognized. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, who was assassinated in July, bolstered Japan’s standing in its region and well beyond. And the United Kingdom’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, who passed away earlier this month, spent her life leading Britain through grave global challenges and nurturing her country’s relationship with allies like the United States.

As the award ceremony took place just hours after the queen’s funeral, several speakers at the event reflected on poignant scenes in London and the experience of millions around the world who paused to watch the ceremony.

Atlantic Council President and CEO Fred Kempe said that the outpouring represented public hunger not just for the continuity of the monarchy itself, but for “continuity of purpose” as well. “The continuity of purpose and the solidity of the institution is what we hope we’re celebrating here—alongside the fact that we’re celebrating some quite remarkable honorees,” Kempe added.

Niinistö said that Finland’s NATO membership is a “true triumph of democracy”. Reflecting on the past seven months, marked by the transatlantic community’s “unified and unwavering” support of Ukraine and historic steps to enlarge the Alliance, the Finnish president boasted in pre-recorded video remarks that the transatlantic bond “not only remains strong; it is becoming ever stronger.” Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto accepted Niinistö’s award on his behalf.

“Shaping our global future together is now more vital than ever,” Niinistö said. In Ukraine, he added, the transatlantic community “will continue to defend our values and the foundational principles of democracy.”

The Swedish foreign minister, Ann Linde, accepting the award on behalf of Andersson, explained how the prime minister “benefited early on from the transatlantic spirit” as a student in the United States in the 1990s. Following Andersson’s resignation last week following Sweden’s elections, Linde looked back on the prime minister’s tenure: “Her transatlantic mindset has been a great asset for her as prime minister and the first woman to hold Sweden’s highest political office.”

Linde reminded the audience that Russia’s war in Ukraine echoes “the darkest days of European history”—and that in addition to Ukrainian lives and the country’s sovereignty, “the entire international system” that was formed after World War II is at stake as well. For Sweden, seeing Russia’s aggression was “a watershed moment,” said Linde.

Sweden’s decision to apply for NATO membership, which has been ratified by twenty-seven of thirty members, is momentous in part because it marks “the end of more than two hundred years of neutrality and nonalignment,” Linde explained. With members-to-be Sweden and Finland, who are “champions of freedom, peace and prosperity, and human rights” and who have sophisticated defense capabilities, “NATO will also be stronger,” she said.

Several speakers at the gala paid a rich and moving tribute to Queen Elizabeth. The outpouring of admiration and respect moved Dame Karen Pierce, the British ambassador to the United States, so much that she took the stage in a surprise appearance. “Thank you, America,” she said. “Thank you, Atlantic Council. Thank you for being the closest of allies. Thank you for recognizing the place the queen holds not just in our hearts, not just because of her friendship with America—and I’m going to include horses in that, in case there’s anyone from Kentucky—but also what she has represented in the world.”

Widodo, who’s been in office since 2014, dedicated his award to the people of Indonesia who “have persevered in facing… many challenges.” Widodo told the audience in pre-recorded video remarks that, much like other developing countries, Indonesia is facing domestic challenges coupled with global challenges such as “climate change, health crisis, food crisis, energy crisis, and financial crisis.” To tackle them, the world will need to make a “strong commitment, as well as accurate and effective policies,” Widodo stressed.

Widodo pledged to continue to promote international cooperation “that upholds mutual peace and prosperity.” He vowed to use the G20 presidency to push the world’s leading countries to develop a “resilient global health architecture” and foster “inclusive and sustainable growth.” The award was accepted on Widodo’s behalf by Retno Marsudi, Indonesia’s minister of foreign affairs.

The star of films like The Last King of Scotland (in which he played Ugandan dictator Idi Amin) and The Butler, Whitaker dedicated his award to the young people in his Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative, which trains people who live in societies under “the grip of conflict” in peacebuilding, conflict resolution, mediation, and more.

War and violence, Whitaker reminded the audience, happen not only in places like South Sudan and Ukraine but also in “countless areas that don’t make it to the headlines.” Conflict in all its forms is “stealing from young people their innocence and their lives,” he cautioned.

“It’s something we can—and must—actively work towards together,” Whitaker told the audience, adding that “no matter where you are, you can help support efforts” to build lasting peace. That can take the form of standing up against wrongdoing, using your platform to call attention to injustices, or starting or joining peacebuilding organizations. And Whitaker implored the audience to “simply spread compassion.” Peace, he noted, “can begin with something as small as a smile.”