The Amir D. Aczel Foundation Prize was awarded to Dr. Andrés Roemer, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Social Change and the Free Flow of Knowledge, during a celebration at the Harvard Club of San Francisco on May 6. The Prize is awarded annually to recognize significant contributions to global conversations in science, mathematics, economics, arts and culture, and the human right to freely access and discuss complex information. Central to the Aczel Foundation’s mission is promotion of social responsibility and right to information access among citizens who may lack access to education and knowledge due to poverty, geography, language, gender or other bias, among other reasons. The award was initially announced during the recent Symposium on the Numeral Zero in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, co-sponsored by the Aczel Foundation with the Royal University of Phnom Penh, in collaboration with the Cambodian Ministry of Education.
Andrés Roemer—Promoter of Critical Thinking
Andrés Roemer, celebrated Mexican writer, diplomat, human rights activist and important thinker was selected as the first recipient the Prize. In presenting the award, Miriam Aczel told the overflow audience that the Foundation’s committee selected Dr. Roemer in recognition of his “tireless work promoting education and important conversations on science, arts, and economics. Dr. Roemer loves challenging questions and ‘wicked problems.’ He exemplifies the definition of a ‘critical thinker,’ a ‘critical mind,’ pushing the boundaries of knowledge and understanding on a wide range of subjects in science and social sciences.”
Roemer is current director general, co-founder and honorary curator of the festival of ideas, held annually in Puebla, Mexico, and broadcast across Latin America–La Ciudad de las Ideas. La Ciudad introduces a diverse public to innovative and often challenging ideas in science, technology, art, design, politics, education, culture among others. Roemer is the author of 16 books on diverse topics, as well as 2 plays, and an elected member of the Advisory Board of the Mexican National Human Rights Commission, reflecting his long-standing commitment to empowering vulnerable populations and promoting social responsibility. Formerly UNESCO Mexican Ambassador in Paris and Mexican Consul General to San Francisco, he received a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Harvard University, and a PhD in Public Policy from the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley.
The award is named for Amir D. Aczel, who “…like Andrés, was a passionate believer in ideas, challenging questions, and using stories to inspire others to love science the way he did.” Debra Aczel added that Roemer had a deep influence on Amir, so it is fitting that he is the first recipient of this annual award. “I think La Ciudad de las Ideas left a deep impact on Amir…He came away enthralled by the idea of this huge conference devoted to disruptive—even dangerous—thinking. Here was this huge audience of young Mexicans, many of them local students from Puebla, Mexico, who were challenged to rethink and question long-held beliefs.”
The Ceremony and Celebration
Attendees were welcomed warmly by Harvard Club of San Francisco President Jorge Jaramillo. After Miriam and Debra spoke on behalf of the Aczel Foundation, Professor Michalle Mor-Barak, Dean’s Professor of Social Work and Business Chair, Department of Social Change and Innovation, USC, spoke about Amir’s passion for ideas and reaching a wide-ranging public with his books on science and mathematics, and how Andrés is the perfect choice for this honor.
John Diaz, Editorial Page Editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, called him “a most unconventional consul general…but also extremely effective. He said that having interacted with many consuls general—from many countries in addition to Mexico— Andrés was the most effective in his 23 years at the Chronicle. As but one example of Andres’ ability to get out Mexico’s message in the United States, Diaz cited the MEX I AM festival, saying “This festival managed to position the image of Mexico in San Francisco as an innovative country, where the creative potential brought together the best of talent and creativity, with a sense of pride and belonging showing the contributions of distinguished Mexicans in areas such as science, technology, art, music and humanities.”
Professor Harley Shaiken, Class of 1930 Professor of Letters and Science, Graduate School of Education and the Department of Geography, and Chair of the Center for Latin American Studies, University of California, Berkeley, introduced Andrés, saying “In everything he has done he has brought a sharp intellect, a deep, wide-ranging curiosity, a passion for the truth, and courage. With that he has made us all better, more informed, more conscious, and more engaged.”
In Andrés’ speech accepting the award he acknowledged those who had guided and challenged his thinking, saying: “Winning this award would not have been possible without the inspiration I received from my formal and informal teachers: Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Eduard Punset, Robert Cooter, Eugene Bardach, Clothaire Rapaille, Ronald Heifetz, Dan Arieli, Ricardo Salinas Pliego, Yossi Vardi, Salim Ismael, Carmel Shama and, of course, the last but not the least, Amir Aczel, to whom I have the greatest respect and admiration and from whom I have learned the love to never stop questioning everything, to challenge myself and act better in each scenario.”
The ceremony was followed by a reception in the beautiful Harvard Club of San Francisco.