Smt. K.K. Shailaja Teacher Awarded the 2021 Open Society Prize

Vienna, June 18, 2021―Today, at a ceremony in Vienna, former Minister for Health for Kerala, Smt. K.K. Shailaja Teacher, was announced as this year’s recipient of the prestigious CEU Open Society Prize.     

Previous recipients of the CEU Open Society Prize include economist and Nobel Prize laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz, 2015 Nobel Laurate for Literature Svetlana Alexievich, seventh Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, and President of the Czech Republic Vaclav Havel, among others. The international Prize, given by Central European University (CEU) is awarded annually to persons of exceptional distinction who serve the ideals of an open society.    

Citation by Michael Ignatieff, CEU President and Rector  

“As former Minister of Public Health in the Indian state of Kerala, during the COVID-19 pandemic, K. K. Shailaja Teacher and the dedicated staff of the public health service demonstrated to the world that determined leadership, community-based public health, and effective communication can save lives. Shailaja Teacher’s example will inspire young women to enter public service, and Kerala’s record in containing the epidemic gives hope to nations in the developing world. By awarding CEU’s highest award to Shailaja Teacher, the university honors a public servant and female leader for her commitment to public health services, the bedrock of every open society.”     

Acceptance Speech by Smt. K.K. Shailaja Teacher, Former Minister for Health for Kerala, India  

“As I stand here today, the world is grappling with a crisis of unprecedented scale. When we devised a strategy for battling this pandemic in Kerala, we knew that it had to be centered on securing the government’s commitment and accountability to the people, as well as by working in synergy with civil society. Timely interventions have undoubtedly helped to keep the mortality rate below 0.5% when faced with the pandemic.    

In order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, we put in place a priority policy rooted in scientific temper and the realization that we must be equipped with a knowledge base and a robust health infrastructure to manage disasters and other pandemics. When we heard about a potential virus is spreading in Wuhan, China, in late January 2020, we started our preparation at once: we formed control rooms, rapid response teams, and vigorous planning was done.   

The most rewarding facet was the teamwork and sense of cohesiveness behind the efforts. Kerala’s achievements in public health, our responsive institutions, respect for human rights, and transparency in information are reflections of the values in support of an open society.”   

Smt. K.K. Shailaja Teacher, Former Minister for Health for Kerala, India addressing CEU’s graduating class of 2021  

“To all the students who are graduating today, I want to say that learning is a continuous process; stay curious and keep learning and share your knowledge with others. We live in an increasingly volatile and unpredictable world where leaders must rise to global challenges and work out new constructive solutions together, to build an equitable society. As you step out into the world, this is an opportunity for each one of you to change the world and write history. Find that leader in you!”    

Notes for Editors:

About CEU  

One of the world’s most international universities, a unique founding mission positions Central European University as both an acclaimed center for the study of contemporary economic, social and political challenges, and a source of support for building open and democratic societies that respect human rights and human dignity. CEU is based in Vienna and Budapest.  

Class of 2021 

The university awarded 27 doctoral degrees, 451 master’s degrees and 14 non-degree certificates on the Class of 2021, out of which some 20 students are from India. All now join CEU's global alumni body of 18,000 graduates―with 261 alumni from India―in 148 countries. With CEU holding its second virtual convocation with graduate students joining from all over the world, this July marks the end of CEU’s first academic year of the university wholly being in Austria.