International advocacy group Global Citizen has awarded European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen its World Leader Prize 2020 for being at the "forefront of creating change in response to COVID-19" and standing up for "internationalism," its CEO told CNBC.
Hugh Evans, Global Citizen CEO and co-founder, also said he thinks early commitments from U.S. President-elect Joe Biden show "really promising signs and a return to American exceptionalism".
The Global Citizen Prize 2020, broadcast on December 19, celebrated "the people shaping the world that we all want at this really difficult time." Global Citizen describes itself as the "world's largest movement of action takers and impact makers dedicated to ending extreme poverty by 2030."
The special premiered on NBC in the U.S. and was subsequently shown across Facebook, TIDAL, Twitter and YouTube.
The award categories include Global Citizen of the Year, World Leader, Business Leader, Country Hero, Global Artist and Youth Leader, as well as recognizing achievements in Philanthropy, Culture and Education and Activism.
The special was hosted by U.S. singer-songwriter John Legend, and included appearances by entertainment and media icon Oprah Winfrey, actress-producer Priyanka Chopra Jonas and music artists Miley Cyrus, Usher and Gwen Stefani, among others.
In response to the Covid-19 global crisis this year, the non-profit mobilized to raise funds in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, the World Health Organization, the European Commission and GAVI – The Vaccine Alliance, through ground-breaking events including the star-studded global virtual concert, One World Together At Home, curated by Lady Gaga, and the Global Goal: Unite for Our Future event.
Evans told CNBC that the European Commission's von der Leyen had reached out to the organization following the One World Together at Home concert to help call on the G7 and G20 governments to commit more to finance a Covid-19 vaccine.
Together they went on to host the first ever global financing summit to call on countries to commit pledges to the cause.
"Both the Moderna and the AstraZeneca vaccine were funded through an instrument called CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) that we gave that $1.5 billion to, so it's now great that these leading vaccines were in part funded because of the leadership of Ursula von der Leyen," Evans said.
Von der Leyen is also currently leading Europe's Brexit negotiations with the U.K., as Britain seeks to leave the European Union by the deadline of Dec. 31.
Asked if he thinks U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson would agree that von der Leyen has good leadership, Evans said "irrespective of your political view," this year she has demonstrated being a "strong leader" who has put societal issues ahead of her own personal interests.
Evans believes there is "a huge movement of citizens around the world" who feel a need to put the collective good ahead of individual needs at this particular time.
"I think that President von der Leyen is certainly standing up for that, she's saying that internationalism matters," he said.
In April, Evans criticized U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to stop U.S. funding of the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
He told CNBC he is now "encouraged" by President-elect Biden's commitments which include re-joining the WHO and the Paris Agreement on climate change.
"It's my belief that America has a very important role to play in international affairs and in poverty alleviation, and this is not historically a bipartisan issue," he said.
"In fact, it was George Bush Jr. who invested more in combating HIV AIDS in Africa than any other president. So, we've seen this bipartisan consensus over so many generations committed to international development, and I'm thankful that that's going to return under the Biden administration," he added.
Other winners of the Global Citizen Prize include Sir Elton John for his work to end HIV and AIDS and raising funds in response to the Covid-19 crisis, and U.S. philanthropist Warren Buffett for his commitment to give more than 99% of his wealth to philanthropic foundations.
In 2020, he gave a further $2.9 billion worth of his Berkshire Hathaway company stock away to non-profit organizations.
Evans said he hopes more of the world's billionaires will do the same.
"We want to see more of the 1250 billionaires on this planet who have a collective net worth of $10 trillion and are some of the few people who have benefited during the pandemic, to be more generous now," he said.
"Not just once they leave it in their will or their bequest, we want them to do it while they're living, to tackle the world's problems right now," he added.