Billionaire environmentalist Hansjorg Wyss and champion basketball player Thabo Sefolosha are this year’s winners of the Tell Prize, awarded at the “Swiss Soirée” attended by more than 1,100 people in Washington on Wednesday evening.
The Swiss Soirée event was launched in 2001 to focus on “the creativity and innovation of the Swiss”, in the words of former ambassador to the United States Urs Ziswiler. It is also “an opportunity to reinforce the excellent image Switzerland has in this town as a hospitable country that offers high-quality products in a stylish setting,” Ziswiler’s successor, Manuel Sager, told swissinfo.ch.
The event took place at the ambassador’s new residence, designed by award-winning Swiss architect Justin Rüssli to meet the highest ecological standards.
Sager described the evening’s two award-winners as living examples of success and Swiss bilateral friendship.
“They have big hearts,” Sager said. “They receive this award not only for their relationship with both countries, but also for using their status to the benefit of others.”
Wyss is best known for having founded the multinational medical device manufacturer Synthes, the world’s largest manufacturer of prosthetics and implants to mend bone fractures. After selling the business, he turned his energies to environmental protection, notably in the area of Wyoming in the American West. At the same time, Wyss has been active in defending the interests of America’s underprivileged, including prisoners, illegal immigrants, the poor and those without health insurance.
“My work on social issues is as important to me, if not more, than my work for the environment,“ Wyss said.
Sefolosha became the first Swiss basketball player to play in the NBA when he was recruited by the Chicago Bulls in 2006. Born in Vevey in French-speaking Switzerland, Sefolosha now plays for the Oklahoma Thunder, which this year reached the NBA finals. He is known for organising annual basketball camps for Swiss children in the summer months and for his financial support of children in the South African township where his father was born.
“It’s really a benediction to have it in your power to help others,” Sefolosha told swissinfo.ch shortly before the awards ceremony.
Swiss soirée: An event held annually in September by the Swiss Embassy in Washington. This year’s event broke its previous attendance record with more than 1,111 attendees.
William Tell Prize: A prize created in 2004 to honor the legendary hero of Swiss independence, it was first given to American businesses making important investments in Switzerland. Since 2009, it has also been given to individuals who have a notable role in maintaining the friendship between Switzerland and the US.
Hansjorg Wyss: An engineer, businessman and ecologist born in Bern in 1936, he is one of the two wealthiest Swiss men and one of the wealthiest men in the world.
Thabo Sefolosha: A professional basketball player born in Vevey in 1984, he now plays for the Oklahoma Thunder NBA team.