Skoll Foundation


Crisis Action

Skoll Awardee(s): Gemma Mortensen
Award Year: 2013
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Peace and Human Rights

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“Fighting against deeply entrenched interests, we give some of the most vulnerable people on Earth a very powerful catapult. We can make sure that when David walks in to fight Goliath, he stands a fighting chance.”

A quarter of the world’s people live in countries where they are threatened by conflict or large-scale organized criminal violence. Civil society organizations are limited in their capacity to hold governments accountable to protect these civilians’ human rights, in part because their diverse agendas and messages drown each other out.

The Skoll Awardee: Gemma Mortensen has had a long-standing interest in conflict prevention, working first as a journalist and then in diplomatic capacities at the International Criminal Court, UK Mission to the UN, and the European Commission. Gemma took over leadership of Crisis Action after founder Guy Hughes died in a climbing accident in 2006. Remaining entirely behind-the-scenes as a catalyst and coordinator, Crisis Action brings human rights and humanitarian organizations together to protect civilians from armed conflict. At moments of crisis, Crisis Action harnesses and unites the strengths of international organizations and local civil society, enabling them to speak as one and to spur coordinated action that is more sustainable than what they could achieve working separately. Crisis Action builds coalitions and mounts campaigns, both in response to a careful selection of immediate crises and situations requiring longer term engagement. At the time of the Award, Crisis Action had provided emergency response in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali, and was coordinating ongoing campaigns in the DRC, Afghanistan, and the territory of the Lord’s Resistance Army. Gemma had been recognized as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, and Crisis Action had received the MacArthur Foundation’s Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. In 2015, Gemma announced her departure from Crisis Action upon selection as a Yale Global Leadership Fellow.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2013:

  • As of 2015, conducting ongoing campaigns in Syria (securing a UN resolution on the protection of civilians) and Sudan/South Sudan (where they have helped facilitate access for an international inquiry).
  • Has exited campaigns in Lord’s Resistance Army territory and Israel/Palestine. The UN has adopted a strategy to address LRA; Crisis Action helped with Palestine’s ascension to the International Criminal Court.
  • Built relationships with 50 partners, including The Elders, Oxfam International, International Rescue Committee, and Global Witness, as well as 61 network partners.
  • Helped to secure a UN peacekeeping force deployed in March 2014 to prevent atrocities in the Central African Republic.
  • Currently focusing on Boko Haram campaign in Nigeria.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.