There is no better way to open an Awards Ceremony than with the Soweto Gospel Choir dancing down the aisles.
So began the 2015 Skoll Awards Ceremony.
Yesterday, Skoll Foundation President and CEO Sally Osberg led the community on a journey, back 800 years, to the Magna Carta. This charter for personal liberties “stoked the early embers of freedom,” and the blaze caught around the world. As Sally said, “Then, as now, the driving force for change was the quintessentially human drive to set things right.” We saw this drive in each of the four 2015 Skoll Awardees.
Jagdeesh Rao Puppala demonstrated how the work of the Foundation for Ecological Security is about much more than simply helping people manage their forests, pastures, and water. Even skeptics within villages came to see the value of Commons—a farmer found that improved vegetation in the Commons led to better crop productivity in his own land; a widower’s daughter was able to use the fodder from the village pasture to feed the family bulls, freeing up hours of every day and allowing her to go back to school. “What we saw as a simple planting of trees was a larger story of how people connected economically, socially, and emotionally to the Commons,” he said.
Alasdair Harris introduced us to the “not-so-small-scale” fishers, the millions of people living along coasts who depend on fisheries for survival. With fish stocks collapsing and where people have no alternative to fishing, people are struggling to find enough to survive. Blue Ventures works with communities to show how taking less from the ocean can actually lead to more, catalyzing locals to protect their own seas. “When sustainable fisheries make real sense for this not-so-small-scale sector, we have a hope of putting conservation in the hands of those with the greatest interest in its success,” he told the crowd.
Safeena Husain shared the story of a Padma, a young woman whose life was transformed when, after escaping an abusive marriage as a girl, she returned to school and ultimately became one the most educated people in her village. Today, Padma works to get girls back to school.
“Padma is an Educate Girls Team Balika, a community volunteer who is shifting the equilibrium in favor of girls’ education,” she said. She is just one of the 4,600 Team Balika members throughout India, working to unlock the transformative power of girls’ education. These passionate catalysts enrolled 80,000 out-of-school girls last year alone, changing norms and convincing villages about the incredible merits of educating girls.
Ma Jun described how pollution in China has reached such a magnitude that it cannot be addressed without extensive public participation. The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs works to provide citizens with tools to put pressure on major polluters.
IPE’s innovative Blue Map app enables users to access and tweet the records of emitters. This “micro-reporting” has motivated hundreds of major coal and industrial power plants to respond—and the app has now topped 3 million downloads. With such engagement and momentum, Ma Jun looks to expand IPE’s operations and amplify its impact.
A short video about each awardee’s work played just before they went up to stage to receive their awards. Watch them here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLHao2fgbzdxIdi0ahZXzOmsJN_5lfZBhv
The next recognition was for the Skoll Global Treasure Award. Jeff Skoll honored Graça Machel, “a hero to people all over the world, whose life story is a testament to the power of radical thinking.” Driven by the idea that all people have a right to dignity, Mrs. Machel is a renowned international advocate for women and children’s rights.
In a conversation with Camfed founder Ann Cotton, Mrs. Machel explained how justice and human dignity are the threads in her life. Upon seeing the suffering of children in Mozambique and around the world, the protection of children came as a call to amplify their voices. “No one is voiceless. The difference is not everyone has a platform where their voice can be heard.” She told a story about an experience in Tanzania, where after a meeting on FGM and child marriage in the community, a group of girls presented her with a gift. “I’m worried about them, and they come and give me a gift. These children are not giving up, so who am I to give up?”
Graca Machel captured a sentiment that underlies so much of the Skoll World Forum. As Sally Osberg closed, she reminded us that the choices we make and refuse to make will keep us accountable for years to come—and that is what drives us to make the world better.