Activists honoured for their innovation and impact

Bogotá 28 April 2016; Three activists from India, Pakistan, and Sierra Leone were awarded the coveted Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Award, honoring their ground-breaking work on social issues. The winners were publicly announced at the Awards ceremony held on 28 April as part of International Civil Society Week (ICSW), which was hosted by CIVICUS in collaboration with the Confederación Colombiana de ONG, from 25 to 28 April 2016in Bogotá, Colombia. 

Now in their 11th year, the Awards recognises civil society activists and organisations for their excellence, innovation, and brave risk-taking. Off the 366 nominations, winners were selected in four categories. 

Youth Category winner Smiriti Nagpal is the founder of Atulyakala in New Delhi, India, a social enterprise that enables deaf artists to collaborate with their hearing peers to create, market and sell their art. “Atulyakala is about breaking down the barriers between the deaf and the hearing community to create an environment of true inclusivity,” says Nagpal “For this to happen deaf people need to be able to make a living with dignity, doing what they are good at, without suffering discrimination, and not through charity.” 

In response to an ever-worsening situation of women’s rights in the Swat valley in northern Pakistan, the winner of the Individual Activist category started the first-ever Pakistani women-led council called the Khwendo Jirga. “Our Jirga’s great achievement has been to bring women out of their homes in this rigid and conservative society and enable them to stand up for their rights, “says Tabassum Adnan. 

The Sierra Leone Medical Students’ Association (SLeMSA), winner in the civil society organisation category, was quick to respond to the devastating Ebola epidemic that ravaged West Africa in 2014-2015, with their highly successful Kick Ebola Out campaign. The outgoing head of the association, Dr Asad Naveed, led this campaign, which demonstrates the power of student mobilisation in the face of a public health crisis.

“Directly engaging with people was critical to establish rapport. This, together with the online app, mobilised people to take ownership of the campaign and to spread the message further. We made good use of volunteers and leveraged off our partnerships with global counterparts and change-makers in institutions,” comments Naveed.

This year the Awards introduced a new category to recognise “Brave Philanthropy.” The award was accepted by Dr. Ellen Dorsey, Executive Director of the Wallace Global Fund, on behalf of the 140 foundations, family offices, and charities of Divest-Invest Philanthropy,  who were honored for their path-breaking commitment to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions.

“If you own fossil fuels, you own climate change,” said Dr. Dorsey. “Climate change will impact the mission of every foundation. We should heed the demands of the global climate justice movement calling on investors to withdraw their funds from fossil fuels. We receive charitable tax-status because we serve the social good, our investments should as well. Philanthropy isn’t just any investor.”

The Innovation Awards are part of Be the Change, and ongoing global public awareness campaign around citizen action and `civic space’.  Be the Change is part of the Civic Space Initiative, which is implemented by CIVICUS, the World Movement Democracy, ARTICLE 19, and the International Centre for Not-for-Profit Law.