In 1980, the journalist and professional philatelist Jakob von Uexkull felt that the Nobel Prize categories were too narrow in scope and too concentrated on the interests of the industrialised countries to be an adequate answer to the challenges now facing humanity. The Right Livelihood Award was established in 1980 to honour and support those "offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today". It has become widely known as the 'Alternative Nobel Prize' and there are now 137 Laureates from 58 countries.
Presented annually in Stockholm at a ceremony in the Swedish Parliament, the Right Livelihood Award is usually shared by four recipients although not all Laureates receive a cash award. Often an Honorary Award is given to a person or group whose work the Jury wishes to recognise but who is not primarily in need of monetary support. The others share the prize money of EUR 150,000. The prize money is for ongoing successful work, never for personal use.
The Prize's Impact
The Right Livelihood Award is widely recognised as the world's premier award for personal courage and social transformation. Besides the financial support, it enables its recipients to reach out to an international audience that otherwise might not have heard of them. Often, the Award also gives crucial protection against repression. For the Laureates, the Award has opened many doors.
What is Right Livelihood
The idea of 'right livelihood' is an ancient one. It embodies the principle that each person should follow an honest occupation, which fully respects other people and the natural world. It means being responsible for the consequences of our actions and taking only a fair share of the earth's resources.
In every generation, there are groups of people and individuals around the globe who valiantly uphold these principles of right livelihood. They should be the stars in our human cosmos; instead their work often entails personal sacrifice, being opposed by powerful forces around them. The Right Livelihood Award exists to honour and support such people.
"Conservation of diversity is, above all, the commitment to let alternatives flourish in society and nature, in economic systems and in knowledge systems. Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times. It is a survival imperative, and the precondition for the freedom of all, the big and the small."
Vandana Shiva, India (RLA 1993)
"We are the ancestors of our grandchildren's children. We look after them, just as our ancestors look after us. We aren't here for ourselves. We are here for each other and for the children of our grandchildren."
Roy Sesana, Botswana (RLA 2005)
"People often ask me why I have become engaged in so many issues and causes, and why I take so many risks in doing so. With all the problems we face today, for me it is more a question of whether I can afford not to be involved. (...) There is so much each one of us can do to make a difference."
Bianca Jagger, Nicaragua (RLA 2004)
Unlike the Nobel Prizes (for Physics, Physiology/Medicine, Chemistry, Literature, and Peace), the Right Livelihood Award has no categories. It recognises that, in striving to meet the human challenges of today's world, the most inspiring and remarkable work often defies any standard classification. For example, people who start out with an environmental goal frequently find themselves drawn into issues of health, human rights and/or social justice. Their work becomes a holistic response to community needs, so that sectoral categories lose their meaning.
Blow are some examples of people who have received the Right Livelihood Award ver the years:
Christopher Weeramatry (Sri Lanka), 2007
"... for his lifetime of groundbreaking work to strengthen and expand the rule of international law". (2007)
Christopher Weeramantry is a world-renowned legal scholar and a former Vice-President of the International Court of Justice, who has played a crucial role in strengthening and expanding the rule of international law. His work demonstrates how international law can be used to address current global challenges such as the continued threat of nuclear weapons, the protection of human rights and the protection of the environment.
Percy and Louise Schmeiser (Canada), 2007
"... for their courage in defending biodiversity and farmers' rights, and challenging the environmental and moral perversity of current interpretations of patent laws". (2007)
With their fight against Monsanto's abusive marketing practices, Percy and Louise Schmeiser have given the world a wake-up call about the dangers to farmers and biodiversity everywhere from the growing dominance and market aggression of companies engaged in the genetic engineering of crops.
Acceptance Speech by Percy Schmeiser
Dekha Ibrahim Abdi (Kenya), 2007
"... for showing in diverse ethnic and cultural situations how religious and other differences can be reconciled, even after violent conflict, and knitted together through a cooperative process that leads to peace and development". (2007)
Dekha Ibrahim Abdi is a global peacemaker from rural Kenya. She has engaged in peace work and conflict resolution in many of the world's most divided countries. Her comprehensive methodology combines grassroots activism, a soft but uncompromising leadership, and a spiritual motivation drawing on the teachings of Islam.
Acceptance Speech by Dekha Ibrahim Abdi
Grameen Shakti (Bangladesh), 2007
A woman engineer demonstrating a Solar Home System.
"... for bringing sustainable light and power to thousands of Bangladeshi villages, promoting health, education and productivity". (2007)
Grameen Shakti, under its Managing Director Dipal Barua, has installed more than 110,000 solar home systems in rural Bangladesh. It has shown that solar energy applications can be scaled up massively and rapidly to provide an affordable and climate-friendly energy option for the rural poor.
Acceptance Speech by Dipal Barua
Krishnammal and Sankaralingam Jagannathan / LAFTI (India), 2007
...for two long lifetimes of work dedicated to realising in practice the Gandhian vision of social justice and sustainable human development, for which they have been referred to as 'India's soul'." (2008)
Krishnammal Jagannathan and Sankaralingam Jagannathan are two lifelong activists for social justice, and for sustainable human development, working with those who are at the lowest rung of the social ladder. They have carried the Gandhian legacy into the 21st century, never ceasing to serve the needs of Dalits, landless and those threatened by the greed of landlords and multinational corporations.
Acceptance Speech by Krishnammal
Alyn Ware (New Zealand - Aotearoa), 2009
"...for his effective and creative advocacy and initiatives over two decades to further peace education and to rid the world of nuclear weapons." (2009)
Alyn Ware is one of the world's most effective peace workers, who has led key initiatives for peace education and nuclear abolition in New Zealand and internationally over the past 25 years. He helped draft the Peace Studies Guidelines that became part of the New Zealand school curriculum, initiated successful programmes in schools and thousands of classrooms throughout the country, and has served as an adviser to the NZ government and the UN on disarmament education. He was active in the campaign that prohibited nuclear weapons in New Zealand, before serving as the World Court Project UN Coordinator which achieved a historic ruling from the World Court on the illegality of nuclear weapons. Alyn Ware has led the efforts to implement the World Court's decision, including drafting resolutions adopted by the UN, bringing together a group of experts to prepare a draft treaty on nuclear abolition which is now being promoted by the UN Secretary General, and engaging parliamentarians around the world through Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.
Acceptance Speech by Alyn Ware
Check the world map of recipients or head directly to the website to find out more.