Designed to recognize grassroots environmental heroes, the Goldman Environmental Prize, founded by Richard and Rhoda Goldman in 1989 In San Francisco, is awarded annually to individuals from the six inhabited continental regions for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment. Each recipient of the prize not only receives a financial support to pursue its actions, but also “an international recognition that enhances their credibility, increases awareness around their work, and inspires other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the environment” notes Lorrae Rominger, deputy director of the prize.
Grassroots environmental activists
The prize which Is funded by the Goldman Environmental Foundation, a non-for-profit foundation endowed by Richard and Rhoda Goldman, specifically recognizes grassroots environmental heroes, defined by Lorrae Rominger as “brave individuals who lead efforts in their local communities to effect positive change”. These grassroots individuals, i.e: ordinary men and women, young and old, Catholic priests, indigenous peoples, scientists, farmers, who have taken great personal risks to protect the environment, often face arrest, torture, violent threats and assassination attempts along the way. Lorrae Rominger comments that what they all have in common “is the conviction that ordinary people have an important role in protecting our natural resources”, which in the aftermath of Rio+20, is in line with the observation that “much of the global environmental protection work over the past two decades has come from civil society, from individuals like Goldman Prize winners who stood up against big corporations and corrupt governments”.
Recipients, leaders in their community, are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide group of environmental organizations and individuals. Lorrae Rominger states that “particular consideration is given to issues or geographic areas not yet recognized by the global community or the Prize”.
According to the different part of the globe the recipients come from, the prize will reward very different initiatives. “Activists in Africa or South and Central America, where many countries don’t have stable, democratic governments, will indeed face a different set of challenges compared to their counterparts in places like the United States or Western Europe, where there are relatively strict environmental regulations in place” likes to remind Lorrae Rominger.
The recipients and the prize
The Goldman Prize provides its winners an unprecedented level of visibility through the extensive media coverage of the Prize announcement. Sometimes this provides an added level of personal safety, since assailants from opposition movements are less likely to target a well-known individual. During the Prize tour, winners also have an opportunity to meet with policy and business leaders. These meetings, coupled with the media coverage, lend them invaluable credibility—a precious commodity in the grassroots activism world that helps them take their work to the next level. Last but not least, the $150,000 cash prize gives them the financial support to continue their work.
Lorrae Rominger hopes that by recognizing prize winners every year, they are “elevating the field for grassroots environmental activism”, and that, even if all grassroots environmental heroes cannot be recognized, the prize in turn “honors all environmental activist from all part of the world who refuse to believe that an individual cannot make a difference”.
The prize over the years
Over the years, environmental issues in one region have become far less isolated. The global economy has moved grassroots activists to look beyond borders and be strategic about how to solve challenges at home. Lorrae Rominger holds two great grassroots activists as examples “Father Edwin Gariguez, who took his campaign against a nickel mine in the Philippines to the mining company’s shareholders in Norway”, and “Ma Jun, who followed the supply chain of factories polluting the environment in China all the way out to California—and took his appeal to consumers around the world”. These activists she argues are “still very much grassroots activists in that they’re leading people in their own communities at home to demand change; even if the trigger point for change happens to be shifting to different parts of the world”
When asked her favourite prizewinner, Lorrae Rominger argues that they are all amazing individuals with a hunger for change and that it would be impossible to pick one over another. She does however share her most recent adventure “I have just returned from a trip to Rwanda, where I trekked into the Virunga National Park with the 2001 Prize winner Eugene Rutagarama to view the silverback mountain gorillas, which he has worked for years to protect. Seeing gorillas in the wild was spectacular and being able to share the experience with Eugene was overwhelming. I’m still trying to absorb what I saws in Rwanda”.
To read more on that issue :
– Olga Speranskaya who received the prize in 2009
By Roxanne Crossley and Julien Leprovost