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Ford Foundation Working with Visionaries on the Frontlines of Social Change Worldwide

Visionaries Awards

Ford Foundation Visionaries

To mark our anniversary, we are celebrating some of the people who continually infuse new energy and ideas into the effort to solve our most pressing social problems.

For our 75th anniversary, we created the Ford Foundation Visionaries Awards to raise the profile of 12 extraordinary leaders. Their innovative efforts on the frontlines of key social issues offer clear and concrete pathways to improved economic opportunities and expanded political and social participation for millions of marginalized people worldwide. The visionaries represent the many grantees we have supported since the foundation was established in 1936. Meet the recipients of our visionaries awards. Read the press release and related news.

Tarcila Rivera Zea Tarcila Rivera Zea

Title:
Founder and Executive Director, CHIRAPAQ
Location:
Lima, Peru
Bio:
Once an indigenous servant in a small Quechuan village, Tarcila Rivera Zea now runs one of South America's most influential organizations for indigenous people. Over the 20 years since she founded CHIRAPAQ, she helped give indigenous people a national and global voice, secure equality and access to opportunities, and develop pride for indigenous cultures. Rivera Zea also helped create the International Forum of Indigenous Women of the Americas to strengthen the lives of some 25 million indigenous women across the region.
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Vimeo ID:
29428433

Questions and Answers

All my life, racism and discrimination have persisted. That's why I decided to learn more. Someone tried to discourage me from continuing my studies. She said, 'You are an Indian'you always will be an Indian.' I told her, 'Yes, I will always be an Indian, but an Indian who knows how to read and how to write.'

In the 1980s we organized the first meeting of indigenous people in Peru. Then we formed CHIRAPAQ, and with the Ford Foundation's support we've been able to defend indigenous rights, to develop pride for indigenous culture, and to give indigenous peoples a voice on a national and global level. At a national level, we were the first organization to talk publicly about indigenous women's rights. At first it was not received well by indigenous men, but now many indigenous organizations are creating programs for women.

If you don't have the opportunity to learn and decide what you want to do with your life, it's impossible to be free. But I see hope. More leaders are emerging and sharing their knowledge, more public education initiatives are being established and more organizations are focusing on indigenous women's issues in particular. And now I see children who are very proud about our language, about who we are. A good education, a democratic education'an education based on human rights and dignity'is important for everybody.

Bryan Stevenson Bryan Stevenson

Title:
Founder and Executive Director, Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)
Location:
Montgomery, Alabama
Bio:
Bryan Stevenson challenges the fundamental injustice of poverty and fights bias against people of color and the poor in the criminal justice system. Through the Equal Justice Initiative, he advocates on behalf of juvenile offenders, poor people denied effective representation or wrongly convicted or charged, and others whose experiences with the criminal justice system have been marked by bias or misconduct. Stevenson teaches law at NYU and has written extensively on criminal justice, capital punishment and civil rights issues.
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Vimeo ID:
35197490

Questions and Answers

In a society like the United States'with a history of unequal treatment'equal justice requires a lot of effort, commitment and vigilance. The Equal Justice Initiative challenges the excessive sentencing of children. We work with dozens of death-row prisoners who were unreliably or illegally convicted or sentenced. We're making a major effort to challenge racial bias in jury selection. And we're doing new work around poverty.

We've been successful in securing new trials for scores of death row prisoners. We've been successful in changing the thinking about the prosecution of children, and about harsh sentencing. We've succeeded in overturning wrongful convictions and unfair sentences and challenging discrimination. Probably our greatest accomplishment has been creating hope in very marginalized communities where hopelessness and despair have caused a great deal of frustration and dysfunction.

You have to be willing to believe in things you haven't seen. One of the great challenges of reform and social justice intervention is that everyone is always saying what you cannot do: We've persuaded ourselves that we can't end poverty, that racial discrimination will always be with us, that the poor can't be adequately educated, that some kids are hopeless. Talking more structurally about ending poverty remains one of the great challenges, because it connects to the issues surrounding criminal justice and dysfunction. The opposite of poverty is not wealth'it's justice.

Ellen Bravo Ellen Bravo

Title:
Executive Director, Family Values @ Work
Location:
Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Bio:
Ellen Bravo has galvanized the movement to bring low-wage earning women the benefits and opportunities they need to support their families. For nearly 20 years, she ran the influential organization 9 to 5, which has been at the forefront of the fight for pay equity, family leave, and fair employment laws. Most recently, she founded Family Values @ Work, a network of state coalitions that has already led successful public campaigns to adopt paid family leave policies in California, New Jersey and Washington.
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Vimeo ID:
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Questions and Answers

My vision of a just world is one where taking care of yourself and your loved ones, and doing work you are engaged by, is the norm. The hard work that we do should be valued. We shouldn't be punished for being good parents, sons or daughters.

Any time there's been a social reform, we hear the same arguments: The sky will fall, it will kill jobs. And over and over, we've shown that in fact the economy grows and communities grow when we allow families to be strong.

Soon after my former organization, 9 to 5, helped pass the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act in 1988, the parents of a member had a heart attack and a hip replacement between them. They couldn't care for each other. Because of this law, she and her siblings were each able to take time off and take turns caring for their parents without jeopardizing their jobs. It was really important to the recovery of her parents, and also to the family's emotional health and financial security. I know hundreds of stories like that'many of them from people who became engaged in the movement as a result of their experiences.

I feel successful when I see movements grow and people stand up, when I watch people become aware of their own power as they join together with others. I measure success by that kind of growth, not just by what gets passed into law.

Yochai Benkler Yochai Benkler

Title:
Co-Director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard University
Location:
Cambridge, Massachusetts
Bio:
A leading thinker on technology and law, Yochai Benkler has worked to pinpoint the importance of the 'information commons'-such as libraries or online communities that exist to preserve information for current and future generations-to innovation, information production and freedom. His book, 'The Wealth of Networks,' analyzes our increasingly networked economy and society, and how it impacts individual and group collaboration.
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Questions and Answers

In the future, we will come to look at this period as one in which we shifted from being a society of relatively passive consumers to one in which a much larger portion of the population has the capacity to participate in making its own information. We're shifting from being people who see ourselves as choosing from a menu of options to people who are creators and social and economic entrepreneurs.

Particularly in the United States, we have built technological and organizational systems that are optimized for yesterday's major economic players. My work is about designing interventions that will nudge these systems away from being optimal to yesterday's incumbents and toward tomorrow's innovators and those in society who are weaker politically and economically.

Academic work has the power to introduce questions. Even when there isn't the ability to execute an outcome, at least there is the ability to take something from being off the wall politically to something that is a genuine item of debate. By helping to shape the agenda, you begin the longer-term processes that can actually lead to policy outcomes.

I hope my work will improve the degree of freedom that people can exercise in their day-to-day lives and help make sure we keep going in the direction of a more open, creative, engaged and participatory society.

Teddy Cruz Teddy Cruz

Title:
Co-Founder, CUE/Center for Urban Ecologies, Professor of Culture and Urbanism, UCSD
Location:
San Diego, California
Bio:
The architect has a humane vision for metropolitan areas across America, breaking down physical and cultural barriers-mixing wealthy and poor, old and new, and public and private. Renowned for his urban research on the Tijuana-San Diego border, he works on traditionally overlooked poor, minority and immigrant communities and spaces-and has transformed California border neighborhoods and New York communities by creating affordable, quality housing and public infrastructure.
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Vimeo ID:
24727586

Questions and Answers

When I arrived in the border neighborhood of San Ysidro, I began to work with a nonprofit, community-based agency to design affordable housing projects. Through our conversations with people in the neighborhood, I began to rethink my own practice, and to investigate the impact of immigration in the transformation of the American city, and particularly the American neighborhood.

What gives me hope is the amazing power of human resourcefulness. There is a very alive and very dynamic Mexican American culture in many American cities, with a huge cultural intelligence that has allowed them to produce a more inclusive idea of housing. Seeing that, we began to conceptualize a very different idea of development, one that would recognize a community's patterns of living and make a housing project sustainable in the long term. I want to reconnect the reality of environments like that with the way we actually produce urban policy.

I believe that citizenship is a creative act. As a field, architecture is amazing because it can transform ideas into physical forms. The best ideas in the next decades will not emerge from sites of abundance and privilege, but from sites of scarcity.

Ela R. Bhatt Ela R. Bhatt

Title:
Co-founder and CEO, Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA)
Location:
Ahmedabad, India
Bio:
Ela Bhatt has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India's poorest and most oppressed women workers. A former parliamentarian, she founded the Self-Employed Women's Association - a trade union for poor, self-employed female workers in India with more than 1 million members. Bhatt also founded Sa-Dhan (the All-India Association of Micro-finance Institutions) and the Indian School of Micro-finance for Women, which together have created new financial opportunities for millions of women across India.
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Steve Barr Steve Barr

Title:
Founder, Green Dot Public Schools; Founder, Chairman and CEO, Future Is Now Schools
Location:
Los Angeles, California
Bio:
In his push to help struggling urban schools act as better supporters of student achievement, Steve Barr has leveraged public dollars to transform public education in California. In 1999, he founded Green Dot Public Schools and has since propelled the organization to become the leading force for change in the region. In 2010, Barr formed Green Dot America, recently renamed Future Is Now Schools, to bring the lessons learned and successes achieved on the local level to other communities around the country.
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GADO GADO

Title:
Syndicated Editorial Cartoonist
Location:
Nairobi, Kenya
Bio:
Godfrey Mwampembwa, better known by his pen name GADO, is the most syndicated political cartoonist in Eastern and Central Africa. Through his cartoons and satirical TV series, 'The XYZ Show,' he has increased awareness of social and political issues, encouraged public participation in discussions about governance and reminded elected officials of their responsibility to the public. With millions of viewers and nearly 120,000 Facebook fans just two years after its debut, 'The XYZ Show' has already had an impact both in Kenya and throughout the region.
Related Initiative:
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Vimeo ID:
32166843

Questions and Answers

Art should be bold and new. It can remind political leaders of their responsibilities and encourage youth to take action to change society. We're coming from a culture where leaders like to be praised. It is important that leaders are told when they are wrong.

Editorial cartooning is much more than just drawings'you need to know the characters and history and look at issues from a fresh perspective, without fear or favor. It's a craft that uses humor to remind society and political leaders of their mistakes and responsibilities. How far political cartoonists go is seen as a barometer of the freedom of expression of a country. Africa is lagging behind.

In Kenya, in 2008, we had a hotly contested election. Because of the tribal nature of this country, the whole situation became inflammatory. As an editorial cartoonist, I've always commented on crisis and conflicts from other regions in Africa. But in 2008, for the first time, I was part and parcel of a crisis. I was compelled to take a hard look at what I was drawing, because what happens if you add fuel to the conflict?

I created 'The XYZ Show' to target social issues and try to connect with youth. The use of puppets and the use of political satire was something no one had done before in African countries. We talk a lot about unemployment, education, corruption, HIV and AIDS, tribalism. People started liking what we were doing because we were not afraid.

Martin Eakes Martin Eakes

Title:
Co-Founder and CEO, Self-Help; CEO, Center for Responsible Lending
Location:
Durham, North Carolina
Bio:
Martin Eakes, a national leader in the fight against abusive financial practices that target poor people and trap them in cycles of poverty, founded Self-Help. The renowned community development lending organization reaches low-income families underserved by conventional financial institutions. A direct contrast to the predatory financial products that played a central role in the financial crisis, Self-Help's work demonstrates the importance of responsible, affordable financial products in helping low-income people achieve economic security.
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Questions and Answers

The most caustic, corrosive force in human history is having extreme wealth and extreme poverty in close proximity. Back in 1980, we felt that the civil rights and women's movements had made great gains in the legal arena, but that those would mean little if they didn't translate to the economic arena.

Self-Help provides lending to entrepreneurs and homeowners who would otherwise be left out of the mainstream, so that people can own homes and start businesses even though their parents could not. Twenty years into that work, we started the Center for Responsible Lending, which was aimed at protecting families from losing the wealth they'd built up over a lifetime due to misconduct on the part of lenders and the financial services industry. Our goal is to mobilize a coalition of organizations and people who see that building a more equitable financial system benefits everyone.

We work to give people a chance to support their families with a good job and decent housing, so that their children can see a better life. And we've been able to work with large banking institutions to change their practices. My short-term goal is to bring the homeownership rate of all communities up to the national average, so there is opportunity for home and business ownership among all families. We've helped 60,000 families become homeowners so far, and we're vigilant about stopping the kind of financial misconduct that punishes people just because they're poor.

Jeremy Heimans Jeremy Heimans

Title:
Co-Founder and CEO, Purpose
Location:
New York, New York
Bio:
Jeremy Heimans is proving that the power of online communities can translate to authentic social change. He co-founded Avaaz.org, the fastest-growing online movement in history with more than 8 million members from 190 countries, and GetUp.org, a grassroots community advocacy organization. Today Heimans leads Purpose, a global initiative that draws on leading technologies, political organizing and behavioral economics to build powerful, tech-savvy movements that can transform culture and influence policy.
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Questions and Answers

At Purpose, our vision is a deeply internationalist one'we believe in the idea of global citizenship. We want people to feel like the huge decisions that affect the lives of hundreds of millions (or in some cases billions) are actually decisions that ordinary people, if they combine their powers, can impact. In the long term, our goal is to insert people into the decisions that most powerfully affect their lives.

We focus on mass mobilization. In the first campaign by our LGBT rights organization, All Out, we were able to actually stop the deportation of a woman from the U.K. to Uganda, where she would have faced persecution because she was a lesbian. There's huge transnational solidarity on this issue: A gay person'or a straight person who's an ally of LGBT people'immediately identifies with the persecution and oppression that someone on the other side of the world is experiencing.

People fundamentally haven't changed; what it takes to inspire them is the same. But technology has reshaped our ability to rapidly mobilize people. We're using new tools to create 21st century movements that channel individual people's power into collective power.

Elsie McCabe Thompson Elsie McCabe Thompson

Title:
President, Museum for African Art
Location:
New York, New York
Bio:
The Museum for African Art is one of only two major American museums devoted solely to African art, and it was Elsie McCabe Thompson's singular determination that made possible the opening of a high-profile showplace for the museum's collection. The lawyer and former city government executive was relentless in her quest to enrich the lives of all through a deeper engagement with African culture and art'and after a decade of fundraising and planning, succeeded in establishing the $95 million institution on upper Fifth Avenue near Harlem.
Related Initiative:
Link(s):
Vimeo ID:
22613052

Questions and Answers

Being able to tell stories through art is what moves me'stories that open your eyes, not just about Africa, but about humanity. At the Museum for African Art, our exhibitions tell the stories of the dreams, the fears, the prayers and the aspirations of communities of people for generations.

Twenty percent of the globe is, somewhere in their background, from Africa. It's the cradle of humanity. It all began there. As African Americans, we need to take pride in our cultural identity. Even if you are not African or of the African diaspora, you cannot be a responsible global citizen and omit the entire African continent, its history and its people.

We see ourselves as a bridge between diverse socioeconomic and religious communities. We're making connections between cultures and using African art as the touchstone. And with our new building on Museum Mile, we are lengthening and diversifying the cultural backbone of New York City's cultural tourist economy.

When you come to the museum, what you're seeing is literally the embodiment of our history: justice and real pride, installation by installation, exhibit by exhibit. We want people to look at African art and say, 'Now I know something more, not just about them, but about me.'

Alfredo Wagner Alfredo Wagner

Title:
Coordinator, New Social Cartography Project of the Amazon
Location:
Manaus, Brazil
Bio:
Traditional peoples have inhabited and preserved Brazilian Amazon forests for centuries, but have been denied rights to their lands and livelihoods. Anthropologist Alfredo Wagner Berno de Almeida launched the region's first mapping project, making visible for the first time the claims of traditional communities over their Amazonian homelands. His work became the model for the New Social Cartography Project of the Amazon, helping communities use technology to bolster their rights over their own territories and resources.
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Questions and Answers

In the Amazon, you cannot separate identity from territory. Indigenous people cannot imagine themselves without the river that crosses their land, or without the forest. But their land is under threat from those who want to use it to produce commodities.

Historically, cartography was directly related to geography. It meant, simply, to establish the limits of a particular area and to produce geographic information about a region. With social cartography, we're trying to develop the unique perspectives of communities by helping them map their own territories. They are the ones who decide what is relevant to include on the maps. We teach them how to use the technical instruments of mapping, like GPS, but we also encourage a perspective of self-definition that helps people understand themselves as agents when it comes to their own territory. And we try to expand the meaning of citizenship to include territorial rights.

When a community is able to preserve its own land and natural resources, it is preparing for the future. Self-cartography enables these communities to determine the shape of that future, putting them in a better position to safeguard their interests and demand that their rights be recognized.

At PNCSA, we are a very tiny grain of sand in this ongoing process of changing attitudes'changing the ways we respect the other and the way we understand lives of others.

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