NEW YORK, 29 April 2011 — In recognition of its 75th anniversary, the Ford Foundation today announced $100,000 awards to 12 social innovators who, through their extraordinary vision and courageous work, are improving the lives of millions of people.

In a period of uncertain transformation in global society, politics and the economy, the Ford Foundation Visionaries Awards seek to raise the profile of leaders whose innovative efforts on the frontlines of key social issues offer pathways to improved economic opportunities and expanded political and social participation for millions of marginalized people worldwide.

“We can’t think of a more fitting way to mark our anniversary than to spotlight the people who continually infuse new energy and ideas into the effort to solve our most pressing social problems,” said Luis Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation. “They are thinkers and doers—people who pursue their vision with determination and a laser focus on impact.”

The 12 visionaries (listed below) represent the thousands of brilliant people and organizations the foundation has supported since its founding in 1936. They come from diverse backgrounds and work in a variety of fields—from human rights to technology to education, both in the United States and around the world.

“Through these awards, we want to highlight the unheralded work of thousands of courageous leaders whose lives are devoted to improving systems and institutions so that all people have a voice in the decisions that affect their lives,” Ubiñas said. “These 12 individuals represent the courage, commitment, and innovative thinking of all the remarkable people who work on the frontlines of social change.”

The foundation is using its 75th anniversary to explore the next generation of important issues facing America and the world, as well as highlighting the people and ideas making a difference today. The awards will help these leaders share their work with a broad range of new audiences, allowing them to promote their ideas and ensure that their insights inform and advance the work of other social innovators.

From an indigenous women’s rights leader in Peru to a political cartoonist in Kenya, the visionaries were selected for their pioneering work, exceptional leadership and the potential scale and impact of their visions.

Enabling Community Ownership Over Natural Resources

Alfredo Wagner Berno de Almeida
Coordinator, New Social Cartography Project
Manaus, Brazil

For centuries, traditional peoples have inhabited the forests of the Brazilian Amazon, preserving the forest through their wise stewardship. Despite this history, they have been denied their rights to their lands and livelihoods. In the 1980s, anthropologist Alfredo Wagner Berno de Almeida launched the region’s first mapping project challenging official maps by making visible for the first time the claims of traditional communities over the millions of acres of their Amazonian homelands. Wagner’s groundbreaking initiative became the model for the New Social Cartography Project of the Amazon, enabling communities to make use of the latest technologies to bolster their rights over their own territories and resources.

Helping Working Families Achieve Economic Security

Ellen Bravo
Director, Family Values @ Work
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Ellen Bravo, a life-long advocate for women, has galvanized the movement to bring low-wage earning women the benefits and opportunities they need to support their families. For nearly 20 years, Bravo ran the influential organization 9 to 5, which has been at the forefront of the fight for pay equity, family leave, fairness for part-time and temp workers, and an end to sexual harassment and punitive welfare 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.

Empowering Women to Forge Their Own Futures

Ela R. Bhatt
Founder & CEO, Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)
Ahmedabad, India

Widely recognized as one of the world’s most remarkable entrepreneurial forces in grassroots development, Ela R. 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.

Making Art that Provokes and Transforms

Syndicated Editorial Cartoonist
Nairobi, Kenya

Godfrey Mwampembwa, better known by his pen name GADO, started drawing as a teenager and found that he had a flair for raising awareness through satire. The most syndicated political cartoonist in Eastern and Central Africa, GADO has given form and voice to a new vision of democracy. Through his cartoons and satirical TV series, “The XYZ Show,” he has increased aware¬ness 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.

Educating Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s World

Steve Barr
Founder, Chairman and CEO, Future Is Now Schools
Founder, Green DOT Public Schools
Los Angeles, California

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, overhauling deeply troubled schools and helping them achieve remarkable levels of stability. 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. Barr was also a co-founder of the nonprofit, nonpartisan “Rock the Vote” campaign.

Harnessing Technology for Social Good

Yochai Benkler
Co-Director, Berkman Center for Internet and Society
Professor of Entrepreneurial Legal Studies, Harvard University School of Law
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Yochai Benkler is recognized as a leading thinker on technology and the law. Since the 1990s, he has been working to pinpoint the importance of the “information commons” —systems such as libraries or online communities that exist to preserve information for current and future generations—to innovation, information production and freedom. His award-winning book “The Wealth of Networks” analyzes our increasingly networked economy and society, and illustrates the impact of networks on individual and group collaboration. Awarded the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award, Benkler is an important voice in the current debate about Internet freedom and access.

Lifting the Voices of Indigenous People

Tarcila Rivera Zea
Founder & Executive Director, CHIRAPAQ (The Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Cultures of Peru)
Lima, Peru

Tarcila Rivera Zea started her teenage years as an indigenous servant in a small Quechuan village and today runs one of South America’s most influential organizations for indigenous people. Over the 20 years since she founded CHIRAPAQ, she and her staff have worked to give indigenous people a national and global voice, secure equality and access to opportunities they have been denied, and develop pride for indigenous cultures. Rivera Zea helped create the International Forum of Indigenous Women of the Americas and other bodies working to strengthen the lives of some 25 million indigenous women across the region.

Challenging the Injustice of Poverty

Bryan Stevenson
Founder & Executive Director, Equal Justice Initiative (EJI)
Montgomery, Alabama
Law Professor, NYU School of Law
New York, N.Y.

Every day Bryan Stevenson challenges the fundamental injustice of poverty and fights bias against people of color and the poor in the criminal justice system. “The opposite of poverty is not wealth—it’s justice,” he says. 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. Driven by the belief that society’s treatment of the disadvantaged is the real test of its commitment to social justice, Stevenson teaches law and has written extensively on criminal justice, capital punishment and civil rights issues.

Building 21st Century Social Movements

Jeremy Heimans
Co-Founder and CEO, Purpose
New York, N.Y.

Jeremy Heimans is a next-generation leader who is carving out new venues and strategies for social movements and proving that the power of online communities can translate to authentic social change. He co-founded, the fastest-growing online movement in history with more than 8 million members from 190 countries, and, a grassroots community advocacy organization that has become Australia’s largest political group. 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.

Bringing African Culture to New Audiences

Elsie McCabe Thompson
President, Museum for African Art
New York, N.Y.

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. After more than a decade of fundraising and planning, Thompson succeeded in establishing the $95 million institution on upper Fifth Avenue near Harlem, where New York City’s cultural institutions and African, African American, Caribbean and Latino communities meet.

Creating Financial Opportunities for the Poor

Martin Eakes
Co-Founder & CEO, Self-Help
CEO, Center for Responsible Lending
Durham, North Carolina

Martin Eakes is a national leader in the fight against abusive financial practices—predatory home loans, payday lending, and exorbitant checking and credit card fees—that target poor people and trap them in cycles of poverty. Self-Help, the groundbreaking community development lending institution that he founded in 1980, reaches low-income families underserved by conventional financial institutions. Over the years, Self-Help has provided almost $6 billion in financing to more than 60,000 homebuyers, small businesses and nonprofits, and serves more than 25,000 mostly low-income families through seven retail credit unions. Standing in 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 and affordable financial products in helping low-income people achieve economic security.

Reimagining the Way We Think about Urban Design

Teddy Cruz
Co-Founder, Center for Urban Ecologies
Professor, Culture and Urbanism, University of California, San Diego
San Diego, California

Teddy Cruz was born in Guatemala City in an overpopulated old neighborhood teeming with people and life. Today he is an architect with a humane vision for metropolitan areas across America that breaks down physical and cultural barriers, and introduces social complexity and richness by mixing wealthy and poor, old and new, and public and private. Cruz is internationally renowned for his urban research on the Tijuana-San Diego border. His work focuses more broadly on traditionally overlooked poor, minority and immigrant communities and spaces, and has transformed border neighborhoods in California and communities in New York by creating affordable quality housing and public infrastructure.

The Ford Foundation

The Ford Foundation is an independent organization working to address inequality and build a future grounded in justice. For more than 85 years, it has supported visionaries on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. Today, with an endowment of $16 billion, the foundation has headquarters in New York and 10 regional offices across Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Media Contacts

Press Line
Tel (+1) 212-573-5128
Fax (+1) 212-351-3643
[email protected]