2016 Skoll Awards spotlight social justice

The Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) and Breakthrough were two of the five organisations to be recognised at the 2016 Skoll Awards yesterday afternoon, receiving $1.25m each to help them scale their work and increase their social impact.

At the New Theatre in Oxford attendees of the awards were presented with the usual dose of glittery production standards and a lot of gushing – but even the most sceptical could not help but be moved as the awardees’ work hammered home some of the greatest inequalities and social injustices around the world.

The USA has the highest incarceration rate in the world. There are more African Americans in prison, on probation or on parole than there were enslaved in 1850. In the US you’re six times more likely to go to prison for committing the same offence if you’re a black man versus a white man.

These were just some of the facts spelled out during the introduction to 2016 award winner EJI, an organisation set up by Bryan Stevenson (pictured below) that seeks to free those unjustly imprisoned and reform the criminal justice system in the US. In a speech that was dotted with rapturous applause Stevenson said: “We believe that each person is more than the worst thing you’ve ever done.

“I believe when someone tells a lie, they are not just a liar... even if you’ve killed someone you’re not just a killer. Justice requires that we understand the other things that you are. Too often people believe the opposite of poverty is wealth… I believe the opposite of poverty is justice.”  

Bryan Stevenson_Skoll Awards_criminal justice reform

Malika Dutt (pictured below) and Sonali Khan gave equally fierce speeches whilst collecting their Skoll Awards for Breakthrough, which was set up to challenge societal discrimination and violence against women and girls. Currently, one in three women around the world will experience some form of violence in their lifetime. Breakthrough engages with communities in the US and India through popular media, leadership training and advocacy work to challenge this. So far it has reached 15 million people in rural communities and 150 million through its media campaigns.

We are breaking the silence, breaking denial and changing culture

Khan, Breakthrough’s vice president and country director for India, said: “90% of women and girls surveyed by Breakthrough reported that they had experienced some form of sexual harassment. 50% of them say the most vulnerable are school going girls… We are breaking the silence, breaking denial and changing culture.”

Malika Dutt_Breakthrough_gender equality

The remaining three award winners, whose organisations will also receive $1.25m, were Chuck Slaughter from Living Goods, Vivek Maru from Namati and Oren Yakobovich who founded Videre. The aim of the awards is to find organisations, such as these, which social innovations are ripe for accelerated and scaled adoption.

Also recognised at the ceremony with the Global Treasure Award was the Dalai Lama. His Holiness was unable to collect the award in person but joins a list of other Global Treasure winners including Malala Yousafzai and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

CEO of the Skoll Foundation Sally Osberg hosted the event. She told the 2016 award winners: “Yours is the work of fierce compassion.”

To find out more about the 2016 Skoll Award winners, check out the short films below:

  1. Breakthrough – Watch here

  2. Equal Justice Initiative – Watch here

  3. Living Goods – Watch here

  4. Namati – Watch here

  5. Videre – Watch here


Header photo credit: Skoll World Forum