MacArthur Award for Creative & Effective Institutions Award Ceremony, Remarks by Jonathan Fanton
June 11, 2009 | Speech | MacArthur Award for Creative & Effective Institutions

Remarks as prepared for delivery.

Good afternoon. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation. Thank you for joining us to celebrate the fourth group of winners of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. They take their place in the honor roll of 25 other organizations represented in years past. You see these organizations listed behind me on the screen. We are privileged to have several past award winners with us today: Justine Nagan and Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin Films, Dory Rand of the Woodstock Institute, and Kevin Jackson of the Chicago Rehab Network. I would also like to extend a special welcome to Ashok Kumar Attiri, the Consul General of India here in Chicago, and his wife Usha Kiran Attiri, for joining us today.

We gather at a moment in history full of peril and promise. The world wide economic crisis challenges our mission to rebuild cities in the United States, improve health care in developing countries, alleviate poverty and reduce inequity the world over. But there is a new generation of leadership here and in many countries with a vision and a determination that resonates profoundly with our values and our aspirations.

That vision calls forth a spirit of shared responsibility as we seek to transform yes we can to yes we did.

As the challenges facing our world grow ever more complex, effective civil society organizations are central to our search for durable and fair solutions. Nation states are still dominant, but the power and potential of civil society is growing exponentially. These valued institutions help citizens think about public issues and galvanize action. They provide guidance, inspiration, and concrete solutions to challenging problems. We trust them and we depend on them. They enrich our lives, strengthen our communities, and help us build bridges across cultures and traditions. They are the critical path to our quest for a more just and humane world at peace.

The eight organizations we honor today have diverse missions – from promoting public policies in the U.S. that recognize the connection among affordable housing, mass transit and the environment to resolving the tensions between economic development and environmental conservation in the Caribbean basin; from providing health insurance to poor, self-employed women in India, to gaining access to a fair and impartial system of justice for marginalized people in Nigeria. Still, they have much in common, as we have learned in fruitful conversation over the last two days. All are highly creative and effective institutions that are making a difference. We are proud to recognize them with the MacArthur Award and to reaffirm the bonds of partnership and mutual respect that bind us together.

They were selected from a rich pool of extraordinary organizations by our talented program staff. I now ask these staff members to rise so we can acknowledge their eye for talent and deep commitment to helping our partners prosper over the years.

MacArthur is probably best known for its awards to 25 outstanding individuals every year – the press likes to call them “genius awards.” But, in fact, throughout MacArthur's history we have had an even deeper engagement with institutions. Individual inspiration must be complemented by vibrant organizations capable of giving form to good ideas, extending their reach into society, and rooting them in practice, policy and protocol. Active in 60 countries, we direct 90 percent of our resources to strengthening institutions in all of our fields, from biodiversity conservation to human rights, from community development to affordable rental housing. That represents almost $4 billion in support for more than 4,000 institutions since 1978.

Many of the groups we have helped are large and well-established, providing critical infrastructure for their fields. But it is often the small, young, nimble organization that adds the greatest value.

The institutions we honor today have demonstrated the courage to push the boundaries of the possible, explore uncharted terrain, imagine the unknown, and test new models for pursuing elusive goals. That is the creative dimension. But they are also effective – applying practical wisdom, balanced judgment, courageous determination, and fierce energy to address complex problems facing their communities, their countries, and the world.

Each organization we honor today is at a critical stage in its development, with a clear strategic plan and vision, strong board and executive leadership, and stable financial management. As with the Fellows Program, there were no applications. We simply asked the organization to tell us how a grant could be most helpful. They will use these funds for new buildings, endowments, bolstering operating reserves, and programmatic expansion.

These eight award winners are emblematic of thousands of independent organizations that create a vibrant civil society the world over. We are privileged to honor them today, and through them we pay tribute to the power of non-governmental organizations to give tangible form to humanity’s highest aspirations.

Now we begin the presentation of the awards. I will ask each organization in turn to come forward while I read its award citation. Then a representative of the organization will respond.

We begin with Mahila SEWA Trust (MST). Representing MST is Trustee and Coordinator Mirai Chatterjee and Trustee and General Secretary Jyoti Macwan.

Advocate for women, pioneer of public health, architects of a more just society

Mahila SEWA Trust has advocated for, and served, the women of Gujarat’s informal sector for thirty years.

Organizing India’s most vulnerable people, you have built a powerful movement of more than a million women. Where the need for healthcare and a social safety net is urgent, often desperate, you have found practical ways to save the lives of mothers and children, bring medical treatment to people in deep poverty, and design new systems to empower and serve them.

In the Ahmedabad district of Gujarat, you have trained Traditional Birth Attendants for more than 200 villages, educating, diagnosing, referring, and overseeing safe home deliveries. Reducing the scourge of maternal mortality, you save lives, serve children, and rescue families from deep distress or disintegration.

Your health insurance initiative has brought increased security and better care to 16,000 women workers and their families, spreading steadily across your state and sparking similar programs in five more. The power of your example has prompted India’s Labour Ministry to develop social security programs, with health insurance for workers in the informal economy in four states. And you work toward universal provision through the goal of an All-India Women’s Co-operative owned and managed by and for women.

The breadth of your ambition, the depth of your compassion, and the astute common-sense of your programs are changing the social landscape of the subcontinent.

For your practical engagement with the poor and vulnerable, your devotion to improving the lives of India’s women and their families, and your expansive vision of health and social justice, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the National Housing Conference and the Center for Housing Policy. Representing the National Housing Conference is Executive Director Conrad Egan and representing the Center for Housing Policy is Executive Director Jeffrey Lubell.

Advocate for decent housing, insightful researcher, source of policy ideas for a better future

The National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy has kept the issue of affordable housing at the center of debate and policy for 75 years.

Your deep concern for the wellbeing of working families, your conviction that well-crafted programs can make a difference in the lives of communities, and your effective outreach to policymakers and practitioners have made you the nation’s most respected voice for “a decent home and suitable living environment for every American family.”

Those words, from the 1949 National Housing Act, capture the essence of your mission. Convinced that high-quality housing is an essential part of a healthy democratic society, you have sparked discussion, influenced policy, and helped craft landmark legislation.

Your broad-based membership, encompassing both for-profit and non-profit housing developers, banks, corporations, advocacy organizations, and non-profit institutions reaches across the nation and through the housing industry. Your research publications enrich and enliven the field. In “Housing America’s Working Families” and “Paycheck to Paycheck” you have built a comprehensive, constructive, and concerned picture of how working families deal with the demands of paying for housing and transportation: “A Heavy Load,” indeed.

As we move forward in challenging times, your contribution is vital in linking housing to federal reform in transportation, education, and climate change. You are energizing state and local governments to develop new, more effective housing strategies. And you are building a persuasive, coherent framework for how and why housing matters – a platform for better health, higher educational attainment, greater security and economic opportunity so essential for working families, strong neighborhoods, and a fairer and more inclusive nation.

For keeping housing on the nation’s policy agenda, your groundbreaking and influential research, and your commitment to a better standard of living for all, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the Center for Independent Social Research (CISR). Representing the Center is Executive Director and board member Viktor Voronkov and Deputy Director Oleg Pachenkov.

Vanguard of academic resurgence, incisive and impartial analysts, force for enlightenment

The Centre for Independent Social Research is renewing the springs of intellectual honesty and recreating the social sciences for a new Russia.

Since the end of the Soviet era, you have reconnected Russian thought with the mainstream of international scholarship: equipping academic leaders with reliable paradigms, conducting rigorous empirical research, and training a promising new generation of scholars.

Your work interprets important social trends, uncovers neglected aspects of the nation’s life, and points forward to promising avenues of reform. Your enterprise has ambitious breadth and scope – more than 300 projects and 800 publications tackling widely diverse issues. From migration, ethnicity, and nationalism to environmental sociology; from family and reproductive patterns to cultural and symbolic production, your scholars range across the landscape of Russian society with equal mastery of analytical and quantitative methods.

Committed to creating centers of intellectual excellence, you have encouraged Krasnodar’s Center for Anthropological Research and the Center for Independent Social Research and Education in Irkutsk, both now rising to maturity. Your new journal, Laboratorium, is a lively forum for fresh ideas and practical conversations about new and enduring challenges. And you continue to mentor hundreds of younger scholars and promote them to positions of leadership.

Through the Convention of Independent Sociological Research Centers of Russia, you have studied the needs of excluded populations in the Leningrad region, demonstrated the importance of art and cultural endeavors to the vibrancy of St. Petersburg, shown how pervasive racism in public discourse compromises human rights. Commanding growing respect and attention, you are poised to offer wise and timely advice to the public and to policy makers as they reform Russian society and its institutions.

For your commitment to unbiased analytical rigor, building institutions and an intellectual community for the social sciences, and helping Russia better understand itself, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI). Representing CANARI is Executive Director Sarah McIntosh and board member Patrick McConney.

Steward of the environment, trusted advisor to civil society, mentor of conservation programs across the Caribbean

Over more than thirty years, the Caribbean Natural Resource Institute has championed the inseparability of conservation and development, fostered open dialogue and built alliances between diverse nations and organizations, sensitively harmonized the needs of people and the health of their environment.

Guardian of one of the world’s great natural treasures, you have won wide recognition as the Insular Caribbean’s leading advocate for collaboration and fairness in conservation policy. Practitioners rely on your scholarship and publications, civil society groups gain influence from your counsel and broad convening capacity, governments overseeing sustainable development in rich ecosystems seek your advice and direction.

A deep well of expertise and experience, you supply the French, Spanish, and English-speaking nations of the region with staff rigorously trained across the social, political and natural sciences. You negotiate delicate trade-offs between forests and agriculture, coastlines and tourism. And you look for ways to bring ordinary people into a closer, more responsible relationship with the environment in which they live and work.

Your alliances testify to your robust international reputation. You work with the International Institute for Environment and Development to protect watersheds, with the European Commission to draw civil society into managing natural resources, with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization to conserve forests and improve farming methods, with the Caribbean Community Climate Change Center as they assess the resilience of the region’s ecosystem, build public awareness, and increase capacity to adapt to a changing climate.

Your training programs, technical assistance, and wise counsel keep the environment at the forefront of development in tourism, fisheries, and agriculture. As you build a broad coalition to conserve biodiversity, you ensure a better future for the region and its people.

From the coast of Trinidad to the marine reserves of Cuba, from the fisheries of St. Lucia to the beaches of the Dominican Republic, the careful analysis and sound advice you have enabled is preserving the natural heritage of the Caribbean.

For protecting a bio-diverse environment at risk, your service to the nations of your region, and your vision of a region united in its commitment to sustainable development, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the Chicago Community Loan Fund (CCLF). Representing CCLF is Executive Director Calvin Holmes and Board Chair Rafael Leon.

Strategic lender, source of opportunity, engine of development

Since 1991, the Chicago Community Loan Fund has led the way in low-cost, flexible financing for nonprofit community development organizations.

Adaptable, accessible, and creative, you have been the engine behind ambitious programs of neighborhood development, affordable housing, and social services across metropolitan Chicago.

Committed to projects that revitalize low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, you have empowered small and emerging companies with reasonable loans and expert, low-cost technical assistance. You have given families economic security, stability in housing, and prospects for greater prosperity. And you have helped restore communities, releasing the promise and potential of their people.

Your initial $200,000 investment has grown into a revolving loan fund of $30 million backed by banks, religious pension funds, foundations, and individuals. A testament to your prudent leading, your losses are below one percent. And you have enabled clients to raise $800 million in further capital, saving or building 5,000 affordable homes, creating or retaining 1,000 jobs.

In new apartments in Woodlawn East, in the Stone Soup Cooperative in Uptown, among the young people rejoining the community through the Geneva Foundation, in the Universal Music and Art Shop run by the Youth Service Project in West Humboldt Park your influence is clear – helping Chicagoans transform their communities, enlarge their horizons, and reach their full potential.

Your focus on South and West Side communities is crucial in times of economic hardship and uncertainty. Increasing leading volume, stepping up your support for business and community development, you inspire and empower the people of Chicago.

For your dedication to our neighborhoods and communities, your sustained support of creative and energetic change, and your powerful impact on our City, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have Women of the Don Region. Representing Women of the Don Region is Director Valentina Cherevatenko and board member Natalia Belikova.

Voice of compassion, advocate for justice, builder of trust

For more than a decade, Women of the Don, has defended human rights, fought racism and discrimination, and worked for civic peace and mutual understanding.

You have been a powerful force for peace, solidarity, and public integrity in the North Caucasus. You courageously brought aid and comfort to the victims of violence, refugees, and the suffering. Helping to rehabilitate and restore, you gave new lives to those who had lost hope.

Your first focus on the rights of women and children has expanded to oppose police brutality and a culture of impunity.

Convinced that a pervasive pattern of human rights violations could be changed, you have dedicated yourselves to transforming law enforcement across the Rostov region. You are building healthy relationships between police officers and those they are charged to protect, combating abuse and the arbitrary use of power, insisting on accountability. And you are fostering dialogue between citizens, civil society, and the police that is creating a spirit of community and new sense of self-respect among officers.

Your goal of comprehensive reform encompasses support for those who have suffered abuse, respect for human rights, and the restoration of both police morale and public confidence.

Your programs offer legal advice and psychological assistance, encourage rapprochement between the police and civil society groups, and improve the way law enforcement is perceived, particularly by young people. In schools, through games, in dramatic performances, you build a positive image of law enforcement and challenge the police to maintain the high standards that foster relationships of mutual trust.

Your mission is making communities safer, law enforcement more effective and humane, and establishing models for police work that have influence across Russia.

For your dedication to the highest human values, your fierce defense of fair treatment, and your faith in the power of justice properly applied, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT). Representing CNT is Chief Executive Officer Kathryn Tholin and board chair Julia Parzen.

Visionary inventor, home of practical imagination, force for community revitalization

The Center for Neighborhood Technology has been at the forefront of thoughtful innovation for thirty years.

Your clear analysis and sensible programs further the goals of sustainability, environmental stewardship, and a more responsible and resilient society.

A vibrant think tank and incubator, you successfully address central challenges in energy, transportation, climate, and the use of natural resources.

Your Community Energy Cooperative has reached thousands of consumers, saving money in household budgets, improving energy efficiency, and spurring similar programs across the Midwest. Your I-GO car-sharing program covers 32 neighborhoods in our region, reaching 12,000 people, cutting the use of fossil fuels, and reducing carbon emissions. And your Housing and Transportation Affordability Index has become the gold standard in measuring what expenses ordinary families can sustain.

As we seek to save affordable rental housing in Chicago, your expertise in energy efficiency will expose wasteful and outmoded heating systems, upgrade equipment, and monitor performance. This will reduce costs, hold down rents, and give residents greater security and stability.

Your work toward a “green infrastructure” helps beautify communities, conserve rainwater, and reduce pollution. Your analysis of greenhouse gas emissions gives valuable assistance in mitigating climate change. And your strategies for better surface transportation point us to more efficient, less stressful urban communities.

Your inventive, viable programs are saving homes, building better communities, and improving the future of our city and its environment.

For your consistent ingenuity, your commitment to a wise use of finite resources, and your creation of imaginative and workable solutions, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Finally, we have Access to Justice. Accepting the award on behalf of Access to Justice are Executive Director Joseph Otteh and board member Chijioke C. Ohuruogu.

Voice for accountability, adversary of injustice, standard-bearer for truth

Access to Justice is on the front line of civil society in Nigeria, courageously insisting that equal justice and the rule of law must be enshrined at the heart of the country’s democracy.

Your commitment to the inherent worth of every person compels you to break the veil of silence around police misconduct. Without compromise, you shine the light of truth on murder, those who commit and conceal it, and the tragic betrayal of the public trust by officers of the law. And with unflagging resolution, you work toward a system of justice that will be robust, transparent, and respectful of human dignity.

Through your Legal Access, Legal Resources, and Judicial Integrity and Independence Programs, you defend the right to equality in the courts, educate those who serve in the legal system, and attack corruption in the administration of justice.

As extrajudicial killings have risen in Nigeria, you have summoned a potent weapons in the arsenal of justice to halt them: careful forensic investigation by a competent coroner

You have prosecuted the Nigerian government for allowing summary executions; spurred new legislation and reform in Lagos, Rivers, Plateau, Cross Rivers, and Bayelsa states; and advanced the work of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extra Judicial Killings and Arbitrary Executions through your report, Breaking Point, on the obstruction of justice.

Your training manuals, data collection, technical advice, and advocacy are restoring the role of the coroner in Nigeria’s justice system, raising the standards of policing, and saving innocent lives.

For your fearless pursuit of justice, your determination to break the cycle of impunity, and your faith in the rule of law, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Listening to those acceptance speeches, each powerful and moving in its own way, makes all of us more confident about the future. Thank you.

To close this event, I call upon one of MacArthur’s distinguished trustees, Dr. Donald Hopkins. Dr. Hopkins is Vice President for Health Programs at the Carter Center in Atlanta. An internationally acknowledged leader in public health, Dr. Hopkins has been widely honored for his passionate and effective work to eliminate the waterborne Guinea worm parasite.

We thank you for all you are doing to advance our aspirations for a more just and peaceful world with security and opportunity for all.

You are the vanguard of a vast network of civil society organizations around the world that reminds governments everywhere that they exist to protect individual rights and express the will of ordinary people.

The 21st Century will be different, will be better, will be more democratic because organizations like those we honor today are defending human rights, protecting our environment, advancing health, opening opportunity to those less fortunate, and documenting the resilience of the human spirit.

We thank you all for bearing witness to this ceremony of affection, affirmation and appreciation. Together we can make a difference.

I invite you all now to celebrate with us at the reception in the Atrium.

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