Remarks by Jonathan F. Fanton at the Awards Ceremony for Recipients of the MacArthur Award for Creative & Effective Institutions
June 12, 2008 | Speech | MacArthur Award for Creative & Effective Institutions

Good afternoon. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation. Thank you for joining us to celebrate the third group of winners of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. They take their place in the honor roll of 17 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: Gordon Quinn and Justine Nagan from Kartemquin Films; Malcolm Bush from the Woodstock Institute; and Kevin Jackson from the Chicago Rehabilitation Network. I also extend a special welcome to Manuel Rodriguez Arriaga the Consul General of Mexico.

Building and strengthening non-profit organizations has never been more important. 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 advancing the rights of children in America to protecting the environment in Madagascar, from improving public health in India, to reforming the criminal justice system 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.

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We begin with Juvenile Law Center. Accepting the award on behalf of Juvenile Law Center are Co-Founder and Executive Director Robert Schwartz, Co-Founder and Legal Director Marsha Levick, and Board President Eric Koenig.

Advocate for youth, pioneer of legal reform, beacon of hope.

For more than thirty years, Juvenile Law Center has advanced fairness, reason, and empathy for young people in trouble with the law. Now a national authority in the practice of juvenile justice, your aspirations have risen from successful casework to full systemic reform.

Standing firmly against a powerful trend, you opposed punitive measures and harsh sentences for minors. Your clear and persuasive arguments, illuminating the developmental differences between adults and adolescents, are making the administration of justice wiser and more humane. Documenting the racial and ethnic disparities in America’s courts, you challenge all who work in them to re-examine the practices, structures, and assumptions that perpetuate discrimination.

As you litigate key cases, educate legal professionals, give testimony to commissions, and provide counsel to child advocates, your influence pervades and renews the practice of juvenile justice across the nation.

You are making Pennsylvania a model for reform: a state where rehabilitation replaces punishment and a single mistake does not tear teenagers from their families and schools, where young offenders with mental health problems are given proper care, and where sensible treatment of juvenile offenders enhances public safety.

Your efforts helped outlaw the juvenile death penalty in America, transforming the legal landscape of our country. Through Models for Change, you lead a movement to ensure that justice for young people will heal and restore, not cripple and condemn.

For your tireless pursuit of justice, your commitment to fair treatment, and your faith in redemptive hope, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

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Next we have the Kazan Human Rights Center. Accepting the award on behalf of Kazan are Chairman Igor Sholokhov and Founder and Chairperson Pavel Chikov.

Campaigner for justice, strategic litigator, sentinel for human rights.

Since its founding, The Kazan Human Rights Center has set new standards for fairness and transparency in the Republic of Tatarstan. As you advance the rule of law, hold government accountable, and promote integrity in public life, you create and shape Russia’s emerging civil society.

Your early work exposed widespread police abuse. Today, you also document and denounce mistreatment in jails, orphanages, hospitals, and in the military. Wherever officials are guilty of corruption, brutality, or violations of the public trust, you speak out, demanding restitution and reform. You bring hope to those who have suffered ill-treatment and a new sense of responsibility to those in charge.

Each year, you help set new precedents in Russian courts and take crucial cases to the European Court of Human Rights. Through scrupulous research, courageous litigation, and ground-breaking legal decisions you are changing Russia’s culture of law enforcement and nurturing the best in its legal traditions.

Your public presence, strong media profile, and well-chosen alliances have multiplied your impact across your region and beyond. In building a coalition of like-minded organizations, mobilizing an army of volunteers, and training lawyers and activists, you expand your influence and effectiveness. Your engagement with state institutions furthers systematic change that will benefit millions of people.

For upholding the true spirit of the law; keeping government answerable to its citizens; and fostering civil society in Kazan, Tatarstan, and the Russian Federation, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

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Next we have the Legal Defence and Assistance Project. Representing the organization is the Founder and Executive Coordinator Chino Edmund Obiagwu and Board Member Centus Chima Nweze.

Champion of rights, guarantor of due process, advocate for the imprisoned.

Born from the bitter experience of Nigeria’s military government, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project first gave moral and legal support to the victims of state repression. Today, in a young democracy, your work brings hope to Nigeria’s neglected prisoners as you seek comprehensive reform of the system that has failed them.

Grounded in classical principles of human rights and respect for the rule of law, you serve those awaiting trial who languish in jail, imprisoned by poverty, inadequate representation, and incompetent bureaucracies.

In a single decade you have trained thousands of lawyers, prosecutors, and police officers; moved thousands of stalled cases to resolution; and brought fresh energy to the reform of criminal justice in Nigeria.

Your engagement with government spurred the creation of the National Working Group that aims to reform Nigeria’s criminal justice system, improve its efficiency, and instill a culture of respect for human rights among its officials.

From Lagos to Jos, Awka to Oshogbo, and soon to Abuja, your message is being heard, bringing new hope and higher standards to the administration of justice. And your labor serves a larger cause: as citizens come to trust the judicial process, their commitment to fairness and democracy will deepen.

For your unflagging idealism, your call for competence and clarity in justice systems, and your contribution to national renewal, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

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Next we have Project Match. Representing Project Match are Toby Herr, Founder and Executive Director and Barbara Burrell, Board President.

For more than two decades, Project Match has helped low-income people overcome obstacles and build pathways to long-term employment. Your early days in Cabrini Green showed your solidarity with those you serve. Today, you have a presence in six states, an armory of data, and a mature capacity to mentor those in need.

Your long-term commitment to individuals and their families transforms lives, attitudes, and aspirations. Supporting job-seekers over many years, you motivate and encourage people as they endeavor to become more self-sufficient. Always looking to the long-term, you help overcome the culture of poverty and make positive change achievable and enduring.

The effects of your work strengthen and revitalize communities. Through Pathways to Rewards, you build crucial confidence and sustain those in your programs. Assuring participants that their individual victories have wider significance, you spur them to further achievement and greater responsibilities.

Your meticulous records capture the full experience of those seeking steady employment. Chronicling success and setback, perplexity and perseverance, you turn biographies into benchmarks for practical planning. Your findings provide new insights for social agencies and professionals and a firmer basis for public policy and legislation.

As your methods open new opportunities for the discouraged and disadvantaged, your influence is felt across the country, a potent force for personal and social change toward a stronger, fairer economic order.

For your realistic optimism, your passion for self-improvement, and your devotion to uplifting those pushed to the margins, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

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Next we have the Tany Meva Foundation. Representing the Foundation are, Executive Director and Harifidy Ramilison, Vice President.

Steward of the environment, resourceful manager, tireless educator.

Madagascar’s first environmental foundation, Tany Meva leads the way in preserving a precious biological heritage and mobilizing local communities to safeguard the rich biodiversity of land and sea.

For a decade, you have addressed Madagascar’s most urgent ecological needs: slowing deforestation, safeguarding threatened wildlife, seeking alternative energy sources. You promote forest restoration and better agricultural methods, combating devastating erosion. By integrating natural resource management with population and health policies, you illuminate the complex interaction between humans and nature and lend new coherence to conservation.

You give stability to community-based projects through sound management and vigorous fund-raising. In an imaginative use of micro-credit, you bring efficient stoves and lighting to poor and distant villages – raising living standards, improving health, and reducing pressure on threatened forests.

Respectful of the aspirations of ordinary people, you seek creative ways to make the benefits of conservation clear and compelling. In co-operation with community organizations and government, you are making ecological responsibility a priority across the nation, reversing decades of damage while defending wildlife sanctuaries.

For your determination to save Madagascar’s natural abundance, your wise synthesis of community and environmental health, and your practical advances in conservation management, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

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Next we have Sangath. Representing Sangath is Founder and Executive Director Vikram Patel and Board Chairman Vishram Gupte.

Pioneer in public health, community builder, insightful analyst.

Sangath, in its ten years of operation, has become Goa’s largest and most successful health-related NGO. Your multidisciplinary approach to public health has pioneered new models of intervention and care. With groundbreaking studies, you have influenced policy from Brazil to Cambodia, Pakistan to South Africa. And your deep concern for individuals and families continues to change lives and strengthen communities.

You bring an unparalleled breadth of understanding to your field, deploying insights from epidemiology to journalism, from law to early education, that establish a context for healing. Understanding social structures and practices that cause or aggravate disease, you examine, question, and confront the root causes of ill health.

In tackling problems of child development, psychosocial and behavioral well-being, and adolescent maturation, you strengthen public health initiatives in India and across the world. Your work linking post-partum depression and child malnutrition, intervening against domestic violence, and educating families and teenagers in reproductive health has won international recognition.

You engage closely with individuals and families in their communities, their schools, clinics, and counseling centers. You make strategic alliances with government and other agencies to spread the benefits of you programs. And you generously share your scientific advances and practical wisdom with your peers around the globe.

In demonstrating that high-quality, inclusive healthcare is a cornerstone of sound communities, and finding new approaches to making that care a reality, you are building a better future for developing nations and their people.

For your expansive vision of public health, your rigorous scholarship, and your dedication to the well-being of the people of Goa and beyond, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

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Next we have Public Radio Exchange (PRX). Representing PRX is Founder and Executive Director Jake Shapiro and Board Member Torey Malatia.

Catalyst for change, visionary innovator, nexus of creativity.

In a mere five years, PRX has established itself at the forefront of the digital transition in public media. Using the reach of the Internet and the flexibility of digital formats, you have discovered fresh talent, created new avenues for original content, and opened a wealth of possibilities for non-fiction audio producers.

Your technological expertise is encouraging a renaissance of independent production. In showcasing the work of gifted journalists and producers, simplifying acquisition for broadcasters, and streamlining modes of payment, you have given exposure and incentive to more than a thousand emerging voices.

You have brought new resources to public radio: the system’s largest catalogue of programs, the first podcasting application, and the most extensive collection of critical writing about the medium. By building networks of people who care about worthwhile programming, you expand the reach of public media and sustain its democratic ethos.

Nimble, inventive, and independent, you have pioneered a new model for non-fiction, opening a vital discussion about how public broadcasting will adapt and flourish in the age of the Internet.

Your collaborators have covered topics both diverse and compelling, from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to the health of the Great Lakes, to the Iraq War. They have brought us the voices of young immigrants to America, the 9/11 memories of New York police officers, and testimonies from the shameful genocide in Darfur. These courageous and persuasive stories broaden our horizons, stir our consciences, and strengthen our determination to pursue justice and peace.

For grasping the positive potential of technological change, high-quality public broadcasting, and unleashing the imagination of an interconnected society, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

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Finally, we have Tlachinollan Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña. Representing the organization are Founder and Director Abel Barrera Hernández and Fundraising Coordinator Ana Paula Hernández.

Courageous activist, guardian of the vulnerable, voice of the voiceless.

Tlachinollan, the Centro de Derechos Humanos de la Montaña is inspired by a fierce indignation at the plight of Mexico’s poorest people. From a small community organization, you have grown to become a national leader in human rights, fighting institutional corruption and bearing witness against cruel discrimination.

Your deep solidarity with indigenous communities makes you their unfailing ally against brutal threats and repression. You champion the cases of persecuted individuals; insist on the right to due process; and demand fair access to land, resources, and services. In so doing, you empower the people of Guerrero to assert their full citizenship in Mexican society.

Integrating skillful litigation, astute use of the media, and sensitive counseling, you provide a model for successful advocacy. In defending environmentalist Felipe Arreaga Sanchez from murder charges, you brought local injustice to international attention and enforced accountability.

You address the most pressing issues of your society: the needs of women, migrants, and those who suffer violence from military repression. Despite death threats, you took the cases of Valentina Rosendo and Inés Fernández – Tlapanecan women violated by soldiers – to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.

Your integrity and competence makes you a trusted intermediary between the authorities and the people. In creating the Guerrero Network of Human Rights Organizations, you have forged a powerful coalition in defense of basic rights and freedoms.

For your tireless pursuit of justice, your vision of a more equitable Mexico, and your unfailing commitment to the region of Guerrero, we are proud to confer on you the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

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

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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