Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the Awards Ceremony for the 2007 Recipients of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions
June 7, 2007 | 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 second group of winners of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. 

Building and strengthening non-profit organizations has never been more important.  As the challenges facing our world grow ever more complex, the work of effective civil society organizations becomes increasingly important.  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 combating police abuse in Mexico to protecting the environment in Nepal, from saving mother’s lives in India to helping the poor accumulate assets in Chicago.  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 institutions capable of giving form to good ideas, extending their reach into society, and rooting them in practice, policy and protocol.  Active in 65 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 $3.6 billion in support for more than 4000 organizations since 1978.

Many of the institutions we have helped are large, well-established and provide 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, determined competence, 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 them to tell us how a grant could be most helpful.  They will use these funds for endowment, new buildings, 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-government 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 their award citation.  Then a representative of the organization will respond.

We begin with Action Health Incorporated.  Accepting the award on behalf of Action Health are Nike Esiet, Co-Founder and Executive Director and Uwem Esiet, Co-Founder and Board Member.

Champion of youth, sensitive educator, protector of health.  Action Health Incorporated has created a model of dynamic partnerships between state governments and civil society organizations to promote sexual health among Nigeria’s youth.  You have forged a national curriculum for sexuality education based on the core belief that with good education and counseling, young people will make wise choices.  Your work is premised on the enlightened principles of women’s rights and men’s responsibilities.  You have saved thousands from contracting HIV/AIDS and from early pregnancy.  Your experience shows us that as young people gain control of their own destinies, more stay in school, have access to better jobs, contribute to economic growth and build strong families.  The reach of your programs extends beyond your home state of Lagos, to the rest of Nigeria and across Africa.  For safeguarding the sexual health of Nigeria’s next generation, and for inspiring other African countries to learn from your example, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the Woodstock Institute.  Accepting the award on behalf of Woodstock are Malcolm Bush, Executive Director and Ada Skyles, Board Chair.

Respected researcher, effective advocate, policy architect.  The Woodstock Institute is a bold and influential champion of low-income people.  Your tireless work creates economic opportunity, strengthens neighborhoods, and fosters social justice throughout the nation.  From your early struggles against financial discrimination more than 30 years ago, to your current campaign against predatory lending, you empower individuals to take control of their financial destiny.  Your timely, persuasive research – deeply rooted in our Chicago communities – wins local, national, and international praise.  It reminds us that too many people and places remain trapped on the economic sidelines.  Your stalwart defense of the Community Reinvestment Act encourages financial institutions to serve rich and poor alike, and helps bring more than $4 trillion each year to creditworthy individuals, projects and businesses.  By fearlessly holding banks, credit card companies, regulators, and policy-makers accountable, you make it possible for ordinary families to build wealth and security.  For raising your voice on behalf of those without power or prestige, for demanding the highest possible standards from our public and private sectors, and for safeguarding, enriching and uplifting America's communities, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the Institute for Security and Democracy.  Accepting the award on behalf of Insyde are Ernesto Lopez Portillo, Executive Director; Elena Azaola, Board Chair and Hector Saenz Ocampo, Board Member.

Constructive critic, advocate of transparency, guardian of public security.  The work of the Institute for Security and Democracy is premised on the belief that no democracy can survive unless its citizens have faith in its institutions, particularly in its systems of law enforcement and justice.  Your mission is to ensure that police officers enforce the law transparently, impartially, and effectively.  Your organization is viewed as an independent agent that simultaneously monitors police performance and collaborates with law enforcement to improve the delivery of public security.  You are training police to respect the rights of citizens, encouraging communities to work with the police, and pioneering accountability measures.  Your new police accreditation system will embed best practices from urban precincts to the rural outposts.  While not afraid to criticize, your impact has come from building consensus.  In addition to work with police forces, you are training journalists to cover crime and police performance.  Your work on multiple fronts is a powerful example of what civil society and government can accomplish in partnership: crime reduction, enhanced public safety, effective policing, and respect for human rights.  You are changing the paradigm for the way justice is administered, and early success in the Federal District is spreading across Mexico to Queretaro, San Luis Potosi and elsewhere.  For advancing significant police reform in Mexico and beyond, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the National Housing Law Project.  Accepting the award on behalf of the Law Project are Gideon Anders, Executive Director; Jim Grow, Deputy Director and Senior Attorney; and Robert Pearman, Board Member.

Wise counsel, policy advocate, rescuer of homes.  Fired by a passion for fairness and opportunity, the National Housing Law Project has defended the rights of low-income tenants in federally-subsidized housing for nearly forty years.  Your efforts are inspired by a core belief that housing is a foundation for social and economic mobility, crucial to safer neighborhoods, better schools, stronger families, and opportunities for all to achieve a better life.  You help safeguard America’s precious supply of affordable rental housing by pioneering timely new legislation.  Your unflagging determination has made home ownership possible for thousands of low-income households, and saved more than one million affordable rental houses.  You give aid and wise counsel to legal advocates across the country who strive to overturn unjust laws and regulations.  Against many obstacles, you steadfastly protect the rights of the most needy.  For your vision of a nation where everybody has a decent home, and for advancing the housing rights of low-income Americans with energy and passion, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the Institute of Law and Public Policy.  Accepting the award on behalf of ILPP are Olga Sidorovich, Director and Andrey Medushevskiy, Senior Advisor.

Legal reformer, independent thinker, champion of democracy.  The Institute of Law and Public Policy has forged a community of legal scholars that enriches and strengthens Russia’s growing body of constitutional law.  You educate the Russian people in the essential habits of democracy: the rule of law, effective administration, constitutional justice, and human rights.  To ensure that established legal norms continue to take root, you inform the legal community about international law and promote comparative best practices.  Russia’s foremost governing bodies – the Constitutional Court, the Presidential Administration, and the Federation Council among them – seek your trusted expertise and independent judgment.  With courage, clarity and confidence you strengthen constitutional procedures, litigate precedent-setting cases in Russia, and bring knowledge of the European Court of Human Rights and its rulings into the Russian legal system.  Your understanding of the complex political and legal challenges of Russia’s uncertain transition to a more democratic society informs your work on the separation of powers, municipal reform, federalism and the behavior of public servants.  Your search for the best in Russia legal traditions earns the respect of Russia’s legal community and democracy advocates alike.  For your vision of a democratic Russia made strong by the rule of law, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
Next we have the Society for Education, Welfare and Action – Rural.  Accepting the award on behalf of SEWA Rural are Pankaj Shah, Managing Trustee and Bankim Sheth, Trustee.

Compassionate caregiver, incisive investigator, principled public health activist.  For a quarter century, the Society for Education, Welfare and Action – Rural has shown that good health is possible for the impoverished and the vulnerable, even in the most remote reaches of western India.  You have demonstrated how family-focused healthcare rooted in community can save lives under the harshest conditions.  You train village health workers, linking them to other professionals and institutions to create a network of competent care, ensuring that mothers can deliver their babies safely and that their newborns thrive.  You help families and communities maintain good health by empowering them with the knowledge they need to prevent disease and improve their own well-being.  Knowing that evidence matters, you carefully document the efficiency of your approach – and ensure that governments and policy makers are aware of its successes.  That is why doctors, students and activists from every corner of Gujarat – and indeed, from all of India – join you each year to study your work and learn how to replicate your methods, thereby multiplying your effect.  The seamless integration of service and research in your work makes it a potent model of evidence-based community health-care – one that is saving lives and promises to save even more.  For championing the cause of equitable and effective healthcare for all Indian mothers and their families, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have Resources Himalaya Foundation.  Accepting the award on behalf of Resources Himalaya are Pralad Yonzon, Founder and Damber Nepali, Board Member.

Devoted environmentalist, scientist educator, mountain protector.  Resources Himalaya preserves a fragile treasure: life in the shadow of the world’s highest peaks.  Dedicated to safeguarding the rich diversity of nature, you defend the heritage of the marginalized with equal vigor, and challenge the false dichotomy between conservation and development.  Profound integrity under-girds all you do: your belief in local solutions to global problems is inspired by a deep commitment to human rights; your stewardship of delicate ecosystems is founded on rigorous scientific evidence.  Through your agency, voiceless communities find common ground with expert researchers and policy-makers, discovering new ways to promote growth and preserve resources.  In the face of a dangerous rebel insurgency, you work fearlessly in remote forests and majestic mountains to garner knowledge, conduct biodiversity surveys, and train eager young conservationists in scientific principles.  Your tenacity, energy, and perseverance have changed the minds of nations: Nepal and Bhutan’s embrace of conservation is a lasting tribute to your powerful example.  For protecting biodiversity in the Himalaya region, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Finally we have Kartemquin Films.  Accepting the award on behalf of Kartemquin are Gordon Quinn, Co-Founder and President and Stephen Whisnant, Board Chair.

Empathetic eyewitness, social commentator, historical storyteller.  For forty years, Kartemquin has held up a mirror to American society.  You shine a light on tribulation and tragedy, expose injustice, and inspire us with stories of triumph and achievement.  With a compassionate and critical eye, you capture the souls of people and communities, making lasting statements about our frailty, our dreams, and our common humanity.  Your films on the labor movement, feminism, teenagers’ struggles with independence, and immigrants adapting to America, are both timely and timeless.  Hoop Dreams, your magnum opus, is perhaps the most poignant and compelling look at the life and experiences of young Black men in the inner city.  The many accolades you have won include an Emmy, Peabody and Directors Guild Award.  Your films grace the world’s leading film festivals, Sundance and Toronto among them.  Humble in the face of extraordinary recognition, you have a greater ambition: to change the hearts and minds of people in every audience.  For recording social history with depth and empathy, producing a rich and diverse library of American stories, and pursuing the highest standards of artistry and integrity in filmmaking, we are proud to present you with 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.

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, providing decent housing, 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.

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