Remarks by Jonthan Fanton at the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions, Awards Ceremony
October 5, 2006 | Speech | MacArthur Award for Creative & Effective Institutions

Good afternoon.  I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the MacArthur Foundation.  Thank you for joining us as we celebrate the inaugural winners of the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.  I am joined by the Chair of the MacArthur Board, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, and Trustee Donald Hopkins.

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 common 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.

The nine non-profit organizations we honor today have diverse missions – from finding permanent jobs for ex-offenders in Chicago, to promoting police reform in Nigeria; from saving the lives of mothers and their babies in India, to preserving the environment in Peru.  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 as the first winners of this new 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 acknowledge their eye for talent and deep commitment to helping our partners prosper over the years. 

These nine award winners and are emblematic of thousands of independent organizations that create a vibrant civil society the world over.  We are privileged to honor them today, as we will honor others in subsequent years.

Two weeks ago we announced this year’s MacArthur Fellows, which acknowledge the power of individual creativity and its potential to benefit human society.  Twenty-five exceptional people – in the arts, sciences, civic life – got a life-changing phone call out of the blue granting them the freedom to pursue their interests with a no strings attached grant.

We may be best known for these tributes to individual ingenuity, 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 nearly 92 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 $3.4 billion in support for more than 4000 organizations since 1978.

Many of the organizations we have helped are large, well-established and provide critical infrastructure for their fields.  But it is often small, young, nimble organizations that add 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 illusive goals.  That is the creative dimension.  But they are also effective – applying practical wisdom, determined competence, and fierce energy to address difficult 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, and we asked them to tell us how a grant could be most useful.  They will use these funds for endowment, an operating reserve, programmatic expansion, debt retirement, and building purchases.

These awards recognize nine extraordinary organizations.  They acknowledge that institutions matter deeply. And they remind us how institutions amplify the collective power of the human spirit.

Now we begin the presentation of the awards.  For each group, Sara or I will read a citation celebrating their achievements.  After the citation has been read, representatives from the institution will accept their award and respond.

We begin with the Peruvian Society for Environmental Law. 

Will Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Executive Director, and Pedro Solano, Program Director, please come forward. 

Stalwart guardian, vigilant conservationist, lawyer to the Earth.  The Peruvian Society for Environmental Law understands that its nation’s natural resources will disappear if they are not protected.  For twenty years, you have been a dedicated patron of Peru’s environmental heritage.  You have helped save Peru’s clear coastal waters, its majestic Andean mountains, and its rich Amazon rainforests.  You have steadily and fearlessly built a national movement uniting intellectuals, businesses, government officials and local people.  Your movement aims to protect healthy landscapes and defend the rights of the marginalized.  You have nurtured individual responsibility, created community stewardship, and fashioned a rule of law that is the pride of your citizens and the envy of your neighbors.  Through your unstoppable energy, professional discipline and perseverance, Peru will continue to embrace conservation as a fundamental national value.  For protecting biodiversity in Peru, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the North Lawndale Employment Network. 

Will Brenda Palms Barber, Executive Director, and Robert Worldlaw, Board Chair, please come forward.

Eternal optimist, investor in individuals, sponsor of second chances.  The North Lawndale Employment Network’s motto, “U-Turn Permitted”, is emblematic of its mission to help those who have run afoul of the law.  Your irrepressible spirit of hope motivates ex-offenders to take advantage of another chance to make their families more stable, establish their economic independence, and earn respect by following the law.  Hundreds of people pass through your doors each year in search of a better life.  They face enormous challenges in their quest to reenter the community.  You help them navigate the difficult terrain of life after prison.  You offer them whatever it takes for as long as it takes: job training and placement, referrals for housing, peer support and mentors.  Above all, you offer hope that it is possible to turn a life around, reaffirming our collective commitment to individual redemption and human progress.  For building a better future for people returning from prison, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have Fundar. 

Will Helena Hofbauer, Executive Director, and Sergio Aguayo, Founder and Board Chair, please come forward.

Trusted monitor, objective advisor, intrepid investigator.  Emboldened by the awareness that knowledge is power, Fundar brings fresh energy to the practice of citizenship in Mexico, by providing information and fostering understanding.  By asking hard questions and demanding good answers, you give Mexicans new hope that the vices of corruption and impunity can be countered with transparent institutions and the rule of law.  You are quick to take advantage of newly passed legislation like the Law on Freedom of Access to Public Information, using it to give your work new momentum and strength.  As an institution you are a model: a training ground where young, committed researchers gain the expertise needed to build a democracy with equal opportunity and justice.  Generous with your knowledge, you have brought together organizations and governments from across the world to share your vision for evaluating public institutions and budgets.  For applying independent research and analysis to improve public policy in Mexico, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have Knowledge Ecology International. 

Will Jamie Love, Executive Director, and Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Board Member, please come forward.   

Skilled diplomat, agile campaigner, champion of access.  For the better part of two decades, Knowledge Ecology International has been a lone voice in defending the public interest in debates about intellectual property rights.  In the early 1990s, you were the first to question the government’s privatization of public data, and among the first to demand that medicines developed from government-funded research should carry reasonable prices.  Thanks to your commitment to the principle that innovation should ultimately benefit the common good, medical advances in the treatment of AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria are now more available in the developing world.  With a nimble and modest staff, you have fought a David and Goliath battle with powerful government and industry groups.  Widely respected by UN agencies, national governments, and civil society organizations, you remain a pioneer in the search for balanced intellectual property policies.  For advancing the public interest in intellectual property policy, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the Independent Council of Legal Expertise. 

Will Olga Popova, Executive Director, and Mara Polyakova, Board Chair, please come forward.

Fearless advocate, passionate educator, defender of law.  The Independent Council of Legal Expertise has pursued democratic reform of the Russian legal system since the end of the Soviet Union.  Whatever the political environment, you have been unflinching in your commitment to the incorporation of individual human rights standards in Russian law and practice.  Your principled, clear, and influential vision shaped the initial project for legal reform in 1991, the federal constitution of 1993, and the moratorium on the death penalty.  Your provision of human rights training to journalists, lawyers, judges, prosecutors and police officers has created a powerful network dedicated to a just and humane society.  In all your work, you celebrate the universality of human rights and Russia’s capacity to be a strong, prosperous, and democratic nation.  For promoting the rule of law and international human rights standards in Russia, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have RealBenefits. 

Will Enrique Balaguer, Executive Director, and Robert Restuccia, Board Chair, please come forward. 

Critical guide, source of opportunity, technological samaritan.  RealBenefits has helped thousands of low-income Americans on the verge of poverty.  You understand the importance of the safety net in supporting families.  You have slashed through red tape and put the power of the Internet in the hands of those who need access.  Your programs connect the less fortunate to vital federal and state resources: tax credits, child care, food stamps, and medical services.  Thanks to your efforts, low-income Americans have received thousands of dollars of support and consulting that starts them on the path to self-sufficiency and self-respect.  Your powerful example has spread from state to state, sending the message that when governments care for their constituents, they can be competent and compassionate.  For harnessing technology to help low-income families, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health. 

Will Rani and Abhay Bang, Co-Directors, please come forward. 

Village scientist, public health activist, barefoot doctor.  Working in remote villages, the Society for Education, Action and Research in Community Health has put the well-being of women and infants on the global agenda.  Your path-breaking research has been a potent catalyst for change, first by uncovering shocking statistics, and then by proving with sound evidence that local solutions work.  Your method is as powerful as it is modest: by listening to patients, simple strategies are discovered to save the lives of newborns and protect the health of mothers.  Your program is a model of community healthcare that is influencing the government of India and the international development community.  Your concept of “self rule in health” is steeped in India's Gandhian tradition and leaves an important legacy of self-empowerment.  For community-based healthcare models that respect India's women and children, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Next we have the Chicago Rehab Network. 

Will Kevin Jackson, Executive Director, and Pat Abrams, Board Chair, please come forward. 

Community defender, legislative advocate, promoter of accountability.  For nearly twenty years, the Chicago Rehab Network has skillfully balanced two critical roles.  You hold public agencies accountable for their commitment to affordable housing, and are a constructive partner with them in preserving and expanding this important resource.  With evidence that stable and low-cost housing is crucial for community vitality and individual opportunity, you fight for local, state and federal policies that make housing available at a price people can afford.  You have influenced key legislation: the 2005 Rental Housing Subsidy Act and the Illinois Assisted Housing Preservation Act.  Recognized as a national leader, your counsel is sought beyond Chicago whenever affordable housing is at risk.  Your voice is heard through Housing Illinois, urging action to make a stable, low-cost home a right and a reality for everyone.  With passion and persistence, you have taught us that housing matters, that it is the critical path to our collective commitment to a fair and secure life for all.  As Chicago’s leading voice for affordable housing, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Finally we have the CLEEN Foundation. 

Will Innocent Chukwuma, Executive Director, and Etannibi Alemika, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, please come forward.

Watchful eye, constructive critic, dedicated democrat.  Nigeria’s CLEEN Foundation gives a voice to those affected by crime and corruption in Africa’s largest country.  Your mission is to reduce abuses by the police, deepen the connection of security forces to the communities they serve, and make the police more effective and accountable.  Grounded in the belief that democracy cannot prosper if ordinary people do not trust the face of government they most frequently encounter, you fight for the dignity and security of all Nigerian people.  As your experience and impact have grown, your moral voice and practical wisdom reach beyond Nigeria.  A founding member of the Altus Global Justice network, you are sharing models for police reform with colleagues around the globe.  You have raised the bar for Nigeria’s citizens, who now expect professionalism and competence from their police force.  But you are also assisting the police to meet these expectations.  Considered an honest broker by the public and the police alike, you build bridges of understanding that advance Nigeria’s journey to a healthy and sustainable democracy.  For building trust between the police and the people in Nigeria, we are proud to present you with the MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

I will now ask Sara to offer closing reflections.

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