The recipients and honourable mentions of the 2017 Global Pluralism Awards with His Highness the Aga Khan and the Rt. Hon. Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada.
November 29, 2017
If you dare to turn on the news these days, you may find it hard to refute we live in an age of increasing xenophobia, intolerance and nationalism. That’s because these stories usually dominate the airwaves and our social media feeds. This is why, it was a privilege to attend the Global Centre For Pluralism’s award ceremony earlier this month, where award winners from all corners of the world showed that pluralism—which is the concept of recognizing, valuing, respecting and celebrating our differences—is alive well.
The prestigious Global Pluralism Award recognizes individuals and organizations in all sectors working to promote diversity and inclusivity. The award is presented by the Global Centre of Pluralism, a not-for-profit institution headquartered in Ottawa, which was established through an endowment jointly created by the Government of Canada and His Highness the Aga Khan in 2007, with the Aga Khan acting as founder and Chairman of the Board of the Global Centre For Pluralism. The Centre’s aim is to advance respect for diversity and enable meaningful dialogue and research surrounding the benefits of pluralism.
The three award winners (who were picked by an award jury consisting of independent experts from around the world and a two-year nomination process) were chosen for their ability to respond creatively to the challenges of pluralism by changing the negative mindsets and narratives that often accompany diversity, as well as demonstrating how differences can be a major asset rather than a burden for communities. Through their sacrifice and hardships, each honoree was able to promote pluralism in truly revolutionary ways and ultimately set the precedence for the future of pluralism and its ability to transform communities into inclusive, diverse and peaceful societies.
The inaugural award ceremony featured the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverly McLachlin and The Aga Khan who recognized three champions of pluralism. The three winners included Leyner Palacios Asprilla, co-founder of the Committee for the Rights of Victims in Bojayá, Colombia; Alice Wairimu Nderitu for her work as a peacemaker with the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights; and, Daniel Webb, an Australian human rights lawyer who coordinated the #LetThemStay campaign in 2016. The New Champions of PluralismLeyner Palacios Asprilla, cofounder of the Committee for the Rights of Victims in Bojayá, found himself victim to the constant violence between guerilla and paramilitary forces that had rattled Colombia for decades. This escalated when in the spring of 2002, the people of Bojayá, the area in which Leyner lived, were caught in the middle of a battle between the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The conflict escalated until the FARC guerilla forces eventually bombed an Augustinian missionary church where innocent residents had taken refuge, killing 79 people—48 of which were infants and children. Tragically, 28 members of Leyner’s own family were killed in the bombing.
In 2014, Leyner founded the Committee for the Rights of Victims of Bojayá in an effort to unite the voices of all marginalized communities found within Bojayá—such as the Afro-Colombian and Eberá communities, who were often at odds with each other—in order to demand their basic human rights and represent themselves at the peace negotiations between the guerilla forces and the government. His work ultimately led to his nomination for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize and more importantly, influenced the FARC forces to publicly apologize for the 2002 massacre and request forgiveness from community members—an effort which eventually led to more concrete measures being implemented, such as the planning of a memorial site, individual and collective reparations and the identification of victims’ bodies.
Alice Wairimu Nderitu began her work as a peacemaker by joining the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights as a commissioner in order to try and prevent the atrocious Kenyan violence spurned by the 2007 elections, which resulted in 1,300 Kenyan being killed and over 600,000 becoming displaced, from happening during the next election cycle. As the only woman amongst 100 elders from 10 different ethnic communities, Alice was able to use her role as both a woman and a peacemaker to successfully lead the 16-month long peace negotiations that resulted in peaceful elections in 2013.
Alice now works towards efforts of peace and gender equality by mediating between ethnic communities throughout Nigeria. In Nigeria’s Southern Plateau, for example, Alice currently works as a lead mediator between 56 ethnic communities, each represented by six people with six key roles—a representative of the traditional council, a religious leader, a cultural development leader, a respected opinion leader, a woman and a representative for the youth. These representatives are then asked to discuss their problems, potential solutions and roadblocks to these solutions and create a position paper, which is then discussed by each individual community during meetings between all 56 groups. Alice’s work in similar situations has led to peace throughout Kenya and Nigeria, the likes of which hadn’t been experienced in decades.
Daniel Webb, an Australian human rights lawyer, coordinated the #LetThemStay campaign in 2016 in an effort to raise awareness about the atrocities and human injustices refugees on the islands of Manus and Nauru faced daily by the hands of the Australian government. Daniel’s campaign highlighted the Australian government’s policy of sending any asylum seeker who arrived to Australia by boat—including pregnant women, newborn infants and children travelling by themselves—to detention centers on offshore islands in an effort to deter future asylum seekers from trying to gain refuge in Australia. Since the detention centers’ openings in 2013, numerous instances of violence, sexual assault, medical neglect and even murder have been reported, with a lack of basic living conditions leading to the death and devastating injustices of most of the prisoners.
Through the #LetThemStay campaign, Daniel has been able to sway public opinion towards understanding the asylum seekers as fellow human beings deserving of respect and compassion. Since its conception, Daniel and his team have been able to prevent the deportation of more than 300 refugees and prompted the release of 230 people from the detention centers, and their work continues to advocate for the release of the rest of the refugees from the islands.
The award ceremony also honored seven other nominees in their efforts to promote pluralism, including:
ATD Quart Monde, an international organization headquartered in Paris dedicated to eradicating poverty, which has empowered those in poverty through legislation such as the passing of a minimum welfare income for those unemployed as well as universal health coverage throughout France.
BeAnotherLab, a multinational group headquartered in Spain whose aim is to decrease implicit bias and promote empathy through virtual reality technologies that help participants empathize with others by creating the illusion of being in another person’s body.
Fundación Construir, a Bolivian think tank that mediates between indigenous communities in Bolivia and the government in an effort to integrate indigenous communities into the legal system and empower their development in positive ways.
Hand Talk, a Brazilian social enterprise that has created groundbreaking technology that offers users the ability to translate spoken language into Brazilian sign language in an effort to provide the deaf community with new tools for communication and integration.
Sawa for Development and Aid, a grassroots and youth-led non-profit in Lebanon that provides humanitarian relief, livelihood programming and educational centers to Syrian refugees in order to ease tensions between refugees and their host communities.
Wapikoni Mobile, a Canadian non-profit which empowers indigenous youth by providing young people in remote locations the opportunity to learn about filmmaking techniques using modern technologies, eventually leading to the presentation of their work in screenings throughout Canada—and even the Sundance Film Festival.
Welcoming America, an American non-profit that builds the relationship between new immigrants and their new communities by providing programs for immigrants to better integrate into society as well as encouraging interactions between immigrants and long-time residents.
Through this award, the Global Centre for Pluralism has sought to celebrate and support in very tangible ways those who do the hard work to advance pluralism in action. Most importantly, the Centre is also putting pluralism on the global agenda, demystifying what the concept really is by showing rather than telling what it really means to advance diversity, inclusion and peacemaking.
By showcasing examples of how people of different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds are able to thrive because of the differences in their identities and cultures, advocates for pluralism can disperse the fear that differences are dangerous and show instead that diversity is a saving grace in an age of conflict and fear.
But it’s difficult to think about value when we have no buoy for understanding it outside our traditional lenses: for example, our time, our job, and what others tell us they are worth in cash. This, largely, is the world’s paradigm for value so far. But understanding what value really means changes everything—and will be at the center of the decentralized revolution in global coordination that will unfold over the next decade. So, where do we begin?
Let’s start with gold.
Gold is an inherent value. When backing a market, gold allows us to grow a balanced economy well into the trillions. But why does it allow for massive stable markets to form around it? It is gold's permanence that creates stability. We understand that gold will always have value, because it is inherent in all of us, not just in one part of the world, but everywhere, not just today, but tomorrow and for the long haul.
In the 1930s when the gold standard was removed, we learned that the U.S. dollar didn’t need gold to back its economy to flourish. We learned that it was just a symbol for U.S. citizens to decentralize their coordination around the United States economy.
It turns out, common agreement is a philosophy for building shared economy.
And so it seems inherent value is a marker for us to begin exploring what the future could look like—a future beyond gold and the existing realm of credit. And so what else has inherent value? Is education as valuable as gold? What about healthcare? What about a vote that can’t be tampered with? What about an ID that can’t be stolen or erased? What about access to nutrition or clean water? You will find value everywhere you look.
It turns out, we’ve already done the legwork necessary to uncover the most elemental inherent values: The Sustainable Development Goals are commitments grown out of the drive to bring to life basic tenets of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—the closest possible social contract we have to a global, common agreement.
We’ve already agreed, as a global community, to ensure inclusive and equitable access to quality education. We’ve already agreed to empower all women and girls, to ensure pure and clean water access for all, to promote health at all stages of life, and to end hunger.
We’ve already agreed.
Our agreements are grounded in deep value centers that are globally shared, but undervalued and unfulfilled. The reason for this is our inability to quantify intangible value. All of these rich, inherent values are still nebulous and fragmented in implementation—largely existing as ideals and blueprints for deep, globally shared common agreement. That is, we all agree education, health, and equality have value, but we lack common units for understanding who and who is not contributing value—leaving us to fumble in our own, uncoordinated siloes as we chase the phantoms of impact. In essence, we lack common currencies for our common agreements.
Now we find ourselves at the nexus of the real paradigm of Blockchain, allowing us to fuse economics with inherent value by proving the participation of some great human effort, then quantifying the impact of that effort in unforgeable and decentralized ledgers. It allows us to build economic models for tomorrow, that create wholly new markets and economies for and around each of the richest of human endeavors.
In late 2017 at the height of the Bitcoin bubble, without individual coordination, planning, or the help of institutions, almost $1 trillion was infused into blockchain markets. This is remarkable, and the revolution has only just begun. When you realize that Blockchain is in a similar stage of development as the internet pre-AOL, you will see a glimpse of the global transformation to come.
Only twice in the information age have we had such a paradigm shift in global infrastructure reform—the computer and the internet. While the computer taught us how to store and process data, the Internet built off that ability and furthered the conversation by teaching us how to transfer that information. Blockchain takes another massive step forward—it builds off the internet, adding to the story of information storage and transfer—but, it teaches us a new, priceless and not yet understood skill: how to transfer value.
This third wave kicked off with a rough start—as happens with the birth of new technologies and their corresponding liberties. Blockchain has, thus far, been totally unregulated. Many, doubtless, have taken advantage. A young child, stretching their arms for the first couple times might knock over a cookie jar or two. Eventually, however, they learn to use their faculties—for evil or for good. As such, while it’s wise to be skeptical at this phase in blockchain’s evolution, it’s important not to be blind to its remarkable implications in a post-regulated world, so that we may wield its faculties like a surgeon’s scalpel—not for evil or snake-oil sales, but for the creation of more good, for the flourishing of commonwealth.
But what of the volatility in blockchain markets? People agree Bitcoin has value, but they don’t understand why they are in agreement, and so cryptomarkets fluctuate violently. Stable blockchain economies will require new symbolic gold standards that clearly articulate why someone would agree to support each market, to anchor common agreement with stability. The more globally shared these new value standards, the better.
Is education more valuable than gold? What about healthcare or nutrition or clean water?
We set out in 2018 to prove a hypothesis—we believe that if you back a cryptocurrency economy with a globally agreed upon inherent value like education, you can solve for volatility and stabilize a mature long lasting cryptomarket that awards everyone who adds value to that market in a decentralized way without the friction of individual partnerships.
What if education was a new gold standard?
And what if this new Learning Economy had protocols to award everyone who is helping to steward the growth of global education?
Education is a mountain. Everyone takes a different path to the top. Blockchain allows us to measure all of those unique learning pathways, online and in classrooms, into immutable blockchain Learning Ledgers.
By quantifying the true value of education, a whole economy can be built around it to pay students to learn, educators to create substantive courses, and stewards to help the Learning Economy grow. It was designed to provide a decentralized way for everyone adding value to global education to coordinate around the commonwealth without the friction of individual partnerships. Imagine the same for healthcare, nutrition, and our environment?
Imagine a world where we can pay refugees to learn languages as they find themselves in foreign lands, a world where we can pay those laid off by the tide of automation to retrain themselves for the new economy, a world where we can pay the next generation to prepare themselves for the unsolved problems of tomorrow.
Imagine new commonwealth economies that alleviate the global burdens of poverty, disease, hunger, inequality, ignorance, toxic water, and joblessness. Commonwealths that orbit inherent values, upheld by immutable blockchain protocols that reward anyone in the ecosystem stewarding the economy—whether that means feeding the hungry, providing aid for the global poor, delivering mosquito nets in malaria-ridden areas, or developing transformative technologies that can provide a Harvard-class education to anyone in the world willing to learn.
These worlds are not out of reach—we are only now opening our eyes to the horizons of blockchain, decentralized coordination, and new gold standards. Even though coordination is the last of the seventeen sustainable development goals, when solved, its tide will lift for the rest—a much-needed rocket fuel for global prosperity.
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and the honest can repair.”—George Washington