2014 Grinnell Prize Winners

The 2014 Grinnell Prize — a $100,000 award honoring young innovators in social justice — will be presented by Grinnell College to founders of two organizations making the world a healthier, cleaner place. The winners were selected from among 211 nominees who represent 34 countries and serve a total of 43 nations through their work.

Lindsay Stradley and Ani Vallabhaneni, co-founders of Sanergy

Ani Vallabhaneni and Lindsay Stradley, husband and wife, founded Sanergy in 2010 and launched operations in Nairobi, Kenya the following year. Their sanitation reform model brings accessible, affordable, and sustainable sanitation to urban areas where waste is typically dumped into waterways, contaminating water supplies and spreading disease.

Lindsay and Ani are raising their family in Nairobi, where Sanergy creates professional jobs and healthy sanitation in the poorest communities. Sanergy builds hygienic, bright blue, Fresh Life toilets in town and then franchises the toilets to local entrepreneurs.

Residents pay a nominal fee to use the toilets, and the entrepreneurs earn approximately $1,000 a year, per toilet. Trained Sanergy staff members collect the waste daily and take it to a processing site, where the waste is converted into fertilizer and sold to local farmers.

In only three years, Sanergy has hired 163 local employees and expanded the Fresh Life network to more than 470 toilets, franchised to 245 local entrepreneurs. With Fresh Life toilets, more than 18,000 Nairobi residents have access to hygienic sanitation every day.

Sanergy’s expansion plans call for providing Fresh Life toilets to more than 300,000 residents of Sub-Saharan Africa in the next five years, creating 2,000 jobs and making the region a cleaner, healthier, safer place to live.

Adam Kircher and Kiah Williams, co-founders and directors of SIRUM

In 2011, Adam Kircher and Kiah Williams turned a small student organization at Stanford University into SIRUM, a pioneering, technologically cutting edge non-profit. SIRUM is a nimble online platform that facilitates the redistribution of unopened, unexpired prescription medications.

Surplus medications are donated by manufacturers, wholesalers, hospitals, and nursing homes. The medications are swiftly mailed directly to clinics that serve adults who could otherwise not afford them.

To date SIRUM has overseen the redistribution of nearly $3 million worth of medications in California while reducing the volume of unused medications disposed of through incineration and other methods potentially harmful to the environment.

Adam and Kiah have already begun to replicate their innovative model in Colorado and aim to further reduce medication waste by expanding to the 40 states where drug donation is legal and protected.

2013 Grinnell Prize

Emily Arnold-Fernández and Asylum Access

Of the world’s 16 million refugees, less than one percent of refugees find refuge in North America, Europe or Australia. The vast majority remain in first countries of refuge—the first places they flee to—within Africa, Asia or Latin America. There, refugees are almost never allowed to work, access local education and healthcare, or take any steps to rebuild their lives. Instead, they are interned in camps, imprisoned, or left invisible on urban margins, lacking the means to seek protection and rebuild a life for their families.

Asylum Access was founded to change this. In 2005, Emily Arnold-Fernández developed an innovative model to help refugees seek safety, secure lawful employment, access education, and obtain protection from further injustice. Their innovative model helps individual refugees respond to rights violations while transforming the human rights landscape for entire refugee populations, using four integrated tools: individualized legal assistance, community legal empowerment, policy advocacy and strategic litigation.

Instead of the traditional humanitarian aid model, Asylum Access works to build a durable solution for long-term refugee displacement. In Ecuador, Asylum Access successfully advocated for the right to work to be included in the Ecuadorian constitution, enabling refugees to work and feed their families for the first time. In Thailand, the organization advocated for refugee rights to be included in draft amendments to the Immigration Act, now due before parliament. If passed into law, this would be the country's first refugee law. In Tanzania, Asylum Access’ legal advocates secured the unprecedented recognition of the urban refugee population. Today, the government is discussing an urban refugee policy that would allow refugees to live and work in local communities, instead of living in camps.

Asylum Access puts power back into the hands of refugees by giving them the tools to rebuild their lives themselves, with dignity. To build a world where all refugees can access their rights, Asylum Access is currently developing the Refugee Rights Toolkit, an office-in-a-box to enable advocates to launch their own refugee rights project in any country around the world.

Elizabeth Scharpf, Julian Ingabire Kayibanda and SHE

Millions of girls and women in developing countries lack access to affordable menstrual pads, which leads to significant costs in education, economic productivity, health and dignity. Most girls and women simply stay home from school or work while menstruating, missing up to 50 days per year of lost wages or school time. While interning for the World Bank in Mozambique in 2005, Elizabeth Scharpf overheard a local colleague remark that 20 percent of her employees missed work on a regular basis, up to 30 days per year, because of menstruation. The reason: menstrual pads cost more than a day’s worth of wages.

After graduating from Harvard Business School in 2007, Scharpf founded Sustainable Health Enterprises, a social venture that invests in people and ideas that are typically overlooked (and often taboo) as vehicles of socio-economic change. SHE launched the SHE28 campaign to give girls and women greater access to affordable menstrual products and health and hygiene education. In 2009, Scharpf teamed up with SHE COO of Rwanda Julian Ingabire Kayibanda, a Rwandan national who left her home country in the 1990s because of the political situation and then returned to rebuild her country after the genocide.

SHE is increasing access to affordable menstrual pads, called LaunchPads, with a local, eco-friendly and scalable business model to affect social and economic change. With assistance from its partners, SHE developed a patent-pending, mechanical process to make an absorbent maxi pad core—the highest material cost driver—from banana fiber. SHE’s LaunchPad doesn’t use toxic chemicals, so it reduces the negative environmental impact of typical pads. The use of readily available banana fibers allows the SHE LaunchPad to be priced lower than multinational brands. SHE will deliver this innovation by investing in women entrepreneurs to jumpstart businesses selling and distributing locally produced, low-cost, eco-friendly SHE LaunchPads.

SHE is now replicating its patent-pending technology on an industrial scale during a pilot, mass-manufacturing 300,000 SHE LaunchPads for 3,000 Rwandan girls attending 10 schools. The pilot will also create 600 income-generating opportunities for people in the eastern region of Rwanda.

2012 Grinnell Prize

Cristi Hegranes and Global Press Institute

Cristi Hegranes and Global Press Institute have two major goals: to empower women by providing comprehensive journalism training which leads to employment with GPI, and using high-quality, locally produced journalism to address issues of large-scale, structural social justice.

Cristi Hegranes, executive director, Global Press Institute

Cristi Hegranes, 31, an award-winning journalist, founded Global Press Institute (GPI) in 2006 at the age of 25. While reporting from Nepal, Hegranes realized that local community members, if trained in responsible journalism, would be able to more effectively tell their own stories than a foreign reporter could. In addition to improving global journalism, Hegranes saw that journalism training could empower women with possibilities of long-term employment and fulfilling careers. As a result of this realization, she created Global Press Institute, initially working in Nepal and Mexico.

Today, Cristi Hegranes teaches journalism and entrepreneurship courses at California State University and continues to lead GPI in its mission of spurring social change through journalism.

More about Global Press Institute

Global Press Institute (GPI) works to empower women, improve global journalism, and spur wide-scale social change. After providing journalism training, including literacy and computer skills classes, to women across the globe, GPI employs these women as journalists—empowering individuals and improving the lives of their families. At the same time, GPI also improves global journalism by including the perspective of community members on the issues that impact them, including social injustices in their societies. Today, GPI operates news desks in 25 countries and employs more than 100 women around the world. GPI stories are accessible to over 5 million people monthly and can be found in English on the GPI news wire as well as on UPI, Reuters, and the Huffington Post. GPI stories also appear in local language in dozens of news outlets around the world. Recently, stories written by GPI reporters have been honored with prestigious journalism awards and have helped spur real social change in areas ranging from civil rights to maternal health in countries including Nepal, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda.

Jacob Wood and William McNulty's Team Rubicon

Jacob Wood and William McNulty's Team Rubicon uses the special skills of military veterans to rapidly respond to disasters across the world. Team Rubicon's model aids veterans with the process of reintegrating into civilian life, as well as providing effective and rapid disaster relief.

Jacob Wood, president, and William McNulty, vice-president, Team Rubicon

Jacob Wood, 29, and William McNulty, 35, are being honored for their work with Team Rubicon, the organization they co-founded in 2010. While watching coverage of the devastation in Haiti following an earthquake, Wood and McNulty realized that thanks to the skills they had gained in the Marines, they could help. In only days, they had gathered a small team of fellow veterans and they set off for Haiti. The two realized that deploying veterans in response to disasters as volunteers could not only improve traditional models of disaster response, but could also provide a meaningful experience for veterans struggling to reintegrate into civilian life. Wood and McNulty have worked since then to grow Team Rubicon, and continue to lead the organization.

More about Team Rubicon

Team Rubicon addresses the difficulties returning veterans face — as well as the "gap" of time between when disasters occur and when traditional aid organization can arrive — by pairing these seemingly unrelated issues. By harnessing the skills of veterans and putting them to use in rapid disaster response, Team Rubicon helps veterans continue their service and find a new sense of purpose and community and has created a new paradigm in disaster response that allows for more rapid response to complement traditional strategies. To date, Team Rubicon has deployed more than 800 veterans to Chile, Burma, Pakistan, Sudan, and other countries, as well as across the United States, and has more than 7,500 veteran volunteers. Its eventual goal is to involve at least 10,000 veterans in the dual missions of providing more effective disaster relief and helping veterans successfully transition back to civilian life.

Jane Chen and Linus Liang's Embrace

Jane Chen and Linus Liang's Embrace distributes an innovative low-cost infant warmer to low-income communities around the world, and is now working to develop new health-care products specially tailored for the developing world.

Jane Chen, CEO of Embrace Innovations and co-founder, Embrace, and Linus Liang, COO and co-founder, Embrace

Jane Chen, 33, and Linus Liang, 31, are honored for their organization Embrace, which they co-founded in 2008. As part of a Stanford School of Design class titled "Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability," Chen and Liang were tasked with designing a low-cost infant incubator suitable for use in the developing world. Chen and Liang not only met the challenge for the class, but their infant warmer, which costs about one percent the cost of a traditional incubator and is designed specifically for the needs of resource constrained conditions, became the basis for Embrace. Embrace now distributes the infant warmer in India, China, Somalia, Zambia and Uganda, and has saved the lives of thousands of premature babies by safely regulating their body temperatures. Chen and Liang have combined their complementary skills — Chen with a background in business and nonprofit health care work and Liang with a background in computer science and technology startups — and have grown Embrace into a thriving organization dedicated to providing health care solutions to the world's most vulnerable populations (along with two other co-founders, Rahul Panicker and Nag Murty). Learn more about both Chen and Liang.

More about Embrace

Embrace is dedicated to developing health care products tailored for the needs of low-income communities across the world. In addition to distributing its infant warmer, Embrace is now working to create additional products that address the problems of infant mortality and maternal health. Embrace has set the goal of impacting the lives of 1 million babies in the next five years. Beyond its innovative products, Embrace has adopted an innovative hybrid organizational structure — by combining a for-profit organization, Embrace Innovations, with the nonprofit Embrace, the organization hopes to be able to ensure its own sustainability, so it can create a platform for creating social impact that goes beyond a single product. Today, Embrace is also partnering with other health care providers in order to expand its impact.

Please follow these links to the historical site for interviewsphotospresentation, presentation Q&A, and Embrace Blog posts.

2011 Grinnell Prize

Eric W. Glustrom and Boris Bulayev, Educate!

Eric W. Glustrom, President, and Boris Bulayev, Executive Director, Educate!

Eric W. Glustrom, age 27, and Boris Bulayev, age 26, were honored for their leadership of Educate!. Glustrom started Educate! in 2002 at the age of 17 after filming a documentary in a refugee settlement in Uganda. Glustrom was inspired to start Educate! after recognizing the potential of youth to become leaders who could develop solutions to the challenges facing their country and continent. Boris Bulayev teamed with Glustrom to lead Educate! at the start of their sophomore year at Amherst College. Glustrom and Bulayev graduated from Amherst College in 2007 with degrees in biochemistry and economics respectively. More information on Eric W. Glustrom and Boris Bulayev is available on the team section of the Educate! website.

Educate! Blog Post

Read Eric and Boris's response to the impact the Grinnell Prize has made: 2012 Accomplishments: Educate!.

Eric's Blog Post

Read Eric's response to winning the 2011 Grinnell Prize: Telling Our Story: Educate!.

Eric and Boris' Full Presentation

See Eric and Boris' full presentation, "How getting cut from the basketball team led me to Educate!: Jumping in the Deep End" - presented October 26, 2011 in Herrick Chapel. (Note: Change from presentation title found in official program.)

Eric and Boris' Highlights/Interview

See the highlights of Eric and Boris' week on campus!

Additional Information on Educate!

Educate! empowers 1,400 youth across Uganda, where over half of the population is under the age of 15. The organization provides social entrepreneurship training, long-term mentorship, and access to capital to help youth create and lead solutions to poverty, disease, violence, environmental degradation, and the highest youth unemployment rate in the world, 83 percent. The model is exponential empowerment – investing long-term in youth so they can positively impact many others. The government of Uganda recently asked Educate! to incorporate its social entrepreneurship course into the national education system. It will reach 45,000 youth annually and be the first national social entrepreneurship curriculum in the world. Educate!’s work to empower Uganda’s youth aims to help the country develop a generation capable of determining their own future and defining progress for their time.

James Kofi Annan, Challenging Heights

James Kofi Annan, Challenging Heights

A survivor of child trafficking and child labor, James Kofi Annan established Challenging Heights in 2003 to provide education and support for children who have returned from slavery and horrific forms of child labor. Now age 37, Annan leads Challenging Heights as president. From the age of six through 13, he worked as a child fisherman in more than 20 villages. After escaping slavery as an illiterate teenager, he befriended kindergartners and used their schoolbooks to teach himself to read and write. Despite severe poverty and abuse, he rose to become a university graduate and now holds a Master’s degree. He eventually became a manager at Barclays Bank of Ghana, but resigned in 2007 to promote the mission of Challenging Heights full-time. More information on James Kofi Annan is available on the Challenging Heights website.

James' Blog Post

Read James' response to winning the 2011 Grinnell Prize: An Enduring Privilege to Serve.

James' Full Presentation and Q&As

See James' full presentation, "Passion, Commitment, and Innovation: The Critical Success Factors in Community Project Sustainability" - presented on October 26, 2011 in Herrick Chapel. The question-and-answer session following James' presentation is also available.

James' Highlights/Interview

See the highlights of James' week on campus!

Additional Information on Challenging Heights

Challenging Heights was founded to help give Ghanaian youth a secured, protected, and dignified future by promoting their rights, education, and health. The organization rescues children from slavery and provides education to those who have returned from horrific forms of child labor. Through education, economic empowerment and community mobilization, Challenging Heights works with at-risk and poor families to explain the dangers of child trafficking and address the root cause of slavery. The program also helps families improve their income levels, allowing their children to attend school. Challenging Heights provides educational support for survivors of child labor and other children in the most impoverished communities of Ghana. More than 400 children between the ages of four and 15 attend the Challenging Heights School. Approximately 50 of them would have been subjected to child labor had they not been rescued by the organization.

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Encounter

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, Founding Executive Director Emeritus, Encounter

Rabbi Melissa Weintraub, age 36, was ordained as a Conservative Jewish Rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary and has served as a Rabbinic Fellow in Conservative communities throughout North America. She co-founded Encounter in 2005. A noted speaker and educator, she has taught on four continents, including at the Parliament of World Religions, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Jewish Council of Public Affairs Plenum. An alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, she graduated summa cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in political theory and women’s studies. More information on Rabbi Weintraub is available on the Staff & Board section of Encounter’s website.

Melissa's Full Presentation

See Melissa's full presentation, "Authentic Peace-Building: A Justice that's Not Just Us" - presented October 27, 2011 in Herrick Chapel.

Melissa's Highlights/Interview

See the highlights of Melissa's week on campus!

Additional Information on Encounter

Encounter is an educational organization dedicated to training Jewish leaders to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by providing them with firsthand exposure to Palestinian narratives and realities on the ground. Encounter’s flagship program has brought more than 1,000 influential Jewish leaders on trips to Palestinian cities, representing the only significant non-military Jewish presence in Palestinian areas of the West Bank during the last decade. Through innovative methodologies geared towards producing civil discourse across political divides, Encounter seeds fruitful and vibrant conversations regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Encounter’s past participants include rising and prominent leaders, opinion-shapers, and decision-makers. The program helps leaders on the right and left to gain a more nuanced understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and accordingly, to reshape their funding priorities, advocacy efforts, and policy decision-making.