2015 Grinnell Prize Winners

The power of words and language to effect positive change in individuals and societies is the focus of the 2015 Grinnell Prize, the largest monetary award presented by a U.S. college recognizing achievements in social justice.

Grinnell College selected two winners of the $100,000 Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize this year: Deborah Ahenkorah, cofounder and executive director of Golden Baobab, and Maria Vertkin, creator and executive director of Found in Translation. Each prizewinner received $50,000 as an individual and $50,000 for her organization.

The winners received their prizes on October 27, 2015. You can view video of the full ceremony, including President Raynard S. Kington's remarks, acceptance speeches by Deborah Ahenkorah and Maria Vertkin, and the question and answer session after the ceremony.

Deborah Ahenkorah, Golden Baobab

Ahenkorah, 28, founded Golden Baobab in 2008 in Accra, Ghana, to encourage the creation, production and distribution of high-quality, culturally relevant children's literature by Africans for Africans.

The first arts and literary organization to win a Grinnell Prize, Golden Baobab nurtures emerging African writers and illustrators through annual awards (with cash prizes), as well as workshops to provide resources and develop talent.

The organization has formed its own literary agency and publishing company. Ahenkorah was nominated for the Grinnell Prize by her sister, Eunice, a 2013 graduate of Grinnell College.

Deborah Ahenkorah's Acceptance Speech

Deborah Ahenkorah spoke after accepting her 2015 Grinnell Prize.


Maria Vertkin, Found in Translation

Vertkin, 29, started Found in Translation in 2011 in Boston to support and train homeless and low-income bilingual women to start careers as professional medical interpreters.

The organization attacks the twin challenges of economic disadvantages faced by minority women, as well as racial, ethnic, and linguistic disparities in health care. From 20 to 30 women graduate from the program each year, earning a certificate in medical interpretation and receiving career placement services.

Maria Vertkin Acceptance Speech

Maria Vertkin spoke after accepting her 2015 Grinnell Prize.


Ahenkorah and Vertkin Question and Answer Session

Ahenkorah and Vertkin answered questions from the audience after the prize ceremony. They discussed learning from failures, their top values, where they hope to be in 10 years, and how others can help.