Grinnell Prize Awards Ceremony

Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012 9:11 pm

2012 Grinnell Prize Award Ceremony

>> PRESIDENT KINGTON: Good Evening. As President of Grinnell College I am pleased to welcome you to the presentation of the 2012 Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize Winners.

The Grinnell Prize honors individuals under the age of 40, who have demonstrated leaderships, creativity, commitment and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change. As we begin this evening's programs, I want to thank each of you who have helped make tonight possible – from the passionate Grinnellians who supported the creation of the Prize two years ago to those who evaluated hundreds of applications this year, to the many faculty and staff and students involved in the planning of this week's Grinnell Prize events. Thank you for supporting the cause with your time and effort and collaborative spirit.

Tonight, we honor some of the world's most remarkable and innovative young minds dedicated to affecting social change. They are living role models for Grinnellians ideals. World citizens who, to quote our mission, are prepared in life and work to use their knowledge and their abilities to serve the common good.

Ever since Grinnell was founded by social reformers one hundred and sixty-six years ago, our students and graduates have immersed themselves in the major social issues of our nation - from the Civil War to Civil Rights to the computer age. At these pivotal moments, there were always Grinnellians who stepped up and took action to shape a better world. Our becoming one of America's great liberal arts colleges is due in no small part to the commitment to education and service of society.

The College's history is replete with examples of Grinnellians who championed that ideal in ways that make them precursors to the Young Social Innovators we are celebrating tonight. A few of the familiar examples from our past, during the Great Depression, Harry Hopkins, class of 1912 and Roosevelt's close adviser, became an outspoken advocate for economic justice and the government's obligation to care for those in greatest need. His passion and vision fueled the creation of The New Deal, which shaped public policy in this country ever since. Later this semester, we will celebrate the centenary of Hopkins' graduation from Grinnell and his legacy of social justice and action.

During the 1950s, Louise Rosenfield Noun, class of 1929, rose to prominence as a civic leader in Des Moines. As President of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union in the 1960s, she used her significant political clout and later her personal wealth to support the cause of student's First Amendment rights. Her cause was achieved in the landmark case of Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, in which the US Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for schools to ban student's non-disruptive, free expression. Louise Noun continued her activism in the 1970s, helping to found the Iowa Women's Political Caucus, the Des Moines Chapter of the National Organization of Women and philanthropic organizations devoted to helping women and girls. Last month, Astrid Henry was installed as the Louise R. Noun Chair of Women's Studies here at Grinnell, a professorship created by Louise's brother Joe R. Rosenfield to honor her lifelong activism.

Since the 1980s, a successful hematologist and oncologist Vincent Anku, class of 1965, has invested in Africa and contributed to community development projects there, supporting especially self-help projects in the Volta region of Ghana, where he was born. The projects are as wide-ranging as the community's needs including rural electrification, road improvement, kindergarten and primary care education, a community library, women's income generation and improved water and sanitation.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Katie Mears, class of 2003, travelled to New Orleans on a relief volunteer trip. She was so transformed by her experience that she founded the ReNew group here on campus and then later relocated to become the Gutting and Rebuilding Program Coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana. There are not many people with that job title – Gutting and Rebuilding Program Coordinator. Since then, Katie has helped Haitians rebuild their homes after the devastating earthquake and is now working on the Superstorm Sandy recovery. That is also where Team Rubicon is working, which is why they are being recognized tonight in absentia, so that they could devote themselves fully to the recovery effort there.

People like Harry Hopkins, Louise Noun, Vincent Anku, Katie Mears live our Grinnellian passion for social justice everyday. Our College works hard to waken and nurture these passions in all of our students. We bring these concepts into our classroom through courses like Tim Dobe and Suchi Kapila's upcoming class on the Theory and Practice of Gandhi and Resistance and we also encourage our students to apply what they learn in the real world. The Expanding Knowledge Initiative or EKI is one example, which supported curricular innovations in the study of environment, human rights and human dignity. Through our Liberal Arts in Prison Program, one out of every seven Grinnell students, as well as many of our faculty and staff, is now involved in teaching incarcerated adults and helping them prepare to make a successful transformation to life after prison.

Social Entrepreneurs of Grinnell, a student run microfinance organization, provides loans internationally and in our local community for small projects to combat rural poverty and to promote economic development. It was named by the White House, last year, as one of the Top Five Winners of the Award for Campus Champions of Change Challenge.

The Joseph F. Wall Alumni Service Award, supported by gifts from our alumni, offers significant financial support to Grinnell graduates who engage in projects, programs and organizations that improve the lives of others. And the Grinnell Corps gives graduating seniors the opportunity to work for a year in education, conservation and anti-poverty programs in the US and around the world.

The Grinnell Prize is another way that we infuse the educational experience of our students with these principles. By bringing exceptional, young social innovators to campus, we hope to inspire our entire community to live up to a similar standard of creativity in service of commitment. Last year, the Grinnell Prize winners mentored students who wanted to know everything from how to start a non-governmental organization to how to persevere when dealing with intractable problems. Tonight, and in the days and weeks to come, our new group of Prize winners are generously offering us their time, ideas and advice.

Altogether, the 2012 Prize honors five young individuals representing three organizations. They were selected from a pool of 300 nominations from 45 countries. The nominees were involved in work on a wide range of issues from the environment, economic justice, social entrepreneurship, business, the arts, refugee rights, immigration, education, fair housing, gay rights, restorative justice and global peace.

Our selection committee has chosen winners who have demonstrated a new standard of excellence and leadership. The recipients each identified huge unmet social needs then worked vigorously and creatively to address them. Each of the winning individuals or teams will receive a cash award with half going to them and half going to an organization of their choice. This is yet another way that the Prize is designed to spark innovation toward a more just world.

On the stage with me tonight are member of two of the recognized organizations. As noted in the publicity materials, the two individuals from the third group, Jacob Wood and William McNulty of Team Rubicon, asked if they could be allowed to absent themselves from this week's activities to organize their largest ever mobilization for the Hurricane Sandy effort in New York and New Jersey. This is exactly what they founded Team Rubicon to do – unite the skills and talents of military veterans like Jacob and William with medical first response teams in disaster areas. The last thing we would want us to do is for our Prize ceremony impede the work they were called to do. So we of course said go with our blessings. Jacob and William will come to campus in the spring instead and when they do I think that we will all benefit greatly from their reflections on their experience with Hurricane Sandy. In the meantime we wish them well and thank them for their service to those in need.

Happily, we do have a group of extraordinary young innovators here tonight to receive their honors. Introducing and conferring the awards will be Rehka Basu, a syndicated columnist from the Des Moines Register, recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Grinnell– so officially a Grinnell alum, and a member of our Prize Committee. And Eliza Willis, professor of Political Science and the incoming chair of the Selection Committee. Rehka and Eliza.

[applause]

>>REHKA BASU: Thank you, Raynard. It's such an honor to be here tonight for this wonderful occasion and to introduce the first Prize recipient.

One of the sad ironies of journalism today is that the more vehicles we have for receiving news, the fewer different stories we actually seem to get. Instead, over a twenty-four hour news cycle, the same handful of stories are relentlessly regurgitated through print, broadcast and Google News – then fleshed out by commentaries from news analysts with questionable credentials but really nice hair.

It might be the natural disaster, the high level sex scandal, the minute-to-minute updates about which candidate is up or down in the polls. And then, for variety perhaps, the warm and fuzzy story about the little kid who's crying because she's sick of hearing the same stories about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama – and they're still not getting the message.

As for newspapers, you can travel anywhere in America and the local paper's front page looks strikingly similar to the one across the country with the same few wire services and syndicates offering up the same stories and perspectives. Blame it on lack of imagination, lack of concern with what is happening beyond our borders or lack of enterprise to find out.

But then, once in a great while comes a journalist like Cristi Hegranes and it tends to restore your faith in the power of meaningful journalism to educate, uplift and bring about social change. What Cristi has done is remarkable on so many levels. She's found promising women in the developing world, educated them in journalism techniques and then employed them - sending them out to tell stories from their own communities where they have credibility. Then she makes those stories available throughout the world by dispatching them out on the wire.

She does all this through the Global Press Institute of which she is founder and Executive Director. It started out in two countries, Nepal and Mexico, but now has news desks in over 25 and employs over 100 women. It's newswire gets about 20,000 readers a month and the stories are picked up by UPI, Reuters, NPR, BBC and a variety of other major news outlets.

Cristi started out in Nepal as a reporter, telling the stories of people overlooked by mainstream media. But then, she wanted to equip them with the tools to tell their own. She wanted to empower women by giving them concrete skills including literacy training and computer training and then employment. But perhaps, most importantly, by giving them voice and the outlets to communicate the realities in their worlds. Sharing stories on issues like domestic violence across the globe, makes it possible to connect communities with common concerns everywhere and it has led to real social change on everything from civil rights in Nepal and Zimbabwe to maternal health in Mexico.

Cristi has a Masters Degree in Journalism from NYU and has won more awards than I can mention including the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism and she was named one of Twenty One Leaders for the Twenty First Century by Women's eNews.

As I was looking over Cristi's biography in preparation for tonight, I noticed some parallels between us that I had missed as a member of the Selection Committee. We're both journalists with graduate degrees from J schools in New York. We've both taught at the college level and written for alternative newspapers and for the Indian Press. We're both concerned with giving voice to the voiceless. And we even share the same birthday, which was last Tuesday, Election Day by the way. Cristi, I hope it was as good to you as it was to me.

But while my career deposited a South Asian women into a mainstream media job in Iowa, Cristi's spirit of enterprise took an American women to South Asia to create an entirely new paradigm for journalism. And she did that, by the way, when she was 25 years old. She's only 32 now. I can't even imagine what she'll be doing at my age but I'm certain that it will be big and transformative.

So, for her work in international journalism and women's economic empowerment, I'm delighted to present the 2012 Grinnell Prize to Cristi Hegranes.

>>CRISTI HEGRANES: Thank you so much. These are beautiful. Thank you so much first and foremost to the Grinnell College community. It is absolutely an honor to be here and I hope that you all know what an extraordinary thing it is you are doing for young entrepreneurs and in fact what an extraordinary thing you are doing for the world. Just envisioning, creating and implementing this Prize, this community too has really solidified its place as social justice innovators in this world, so thank you.

It is of course also a huge honor to be here representing Global Press Institute, which not so long ago was just a figment of my imagination. And it's been just – I can't even – there is not an adjective strong enough to describe watching it transform from that to this.

And of course there have been many amazing people along the way that have helped us get here. My parents, first and foremost, all of whom travelled to Iowa - you have to know - for this week. Probably just cause they knew that I would be in one place for seven straight days so wanted to take advantage of that. But they've supported Global Press Institute from the very beginning. The Global Press Institute Board of Directors is represented here tonight as well by Mary Carderis. Mary represents absolutely the best of the Global Press Institute Board, which is a dedicated group of men and women who give of their time, their talent and their resources to ensure that Global Press Institute continues to thrive. And I'm so happy to stand here before you today to report that we are in fact thriving, thanks in no small part to this Prize but also in no small part to Mike Berkowitz our Senior Strategist and his team at Third Plateau. Mike, your strategic contributions to this organization cannot be overstated. We are all so, so grateful for everything that you guys at Third Plateau have done for us.

And by 'we all' of course, I mean 133 of the world's greatest citizens. I can't even tell you what an honor it is to be a 25 year old kid, an idealistic journalist and to have a little idea about how to maybe change a few things and then watch – as the world's women stand up, stand out and come together to help you build that dream into a reality. It has been the most amazing honor of them all. So thank you Grinnell College because more than anything, by bringing me here tonight, you honor the journalists of GPI. And those women are committing deliberate acts of social justice with every word they write. Thank you.

[applause]

>>ELIZA WILLIS: Well I want to thank all of you for coming out on this cold night but for this auspicious occasion.

In deciding among the many of the excellent nominees that make it through the initial evaluation of the campus community, the Grinnell Prize Selection Committee examines each project with three questions in mind. Is the project innovative? Has the project had or will it have a significant impact? Does the project advance the goal of social justice? Embrace, founded by our Prize recipients Jane Chen and Linus Liang, scored perfect ten's on each of these criteria.

Let me begin by describing Jane and Linus' innovation. Embrace produces and distributes a low cost infant incubator for use by families in developing countries. This product was truly innovative. It was a new and creative invention that solved a problem and responded to a previously unmet need. The need of babies born prematurely or with low weight who are likely either to die or suffer adverse health effects from hypothermia. And as impressive as the invention itself has been Jane and Linus' ability to make the incubator accessible to large numbers of poor families in several developing countries.

Founded in 2008, Embrace grew out of a class project. This was very nice to hear as a professor. Jane and Linus were enrolled in a class at Stanford titled Entreprenurial Experiences in Extreme Affordability in which their major assignment entailed designing an extremely low cost incubator to be used in rural conditions across the globe.

They met that challenge by inventing an infant warmer that cost just 1% of a traditional incubator and deciding to take their invention into the real world. Jane has a background in management consulting and business while Linus has expertise in computer science and tech startups. They were able to draw on their complimentary skills to found and lead the organization they created.

Their spirit of interdiscplinarity and collaboration even extends to their business model. Jane and Linus recently co-founded a for-profit partner organization, Embrace Innovations, with Jane serving as the CEO. The for-profit arm enables them to raise venture capital to sustain their work so that they can continue providing infant warmers to parents in need and apply their creative energies to developing other affordable health products for poor communities.

Embrace also scored perfectly according to the criterion of impact – measured both in terms of those whose lives have already been transformed and with respect to the tremendous potential this invention has for changing the lives of millions of low birth weight and premature babies born every year primarily in the developing world. Currently Embrace widely distributes their infant warmers in India where they have saved the lives of hundreds – and probably thousands by now – of premature babies. They have recently begun distributing the warmers in China, Somalia, Zambia, and very soon will make them available in Afghanistan.

Finally, through Embrace, Jane and Linus have fully met the goal of social justice understood as the principle that every living being deserves equal rights and opportunities. There is no more basic universal human right than the right of the born to live and thrive. Without life and health, there can be no justice or opportunity for equality, no building of capabilities or exercising citizenship. Embrace has found the means for even-ing the playing field of survival for those born prematurely to families in the poorest countries.

For their work to improve maternal and child health, I am pleased to present to 2012 Grinnell Prize to Jane Chen and Linus Liang.

[applause]

>> JANE CHEN: Thank you so much. This is an incredible, incredible honor. I wanted to first and foremost thank Grinnell, thank the college and thank President Kington for this amazing vision to bring us this Prize and give us young entreprenuers the resources to be able to take our work to the next level.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I came here – I've never been to Iowa before – but have been so impressed by the students, by the faculty, the campus, by Grinnell as a whole and its been incredible energetic for us to interact with everyone here. I think we're probably getting more out of being on campus than you guys are getting so thank you so much for that.

We were in a lunch panel today and one of the students asked the question of what keeps us going. And for me, it's really about the lives that we impact. Every baby we see in our device – it never gets old. On Saturday, before getting on my flight from India where I'm based to come here, I was in a village in South India visiting some of the families who are using our product. I went into one home and there was a mother who was completely illiterate. She had no education. She had given birth six weeks previously to a three - pound baby boy and had been using our product. So when I went back, we brought a little scale with us, we weighed the baby and he was now at a healthy weight, thanks to the product. And the smile on that mother's face was absolutely priceless.

We hope to be able to affect many more women, and their babies and their families with this product. Embrace has helped over 2000 babies to date and with this Prize money we hope to be able to help many thousands more babies. This will help us to expand into new countries, expand our project, and buy more infant warmers. Our goal over the next 5 years is to impact a million lives with this product so thank you for giving us the opportunity to make this possible.

>>LINUS LIANG: Jane said pretty much everything I wanted to say but I wanted to say thank you again to Grinnell to everyone here who put this together and really supported us through this prize. It's been very touching and heartwarming to win this and it's quite an honor.

I was just telling several people today that I've only been here for two days but just in these two days I already feel like I'm part of a community and already have the support and that is very touching because that is what keeps us going. We live in very difficult environments. We have a very difficult problem to solve and it's been a hard couple of years. But it's people like you, its prizes like this and visions that keep us going, that really make me believe that there are people out there that really want to change the world and make it better. So thank you very much for the support.

[applause]

>>PRESIDENT KINGTON: Thank you. In the spring, our college President Emeritus, George Drake, class of 1956, who chaired this year and last year's Selection Committee, will confer the third and remaining Grinnell Prize on Jacob Wood and William McNulty of Team Rubicon.

Cristi, Jane, Linus, Jacob and William have taken on large problems with courage and creativity. They have been innovative in their goals and in their business plans. In the process they have had to fight apathy, cynicism and entrenched interests. In conferring the Grinnell Prize, I urge all of us to take inspiration from their work.

To learn even more about these advocates for social justice, you're invited to join us for the remainder of the Prize Symposium which continues all this week. The Symposium is co-sponsored and organized by the Rosenfield Progam in Public Affairs, International Relations, and Human Rights and is directed by History Professor and alum Sarah Purcell. The events are listed in your program and include a keynote address by Jerry Greenfield of Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream. I'm sure you'll notice that Jerry has arranged to provide free ice cream after his speech. We're prepared for 800 so I expect to see people there.

Jerry's keynote as well as the winner's presentations will also be live streamed this year for the first time – although without the ice cream obviously. You can view a schedule of the streamed events by visiting the Grinnell Prize page on the Grinnell College website by clicking on the Live Streaming tab. However, if you are on campus or within range of Grinnell, I encourage you to attend. Not only is it essential for our winners to see the community's support and enthusiasm, but we all stand to gain from the opportunity to sit down with these extraordinary individuals, to get to know them, ask them questions, and to gain the strength and understanding that you need to lead your own efforts for change.

Before we adjourn, I would like to thank George Drake, whom I consider one of my strongest mentors here, chair of this year's Selection Committee, Eliza Willis, Rehka Basu and the seven other members of the 2012 Grinnell Prize Selection Committee for their hard work and wonderful selections. And also thanks to Sarah Purcell, who through tremendous effort puts this all together amidst her working load of teaching, advising, publishing her own scholarship and baking blue ribbon brownies. Sarah is a role model for our own campus and we appreciate her as well as Melisa Chan, Caroline Saxton and the many Communications and Alumni Relations staff who gave so much time to make this happen.

So thank you all and we hope to see you at the Symposium events throughout the week. Good night. Thank you.

[applause]