UNDP_Logo-Blue_w_Tagline-ENGThe Power of Local Action:

Honoring Communities on the

Frontlines of Sustainable Development

Celebrating 10 Years of the Equator Initiative and

20 Years of the GEF Small Grants Programme

20 June 2012 - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Programme Musical Performance





Photos (Flickr)



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Equator Prize winners onstage with their awards Award Ceremony Highlights More than 1,700 people attended the event
Representatives of the 25 winning groups onstage with Gilberto Gil, renowned musician and former Brazilian Minister of Culture


On Wednesday 20 June 2012, the Equator Prize 2012 Award Ceremony was held as part of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil with a gala event at the Vivo Rio concert hall. Celebrating both the 10-year anniversary of the Equator Initiative and the 20-year anniversary of the UNDP-implemented GEF Small Grants Programme, the evening was a vibrant celebration of local action in thematic areas such as food security, freshwater access, sustainable energy, oceans and biodiversity. The 25 prize winners took the stage to enthusiastic applause from the more than 1,700-strong audience in recognition of their outstanding achievements. Presidents and prime ministers from countries including Fiji, Madagascar, Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands were also on hand to honor the communities.

A host of world-renowned celebrities and leaders in sustainable development joined the winners on stage in celebration. Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator, and Gilberto Gil, world-renowned musician and former Brazilian Minister of Culture, hosted the evening event, while Edward Norton, actor and UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, and Camila Pitanga, Brazilian actress and environmental advocate served as emcees. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, and Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank founder and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, were among those who presented awards during the course of the evening, before Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, congratulated the winners on their achievements in a special address. The evening was concluded by a musical performance from Gilberto Gil, who was joined on stage by representatives of the twenty-five winners as he brought the awards ceremony to an inspiring close.


Opening Blessing and Equator Initiative and SGP Videos
10 Years of the Equator Initiative Benki Piyanko and Moises Pinhanta, of the Asháninka tribe, offering blessing 20 Years of the GEF Small Grants Programme

The evening was opened with an auspicious blessing by Benki Piyanko and Moises Pinhanta of the Asháninka tribe from Acre State in the Brazilian Amazon. With stirring drums and vocals in native language the brothers welcomed and thanked the Equator Prize winners on behalf of the Asháninka people, congratulated them on their work, and reflected on the opportunity presented to humanity by global change to find new ways to survive and live. This blessing was followed by two videos highlighting UNDP’s work at the community level, marking the twentieth anniversary of the GEF Small Grants Programme and the tenth anniversary of the Equator Initiative.

Masters of Ceremonies
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Edward Norton Opening Statements, Equator Prize 2012 Camila Pitanga

UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity and actor Edward Norton and Brazilian actress Camila Pitanga together acted as Masters of Ceremonies for the night’s proceedings. Ms Pitanga opened by praising this year’s Equator Prize winners as “the source of the kind of innovation and leadership that we need so much in the world”. She expressed her belief that the night’s award winners “…are and should be at the very center of our discussion, our hopes and our vision for the world we want to create”. Finally, she urged the audience to pay close attention to the winners as they are “the present and the future of sustainable development”. Mr. Norton too spoke of the inspiration offered by the winning initiatives “These local leaders truly are the ones on the frontlines. They are the ones putting ideas into action and transforming lives with courage and vision.”

Keynote Address: Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator

The evening’s Keynote Address was given by UNDP Administrator Helen Clark, who spoke of UNDP’s pride in implementing programmes to support local initiatives, including the GEF Small Grants Programme as well as the Equator Initiative.

Ms. Clark paid tribute to the crucial role played by local level initiatives which provide some of the clearest examples of successful sustainable development solutions. “Tonight’s event is about honoring the great innovation and leadership which is coming from the world’s local communities” remarked Ms. Clark. “Organizations which win the Equator Prize show through their actions how the sustainable management of ecosystems is not only good for the environment, but empowers local people and increases their capacities and livelihood options.”

“Moving forward from Rio+20,” she continued, “it will be critical to acknowledge the central role of community-based organizations and local initiatives in delivering sustainable development solutions.” Full speech here.

Equator Prize 2012 Winners
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Gebremichael Gidey Berhe, representing Abrha Weatsbha Community (Ethiopia) receiving his award from Helen Clark, Sir Richard Branson, and Victoria Tauli-Corpuz Equator Prize 2012 - Winners Khalil Soliman Hemed, representing Medicinal Plants Association, St Catherine (Egypt), receiving his prize with Camila Pitanga

Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, Executive Director of the Tebtebba Foundation, and Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, took to the stage to introduce and award the Equator Prize to this year’s twenty-five winning groups. A member of the Equator Prize’s thematic awards International Jury, Ms Tauli-Corpuz explained the key criteria by which the winners were judged and described the rigorous competition which saw this year’s winners chosen from over 800 nominations from 113 countries. Richard Branson paid tribute to the Equator Prize winners as “inspiring community entrepreneurs”, who recognize that “governments can’t do it alone, and the planet can’t wait” and spoke of his pride in recognizing this year’s awardees. Representatives of each Equator Prize winning group took to the stage in turn to accept a certificate of achievement from UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. Each winner will also receive a monetary award of USD 5,000.

Delivering the Rio Conventions
Thematic Prizes for Community-based Adaptation, Biodiverstiy, and Drylands, presented by Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC and Braulio Dias, CBD Lourdes Cardozo Laureano, Coordinator of Pacari Network (Brazil); accepting the Thematic Prize for Biodiversity from Braulio Dias Delivering the Rio Conventions

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and Braulio Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), presented the thematic prizes for ‘Securing the Rio Conventions’. Paying tribute to Equator Prize winners, Ms Figueres commented: “I trust that we all know that we cannot address climate change globally unless communities claim their power to implement solutions – and creative solutions – on the ground”. Indeed, the winner of the thematic prize for Community-based Adaptation - Namdrik Atoll Natural Resources Committee - embody this sentiment, promoting a model of community self-sufficiency, local food security and adaptation in the Marshall Islands - one of the regions of the world most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Brazil’s Pacari Network, a network of traditional pharmacies working to protect biodiversity in the Cerrado, was awarded the thematic prize for Biodiversity. As Mr. Dias put it: “There is no way to conserve biodiversity if we don’t preserve the traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity”. Finally, Abrha Weatsbha Natural Resource Management Initiative was awarded the prize for Drylands in recognition of their outstanding work in water and land management in northern Ethiopia.

Securing Our Basic Needs
Thematic Prizes for Food, Water and Energy, presented by Sunita Narain and Muhammad Yunus Sunita Narain and Muhammad Yunus presenting the Thematic Prize for Water to Anand Kapoor, representing Shashwat (India) Securing Our Basic Needs

Thematic prizes for ‘Securing our Basic Needs’ were awarded by Sunita Narain, Director General of the Centre for Science and Environment, and Muhammad Yunus, Nobel laureate and Founder of the Grameen Bank. Three prizes were awarded in this category, for Food, Water, and Energy. The Food award was presented to Zan va Zamin of Tajikistan which combines traditional, ecological knowledge with modern farming techniques to improve agricultural productivity and promote crop diversification. Indian initiative Shashwat was awarded the thematic prize for Water in recognition of their work helping communities affected by the construction of the Dhimbe dam to develop small-scale fishing activities in the dam reservoir. The prize for Energy was awarded to Egyptian initiative Medicinal Plants Association St. Catherine, which, among other activities, promotes alternative energy options to reduce over-harvesting of traditional medicinal plants for use as fuel. Mr. Yunus summed up the positive and celebratory mood in Vivo Rio on the night, saying: “What a celebration – a celebration of ideas. You know, I was so jealous seeing so many beautiful people with so many beautiful ideas – powerful ideas”.

Protecting Our Natural Resources
Thematic Prizes for Forests, Oceans, and Waste, presented by Glenn Prickett, TNC, Peter Seligmann, CI, and Julia Marton-Lefevre IUCN Glenn Prickett, Peter Seligmann, and Julia Marton-Lefevre present the Thematic Prize for Waste to Ana Isabel Arroyo Olivares, President of the United Women Artistans' Association of Los Límites (Colombia) Protecting Our Natural Resources

Peter Seligmann, CEO and President of Conservation International, Julia Marton-Lefevre, Director General of IUCN, and Glenn Prickett, Chief External Affairs Officer at The Nature Conservancy, presented thematic prizes for ‘Protecting our Natural Resources’ The thematic prize for Forests was awarded to The West Africa Initiative of Liberia which promotes apiculture, snail-raising, and tree-planting to provide alternative livelihood options to unemployed rural farmers who might otherwise engage in illegal logging. The prize for Oceans went to Indonesian initiative Pemuteran Bay Coral Protection Foundation which uses innovative artificial reefs to restore coral and associated marine biodiversity. Finally, the thematic prize for Waste went to Colombian initiative United Women Artisans' Association of Los Límites. This women's group transforms discarded plastic bags into handbags, creating an additional source of income while reducing pollution. Glenn Prickett spoke of The Nature Conservancy’s pride in partnering with the Equator Initiative, and praised the contributions of the Equator Prize winners of the last ten years “…from the prize winners over that time we have learned the wisdom of community-led solutions to global challenges” - no doubt a sentiment that would be echoed by anyone present at this year’s awards ceremony.

Special Address: Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director
Victor Samuel Rahaovalahy, Association Anja Miray (Madagascar), and Muhabbatkhon Mamadalieva Amirovna, Zan va Zamin (Tajikistan), watch Mr. Steiner's address Special Address by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director

After the presentation of the thematic awards, Mr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, gave an inspiring Special Address highlighting the wider relevance of the Equator Prize. Placing the Equator Prize in the context of the Rio+20 Summit, Mr. Steiner spoke of its value in narrowing the distance between high-level negotiations and action happening on the ground at the grassroots level, saying: “out of these summits, things come that give ideas and energy and that small bit of help…to help a group, or sometimes just an individual, to be able to make that next step between an idea and making things happen”. He paid tribute to the work of community-level initiatives as an encouraging counterpoint to disappointment in the outcomes of international negotiations, and also spoke of the great significance of the Equator Prize as a source of inspiration to the many more communities and grassroots groups whose work for sustainable development is not supported as it should be. Finally, Mr. Steiner commended the energy, creativity and innovation of this year’s Equator Prize winners, saying: “If we do not celebrate this, then we really overlook the best hope we have for making what we are talking about in Rio actually happen after Rio.”

Women's Empowerment - Thematic Prize in honor of Marie Aminata Khan
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Thematic Prize for Women's Empowerment Helen Clark, presenting the Prize for Women's Empowerment to Sindile Cinderella Mamba, representing Swazi Indigenous Products (Swaziland) Marie Aminata Khan

A special award for Women’s Empowerment was presented in honor of Marie Aminata Khan, a former UNDP and CBD staff member who was passionately committed to sustainable development and women’s empowerment and sadly passed away in 2011. Following a short video highlighting the central role of women in this year’s Equator Prize winning initiatives, UNDP Administrator Helen Clark introduced what she described as the most important award of the night, saying: “there can be no sustainable development without women’s empowerment”. Ms. Clark presented the prize to Swazi Indigenous Products, a member-owned natural seed oil and skincare products enterprise that provides jobs and income to local women, while also protecting the ecosystems of the Lubombo region of Swaziland. The women-led initiative also runs a tree-planting program and offers environmental education training for its over 2,400 seed collectors.

Community Statement: The Future We Want
The 25 winner representatives with the Equator Initiative team Winners describe the future they would like to see for the world
Musical Performance by Gilberto Gil

To rousing applause from the audience, and the excitement of Brazilian and international audience members alike, Camila Pitanga and Edward Norton introduced to the stage former Minister of Culture and renowned Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil, who rounded off the night’s proceedings and echoed the celebratory mood of the venue with a performance. Gil invited the representatives of the twenty-five Equator Prize winners to join him on stage as he brought the awards ceremony to an inspiring close with one final song.


New UNDP Publications Prepared For Rio+20







Media Coverage

The evening received coverage in several leading news outlets, including The Washington Post and Public Radio International. Prize winners were also featured in national and international media: Centro Alexander von Humboldt, Nicaragua (RTCC) | TRY Oyster Women’s Association, Gambia (RTCC) | Zan Va Zamin, Tajikistan (RTCC) | Chunoti Wildlife Sanctuary, Bangladesh (RTCC) | Abrha Weatsbha Natural Resource Management Initiative, Ethiopia (World Food Programme) | Tetepare Descendants’ Association, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star) | Sisi Initiative, Fiji (The Fiji Times) | Namdrik Atoll Local Resources Committee, Marshall Islands (Yokwe online) | Swazi Secrets, Swaziland (Times of Swaziland)




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