UC Santa Cruz hosts the first Right Livelihood College in North America
When David Shaw cofounded the Common Ground Center at UC Santa Cruz’s Kresge College with fellow UCSC faculty members in September 2012, their mission was twofold: to teach students how to combine theory and action to incite social, economic, and environmental change in the world, and also to show them that change comes easier when likeminded individuals, across generations, unite.
“We are wiser together,” says Shaw. “Through collaboration and the synergizing of our unique contributions we can develop win-win-win situations, where you win, I win, and the Earth wins.”
In 2004, Shaw attended a three-week course at Schumacher College in the United Kingdom where he was inspired by one of the lecturers, physicist and environmental activist Vandana Shiva. Shiva was the recipient of the 1993 Right Livelihood Award (RLA)—an award presented annually in Sweden that is widely known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.” Later in 2008, Shaw became a student of the Rudolph Steiner Institute, where he attended a class taught by Nicanor Perlas, a Filipino activist and recipient of the RLA in 2003.
“Through working with Vandana and Nicanor, I realized that these are the people who are really committed to positive change in the world and they are being awarded and recognized for it,” says Shaw.
Shortly after forming the Common Ground Center, Shaw sought to bring the messages of his mentors back to UCSC. He reached out to the Right Livelihood College (RLC), a global capacity building initiative of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation that has campuses stationed at universities around the world, and invited them to establish an outpost at UCSC. On Nov. 25, UCSC became the first North American university to host the RLC. Campuses now exist on five continents.
“We are sure that students at the center will benefit from interacting with the laureates as they use their research to shape social and environmental change,” said RLA Foundation Executive Director Ole von Uexkull in a press release. “We wish the center every success as our newest RLC campus.”
The RLA Foundation began with von Uexkull’s uncle, Jakob von Uexkull. In 1980, the Swedish-German journalist approached the Nobel Foundation to suggest that they add two new award categories—one based on environmental sustainability and another on human development, which he also agreed to help fund, but he was politely turned down.
Feeling that the Nobel Foundation overlooked many individuals who were contributing to the greater good of society and the environment, von Uexkull then decided to use the money he acquired from selling his business to sponsor a new award, which he dubbed the Right Livelihood Award.
Since its inception, the RLA has been awarded to 153 individuals from 64 countries. The first awards were given to recipients in a rented hall until, five years later, the Swedish government invited the RLA to present the award at their hall of parliament. The laureates of the RLA range from journalists such as Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! to women’s rights advocates such as Ruth Manorama of India.
Upon the award’s 25th anniversary in 2005, RLA recipient in 1982 and current director of the RLC Anwar Fazal and his colleagues at the RLA decided to connect the work of their laureates to the public with a focus on higher learning institutions.
“The team was grappling with several models with all the challenges of resource mobilization and global effectiveness,” says Fazal. “I came up with the idea of a networking model in 2007 that would be based on the strength of being light, participatory, and action oriented.”
The RLC officially came into being in 2009, and found its first home on the island of Penang in Malaysia.
Since 2009, the RLC has branched out across the globe. They now have campuses at the University of Bonn in Germany, Lund University in Sweden, Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia, the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, and the Universidad Austral de Chile, which is the first institution in Latin America to host the RLC.
“[Through] our partnership with the Right Livelihood College we’re really excited about connecting with the Alternative Nobel Prize laureates—some of the brightest thinkers and doers in the world in the areas of human rights, the environment, and alternatives to economic globalization,” says Shaw.
Although no laureates have been scheduled to speak at UCSC yet, there are a few potential candidates who have displayed interest in visiting our City on a Hill.
One of these laureates is Dr. Paul Walker, director of environmental security and sustainability at the Green Cross, who received the RLA in 2013 for his efforts in ridding the world of chemical weapons. Walker has worked with the Green Cross for nearly 20 years to demilitarize and abolish chemical weapons in compliance with the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which seeks to stop the development, production, and stockpiling of all chemical weapons worldwide.
Canadian activist and 2005 RLA laureate Maude Barlow has also expressed interest in working with the RLC at UCSC. Barlow received the RLA for her longstanding global efforts to promote trade justice and the fundamental human right of access to water. Barlow has authored and coauthored 16 books, holds 11 honorary doctorates, and has been the recipient of numerous other awards for her work on issues from human rights to globalization.
Another laureate that Shaw and others at the Common Ground Center hope to bring to Kresge College is Wes Jackson, the president and cofounder of the Land Institute in Salina, Kan., and 2000 RLA recipient for his work in creating productive and sustainable agriculture. Since the founding of the Land Institute in 1976, Jackson has concentrated on transforming annual crops into perennials and domesticating wild perennials to create more yield and reduce soil erosion.
Now that the relationship between the Common Ground Center at Kresge College and the RLC has been established, Shaw has begun to coordinate with officials at the RLA to crystalize how the center will operate at UCSC.
“Each campus [chooses] its own priorities,” says Fazal. “That is one of the wonders of what I describe as a love affair between the RLC and the participating university.”
Shaw and fellow Common Ground Center cofounders such as Kresge College lecturer Christine King hope to implement the work of RLA laureates with their students through civic engagement projects and participatory action research on long-term issues like sustainable food systems, women’s rights, and alternatives to globalization.
“What I'm most interested in,” says King, “is supporting students in linking them with RLA laureates, fostering their cutting-edge research, and inspiring them in their work.”
As the Common Ground Center and RLC gel, new challenges may arise, but, for now, those involved are optimistic about the possibilities.
“Common Ground and the Right Livelihood College are a natural, synergistic fit,” says King. “My hope is that collaborating with RLC will be a catalyst for firing the imagination and creative capacities of UCSC students to do things they may not have thought possible. I am confident we can transform any challenges along the way into new opportunities.”
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