By Chase Booth
President Raynard Kington presented the Grinnell Prize to two of the three winners Tuesday evening in Herrick Chapel.
“[The Grinnell Prize winners] have taken on large problems with courage and creativity,” Kington said in his speech. “They have been innovative in their goals and in their business plans and in the process they have had to fight off atrophy, cynicism, and entrenched interest. In conferring the Grinnell Prize, I urge all of us to take inspiration from their work.”
This year’s award went to Jane Chen and Linus Liang, co-founders of Embrace, which provides low-cost infant warmers in developing countries, Cristi Hegranes, founder of Global Press Institute (GPI), which empowers women through training them to be journalists and Jacob Wood and William McNulty, co-founders of disaster relief organization Team Rubicon. Due to their relief efforts on the east coast for Hurricane Sandy recovery, the winners from Team Rubicon were unable to make it for last week’s events but will come to campus sometime in the spring to accept their award.
The prize was first announced in November 2010. The selection committee is composed of 10 committee members, who sort through hundreds of applications each year to decide on winners of the prize.
“Grinnell Prize honors individuals under the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership, creativity, commitment, and extraordinary accomplishment in affecting positive social change,” Kington said at the ceremony.
Embrace’s Jane Chen and Linus Liang and GPI’s Cristi Hegranes gathered for a week at Grinnell to accept their awards and participate in the many events on campus, meeting with students and engaging with the Grinnell community.
Events included presentations by the recipients about the foundations they work for and the social justice work they do. Students were also invited to have lunch with the winners on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, the co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, Jerry Greenfield, gave a convocation titled “An Afternoon of Social Responsibility, Radical Business Philosophy, and Free Ice Cream,” to a packed JRC 101. To wrap up the week, an all-campus reception was held Thursday evening for the winners. Community members will be able to bowl with the winners on Saturday.
“It is absolutely an honor to be here and I hope that you all know what an extraordinary thing it is you’re doing for young entrepreneurs,” Hegranes said when accepting her prize at the awards ceremony Tuesday night. “And, in fact, what an extraordinary thing you’re doing for the world.”
“Just by envisioning, creating and implementing this prize, this community too has solidified its place as social justice innovators in this world,” Hegranes said.
Chen thanked Kington “for his amazing vision to bring us this prize and give us young entrepreneurs the resources to be able to take our work to the next level.”
Students appreciated the opportunity to meet innovators like the prize winners.
“The people are really great. They’re doing some really good stuff and [they’re catalysts to a] lot of big impacts down the road—we’re talking like world change,” said Nate Kakazu ’13.
The prize also represents the College’s dedication to social justice.
“I was always really intrigued by the idea and I thought it represented sort of Grinnell putting their money where there mouth is as far as social justice is concerned,” said Opeyemi Awe ’15, who works for the Prize office. “I think it’s a really great program and I think students benefit a lot.”
However, organizers were concerned with the low attendance rates this year.
“The winners were really excited to be here and engage with students but it’s a little disappointing that student’s aren’t coming out,” Awe said. “Students need to take a little responsibility because it does represent a significant financial contribution each year from the school, so I’m thinking, ‘You’re not at all curious where three hundred thousand of student dollars go every year?’”
When Kakazu was asked if he thought enough students came to the Social Justice Prize events on campus, he simply said, “No.”
“People have to find out what the prize is, who they’re celebrating,” he said. “There is not a whole lot of tradition behind this. It has to slowly be built in and more and more people getting involved.”