Mawlana Hazar Imam presided over the Global Pluralism Award ceremony on Wednesday 20 November, a biennial event hosted by the Global Centre for Pluralism. The Award recognises the extraordinary achievements of organisations, individuals, and governments around the world who exemplify living peacefully and productively with diversity.

“The Award should serve as a reminder that we can all take steps, in both our personal and professional lives, to foster a more positive and productive response to the changing diversity in our world,” Mawlana Hazar Imam said during his address.

The ceremony was held at the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat in Ottawa, Canada in the presence of Princess Zahra, government officials, diplomats, civil society, and Jamati leaders. The ceremony recognised the three winners of the award as well as seven honourable mentions, each chosen by an international jury, chaired by the Right Honourable Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada.

This year’s award recipients, who will each receive a $50,000 grant to further their work, are the Center for Social Integrity, an organisation that provides youth from Myanmar’s conflict-affected regions with the skills to be leaders for change; Deborah Ahenkorah, a Ghanaian social entrepreneur and book publisher; and ‘Learning History that is not yet History’, a network in the Balkans developing a new approach to teaching the history of conflict.

Deborah Ahenkorah is the co-founder of Golden Baobab, an organisation that encourages African writers to produce literature for children and youth across the continent. Each year Golden Baobab selects winners for the Golden Baobab prize. She also runs a children’s publishing house called African Bureau Stories that publishes children’s books from African writers.

“Stories for children are a window into the world. For African children to see windows into the world without seeing themselves, that shouldn’t exist,” Ahenkorah said. “For children in other parts of the world, if you grow up never reading stories from the continent because those stories aren’t being produced, we short-change you in understanding what the world looks like.”

During her acceptance speech, Ahenkorah said, “I started when I was a 20-year-old college student. I had no money, no experience, but I was going to build a prestigious literature prize for an entire continent. And we’ve done it. And I think for me, that shows that individual choices, and just the will to see the world be different, can reap rewards and can create change.”

‘Learning History that is not yet History’ is a group that has been working for over 16 years on creating a “responsible” approach to teaching about the recent conflict in the former Yugoslavia.

Igor Radulović, a history teacher from Montenegro, represented the group at the award ceremony in Ottawa. His organisation has seen that the history of the wars that took place in the region in the 1990s has been taught in a “national narrative” while other perspectives have been neglected.

“We wanted to create some kind of common ground on this topic — how we could teach this topic in a similar or in the same way in all the countries in this region,” Radulović said. “We are promoting pluralism. We are promoting diversity of thinking.”

During his acceptance speech, Radulović said of the award: “Your support and this award is an additional tailwind which shows us we are on the right road. Hopefully this will open some new doors for us, especially in the region.”

The Centre for Social Integrity has created a leadership programme for young people in Myanmar where groups, including the Rohingya, have been persecuted.

“Ordinary youth can do extraordinary work and contribute to a nation extraordinarily when they’re empowered,” said the group’s founder Aung Kyaw Moe.

He explained the impact that winning this year’s Pluralism Award will have on his team’s efforts: “It gives you a lot of hope knowing that there are people with expertise, knowledge, and experience to support you, and it doubles your momentum and velocity to the vision you’ve set.”

“Whether building peace, enabling youth leadership or bridging divides, the Award recipients are all committed to pursuing pluralism every day,” said Global Centre for Pluralism Secretary General Meredith Preston McGhie. “This is work that is challenging, sometimes dangerous. It too often goes unnoticed and unrewarded. But not tonight.”

This year, the Global Centre for Pluralism received over 500 applications spanning 74 countries for the 2019 Global Pluralism Awards — more than double the submissions to the inaugural awards in 2017. All nominees undergo a rigorous review and jury selection process.

Secretary General McGhie also took a moment to acknowledge the continuing work of the previous winners and the Centre’s role in facilitating international recognition to these accomplishments. The Centre presented screenings in Colombia and Canada of a documentary on the work of victims’ rights activist Leyner Palacios Asprilla, and has supported the production of a report on family reunification of refugees to Australia with Daniel Webb.

In his remarks, Hazar Imam reminded us of the power of individual action in advancing pluralism, noting that “A more inclusive, understanding approach to diversity is needed more than ever today. The Award offers examples to inspire how we take on that challenge.”