The Global Centre for Pluralism (GCP) hosted the second biennial Global Pluralism Award ceremony in November 2019. At the ceremony, presided over by Mawlana Hazar Imam and attended by many members of the GCP’s Board, including Princess Zahra, the Centre recognised three winners who will each receive a $50,000 grant to help them continue their work.

“A more inclusive, understanding approach to diversity is needed more than ever today,” Hazar Imam said during his address. “The Award offers examples to inspire how we take on that challenge.”

Over its two-year selection process, a seven-member international jury, chaired by former Canadian Prime Minister the Right Honourable Joe Clark, selected a group of 10 finalists for the award.

Here are the stories of the three winners.

Deborah Ahenkorah – Golden Baobab

While studying at university in the US 13 years ago, Deborah Ahenkorah was sending children’s books back home to Ghana for use in schools and libraries.

One day, she saw a black girl in a story and she realised it was the first and only time she had seen someone like herself in a children’s book. She decided then that it needed to happen more. To encourage more stories from Africa, she created Golden Baobab, a non-profit organisation that promotes children’s literature across Africa.

“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 shortchange you in understanding what the world looks like.”

Golden Baobab presents an annual prize for children’s books now regarded as one of the most prestigious prizes for children’s literature in Africa. Ahenkorah’s team also organises workshops for writers and illustrators to learn and network.

Establishing a non-profit organisation for children’s literature in Africa, a continent with many pressing issues, posed many challenges.

“We’ve done this through the scrappiest methods with the scarcest resources because a lot of funding in Africa goes towards development issues, and children’s literature or supporting writers is not seen as a development issue,” she said, explaining that most development funding in the continent goes towards challenges such as malaria treatment and security.

Ahenkorah said the growth of the award shows that the people of Africa believe in the power of books, and that inclusion is important. She also spoke about how her work was pluralistic from the beginning, though she didn’t realise it.

“We organize a prize, we do workshops, we publish, but at the core of all of that is this desire for more inclusion, for more representation,” she said.

“For that to matter — and that’s what the Global Centre for Pluralism is honouring today — for me, that’s the most special thing.”

Learning History that is not yet History

The classroom discussions about the wars that took place in Yugoslavia during the 1990s were not adequate. Each of the four countries resulting from those conflicts — Serbia, Croatia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina — were teaching biased, one-sided portrayals of the story.

Igor Radulovic, a teacher from Montenegro, boiled the lessons down to this: “We were the right one. They did bad things.” Radulovic attended the Global Pluralism Awards to represent Learning History that is not yet History, a group that has set out to change the way this important part of the region’s recent story is being taught.

“Our main goal and idea was to empower both history teachers and students because in our opinion, this topic was not being taught in the manner it should be,” Radulovic explained. “We wanted to create some common ground.”

The Learning History that is not yet History team brought together partners from all four countries that assembled a database of resources to help teachers create history lessons using a multi-perspective approach. They were surprised and honoured to be selected for the 2019 Global Pluralism Award.

“We weren’t even aware that there are people outside our region appreciating our work,” Radulovic said. “That someone outside wanted to know what we were doing, wanted to check all the things we were involved in, and obviously they recognised our work — this is a tail wind for us. It will be something that pushes us forward.”

With the Award, the Learning History that is not yet History team plans to continue growing and expanding their efforts. This summer they plan to move into the second phase of the project by adding summer school classes.

Radulovic spoke about the pluralistic nature of his team’s work.

“We are promoting pluralism, we are promoting the diversity of thinking,” he said. “Right now we are promoting reconciliation within our region. We think reconciliation and pluralism have a lot in common.”

Aung Kyaw Moe - Centre for Social Integrity

Aung Kyaw Moe first heard about pluralism while studying democracy and human rights at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University.

“I did a lot of research on the concept [of pluralism] and I thought this is what I need to work in Myanmar with,” Moe said. Myanmar is a diverse country that is currently transitioning towards democracy, he explained. There, the Muslim population has been excluded from the decision-making process.

To combat this, Moe set up the Centre for Social Integrity, a non-profit organisation that teaches and empowers youth from different backgrounds.

“My organisation is trying to generate the next generation’s leaders from different ethnicities and different religions to promote the values of diversity and promote tolerance among the different groups,” Moe said. “Diversity should be at the heart of the country if the country wants to be successful.”

Originally created in 2016, the Centre for Social Integrity now employs 70 full-time staff and 75 volunteers. Moe said the Global Pluralism Award will help show his team the importance of their work and that it is being recognised around the world.

“The work we are doing is risky,” he said. “If you’re trying to promote things that go against powerful forces, it’s risky.” Moe said the Pluralism Award will provide both protection and some risk as well, due to the increased exposure.

“I am someone who is courageous enough to take the risks,” he added.

He also believes that being the first organisation in Southeast Asia to receive the Global Pluralism Award will spread knowledge about the award and the Global Centre for Pluralism, which will encourage and embolden the efforts of other organisations doing work in the same field.

“Pluralism in the region has always been under threat,” said Moe. “My organisation wants to be a pioneer in Southeast Asia, ensuring pluralism is at the heart of the democracy we are trying to achieve.”