Four laureates for the 11th annual John P. McNulty Prize, awarding extraordinary individuals who have effectively leveraged their expertise and entrepreneurialism to create meaningful change across the world, were announced at the Resnick Aspen Action Forum Wednesday night.
“This year’s laureates are amazing, singular, inspiring people,” said McNulty Foundation President Anne Welsh McNulty, who founded the award in honor of her late husband. “Each of their stories is different — they’re different sectors, different parts of the world — and yet all of us are so incredibly amazed at the work they have done.”
The announcement followed a discussion between Ford Foundation President Darren Walker and B Lab co-founder Jay Coen Gilbert, a Henry Crown Fellow and winner of the McNulty Prize. The pair covered a range of topics, including fearless leadership and the intersection of philanthropy and social justice.
Part of the challenge of working to make an impact on the world comes in feeling driven to fix social ills without letting those ills paralyze you. “Every day I need to calibrate my rage with my optimism,” Walker said. “As a black man in this country who lives with an extraordinary amount of privilege, I see what happens to people who don’t have my privilege.”
Walker didn’t go into philanthropy right away — he started out in corporate law and then investment banking. But after a year spent volunteering at a school in Harlem, the course of his life changed. Though just uptown, it was a vastly different environment than Wall Street.
“I learned during that period that you don’t just turn up at a school and think that you can, like, help,” he said as the audience laughed. “You are humbled.”
Humility, though, shouldn’t eclipse ambition. Seeing great need can freeze a would-be do-gooder in their tracks, but it can also make a dedicated philanthropic leader aim even higher.
— The Aspen Institute (@AspenInstitute) July 25, 2018
The pair discussed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, goals he articulated before the country entered World War II. These include freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Gilbert focused on that fourth freedom, reading a piece Walker had written earlier on the subject.
“We must be willing to act when the action required is inconvenient or uncomfortable or risky — when taking action might be hazardous for our reputations or even dangerous for our careers,” he read.
That willingness to act can be found in the four 2018 McNulty laureates. They are giving Indian voters and policymakers access to transparency and truth, providing New York City and Baltimore schoolchildren with glasses so they can see well enough to learn, amplifying the arts as a means to move Rwanda and other countries from trauma to understanding, and teaching inclusive civic values to teenagers in Australia and the US. In each case, they’re equipping individuals and communities with the tools they need to determine their own paths.
This post originally appeared on the Aspen Global Leadership Network blog.