The 2023 recipients are breakthrough leaders with moral courage and bold vision, who are creating deep, lasting impact across the world.
New York, NY, July 13, 2023––The McNulty Foundation and the Aspen Institute today announced the three winners of the 2023 John P. McNulty Prize, each of whom will receive $150,000 for their organization. Their transformative social ventures address three of the most important issues of this generation, from revolutionizing mental healthcare, to addressing the global plastic crisis, to restoring the promise of economic mobility.
These leaders have reimagined major parts of societal infrastructure—whether it’s tapping into the power of lay therapists, pioneering a holistic solution to plastic pollution, or ensuring college fulfills its promise to young people, these three winners are building a society where every generation can fulfill their potential.
“The 2023 Winners are breaking historic cycles of trauma and inequality, and replacing them with virtuous and sustainable systems rooted in the strengths of their communities,” said McNulty Foundation President and Aspen Institute Trustee Anne Welsh McNulty. While their solutions emerged from lived experience in deeply local contexts in Zimbabwe, Panama and the US, their models are replicable globally.
Since 2008, the McNulty Prize has recognized over 50 breakthrough leaders for their moral courage, bold vision, and deep, lasting impact. The award is given in partnership with the Aspen Institute, to recognize the exceptional leadership of their Fellows. Register here to watch the winners present their visions live at the Resnick Aspen Action Forum on July 26 at 4pm MT.
Learn more about the Winners:
DEMOCRATIZING MENTAL HEALTH CARE THROUGH GRANDMOTHERS
Dixon Chibanda started Friendship Bench after witnessing the fatal effects of scarce mental health resources in his community. In Zimbabwe, where he is one of only 19 psychiatrists for over 14 million people (World Health Organization, 2022), not only are mental health issues stigmatized, but those struggling cannot easily access affordable and timely care. Friendship Bench addresses this gap by equipping community health workers, more fondly called “grandmothers” or “ambuya utanos” to provide primary level care for individuals experiencing depression or anxiety. These trained grandmothers use culturally appropriate screening tools and talk therapy sessions, proving that basic mental healthcare can be a community-based health service.
“Mental health is the silent epidemic of our time, and this vision to help communities fill gaps in care and provide interventions that can transform and potentially save lives is commendable,” said Darren Walker, McNulty Prize Juror and Ford Foundation President. This simple yet groundbreaking concept is already scaling beyond Zimbabwe in six countries and counting. Since 2016, over 200,000 people have received treatment through Friendship Bench, with 78% showing improvement. The impact of grandmothers has been proven in over 100 peer-reviewed publications: “This is a potential solution that can close the mental health gap around the world,” said Chibanda.
WATER WHEELS, ADVOCACY & EDUCATION: A MODEL FOR ENDING PLASTIC POLLUTION
Mirei Endara de Heras has dedicated her career to addressing environmental challenges, from establishing the Nature Conservancy in Panama, to serving as the first Minister of the Environment. She launched Marea Verde in partnership with her community to tackle the issue of plastic waste, particularly in rivers—a leading cause of ocean plastic pollution. “At Marea Verde, we see everything interconnected,” Endara says. “We are very aware that one action will not solve the problem.” Their holistic approach provides a global model: from a hydraulic and solar-powered water wheel that collects over 12,000 pounds of trash per month; advocacy and policy reform with government, the UN and others; and community programs to drive education and behavior change.
“We need to elevate those working on environmental policy,” said Cheryl Dorsey, McNulty Prize Juror and Echoing Green President, “Marea Verde skillfully tackles this while also using technology, data, and community engagement to change hearts and minds.” Endara has persisted in the face of fierce cynicism where many have failed. A major champion behind Panamanian policy and joint programs with government, Marea Verde is moving to impact plastic reduction efforts and legislation on an international scale.
CLOSING THE LAST GAP: ENSURING LOW-INCOME GRADUATES GET QUALITY FIRST JOBS
Aimée Eubanks Davis launched Braven after witnessing her former students work their way from humble economic backgrounds to college, only to find it extremely challenging to land strong first jobs upon graduation like their higher-income peers. Braven provides the skills, experiences, networks and confidence to land a job worthy of their degrees, through credit-bearing programs at large universities like Rutgers University-Newark and historically Black colleges like Spelman College. “Few people are willing to address the complexity of what happens after graduation,” said McNulty Prize Juror Brizio Biondi-Morra. “Yet this moment is when economic mobility can truly begin.”
The evidence is clear: Braven’s 7,400+ Fellows are seeing impressive results—their graduates outpace peers nationally in strong job attainment and receive higher salaries, and three-quarters are already out-earning their parents in their first job. “Together in partnership with institutions of higher education and employers, I believe that we can see the wealth gap in this country shrink, and restore the American promise,” Eubanks Davis says.
About the John P. & Anne Welsh McNulty Foundation
The McNulty Foundation inspires, develops, and drives leaders to solve the critical challenges of our time. Created in 2008 by Anne Welsh McNulty in honor of her late husband, the John P. McNulty Prize has recognized over 50 breakthrough leaders for their moral courage, bold vision, and deep, lasting impact. Winners receive $150,000 and support to amplify their efforts, and are chosen by an international jury that has included Madeleine Albright, Olara Otunnu, Brizio Biondi-Morra, Darren Walker, Cheryl Dorsey, Mary Robinson, and Richard Branson. For more information, visit mcnultyfound.org. Follow @McNultyFound on Twitter and @McNultyFoundation on Instagram.
The Aspen Institute is a global nonprofit organization committed to realizing a free, just, and equitable society. Founded in 1949, the Institute drives change through dialogue, leadership, and action to help solve the most important challenges facing the United States and the world. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute has a campus in Aspen, Colorado, and an international network of partners. For more information, visit aspeninstitute.org.
The Aspen Global Leadership Network’s (AGLN) is a growing, worldwide community of more than 3,500 high-integrity, entrepreneurial leaders from over 60 countries who share a commitment to values-based leadership and to using their creativity, energy and resources to tackle the foremost societal challenges of our times. Because of their demonstrated accomplishment and abilities, they have been selected to join one of 13 geographic or sector-specific AGLN Fellowships around the world. Fellows convene annually at the AGLN’s flagship event, the Resnick Aspen Action Forum. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org/agln.
Aspen Global Innovators For over 30 years, the Aspen Global Innovators Group has supported health and development leaders from across Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Island States to build a safe, equitable, and healthier future for all people and communities. The impact of our Fellows reverberates across the globe. Our mission is to amplify the voices and impact of visionary leaders and innovators who are building healthier and more equitable societies. Our global community stands tall with local leaders, advocates, researchers, policymakers and practitioners who have long been beacons in this movement and whose voices and work are critical to reshaping a healthy, equitable future for all. For more information, visit www.aspenglobalinnovators.org.