This past weekend was insanely inspiring. I was exceptionally lucky to attend the 25th Annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum held here in Minneapolis, which honors past Nobel Laureates and some of the world’s top activists and luminaries all coming together to discuss the power of peacemaking. It was absolutely amazing and there couldn’t be a more thought-provoking series of lectures and break-out sessions than what I had the pleasure of participating in for the past two and a half days.
This year’s theme was “The Power of Ideas: People and Peace” meaning that many revolutionary changes begin with a rather unconventional, out-of-the-box idea. The Forum offered a perfect platform to explore this message of hope and inspiration by such luminaries as Dr. Muhammad Yunus, Dr. Malcolm Potts, Tawakkol Karman and Dr. Paul Farmer, all incredible visionaries and activists for human rights and world peace. Each one of these exceptional human beings took a chance, a risk at a somewhat crazy idea and followed through with dedication, perseverance and belief that has truly changed the world and has lead to peace and less suffering. They have done more to mankind than most yet they remain humble and indebted to service. That in itself is truly inspirational.
Here are some of the main points presented at the 25th Annual Nobel Peace Prize Forum, which was also shown via livestream around the world. The keynote speeches can still be seen by clicking here.
Doctor Muhammad Yunus
Doctor Muhammad Yunus is known as “the father of microcredit and social business” and is the founder of the famous Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. In the 1970s Yunus realized that millions and millions of poor people in Bangladesh were being completely left out of the banking industry and had no means to lift themselves out of poverty. Seeing an enormous unmet need for banking services, Dr. Yunus came up with the rather offbeat idea to provide small loans to the millions of poor people, namely women, in Bangladesh. By having small loans and cash flow available, poor people were able to improve their nutrition, health, education and overall livelihood that acted as a catalyst in saving millions of lives and lifting millions out of poverty.
In 2006, Yunus and the Grameen Bank were jointly recognized for their work and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Through years of perseverance and the belief in the power of an idea, Yunus was able to make a remarkable impact on world peace. Today, the Grameen Bank Project has over 8.4 million borrowers, in which over 97% are women, a clearly remarkable feat. What started as a simple, perhaps somewhat insane idea, not only worked but performed miracles.
Doctor Malcolm Potts
Another revolutionary thinker who spoke at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum is Doctor Malcolm Potts, a scientist and obstetrician who has been a frontline witness to the brutal, catastrophic impact that war has had on women around the world. Dr. Potts explained the history of aggression and quite frankly testosterone in a way of explaining some of the gang rape mentality and violence of so many men around the world in situations of chaos and war. His powerful ideas are illustrated in his book “Sex and War: How Biology Explains Warefare and Terrorism and Offers a Path to a Safer World“. Dr. Potts also talks in earnest about womens’ rights to controlling their reproductive health and argues that science and health have a tremendous impact on achieving world peace.
Dr. Potts argues along with Melinda Gates (who is at the forefront of advocating for women’s reproductive rights) that the most transformative thing we can do to promote world peace is to give women access to contraceptives. He highlights several examples of how women have used reproductive choices to improve their lives and pull themselves out of poverty.
Doctor Paul Farmer
Doctor Paul Farmer, a Harvard-educated Doctor and Professor, who co-founded Partners in Health “is one of the world’s leading thinkers on health and human rights and the consequences of social inequality*”. Dr. Farmer’s powerful idea to provide global equity in health care has revolutionized the way health care is being administered around the world and has saved many many lives. Dr. Farmer passionately states that we have the tools and technology to make life better for millions of people around the world and achieve peace, but we will not make it happen without equity and compassion in health care services. Without investments in health care, we are not going to be able to break the cycle of poverty and disease. We are making so much progress especially in the areas of HIV/AIDS, Maternal Health, elimination of infectious diseases such as TB and Polio. However, if there is no equity among the rich and the poor, then it is a losing battle.
I have been personally inspired by Dr. Farmer’s work since I received a copy of Tracy Kidder’s book “Mountains beyond Mountains” which documents Farmers work. I was given this book a year ago at the UN Foundation Shot@Life Summit where I was trained to become an advocate on providing global vaccines to the developing world.
I carried my copy of the book and waited patiently for two hours in line to get it signed by Dr. Farmer. Not only was my book signed, I got to speak with him about what we are doing on behalf of Shot@Life and how we are playing a role in providing global health equity. I am sure I will keep this book forever.
Sunday was the last day of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum and we were honored to have Tawakkol Karman as the keynote speaker. Karman was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize award in 2011 for “her humanitarian work for the rights and safety of women and children in Yemen”. At just 32 years old, Karman was the youngest recipient to date, the first Arab woman and the second Muslim women to win this prestigious award.
A mother of three children, journalist and activist, Karman truly inspired the entire room with her powerful, impressive story of how she begin the movement that eventually lead to the peaceful ouster of a despotic government.
The audience listened to Karman speak in awe and amazement as she told her story for the first time. She had risked everything and was able to succeed, an amazing achievement. However, what is even more remarkable is the fact that women had no representation in Yemeni politics or government, yet Karman did not let that fact get in her way. Tawakkol Karman truly inspired us to believe in the power of ideas and how she never ever once stopped believing that she was right and that she could do it.
I left the Nobel Peace Prize Forum on Sunday afternoon feeling unbelievably inspired. I am certain that was part of their goal in having the event: To instill inspiration and hope across the young minds of the audience that peace and change is possible and the power of an idea can change the world.
In addition to my personal notes from attending the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, I also used the Nobel Peace Prize Forum website and handout for some of the background information above. In cases with quotations (*), these quotes came directly from the Nobel Peace Prize Forum documentation. For more information or further reading, please click here.