Our Founder

Jakob von Uexkull, credit: Christian Kaiser. Below: Jakob von Uexkull, credit: Right Livelihood

Jakob von Uexkull: A visionary lifting the voices of change-makers.

Jakob von Uexkull is a Swedish-German writer, lecturer, philanthropist, activist and former politician, who has dedicated his life to the protection of people and the planet, creating a better world for future generations.

In 1979, he turned to the Nobel Foundation with a proposal to create two new Nobel Prizes, one environmental award and one award to promote the knowledge and perspectives of people from all over the world. To fund the prizes, he offered to sell his stamp collection, worth more than USD 1 million at the time, and donate the money to the Nobel Foundation.

His idea for the new awards came from witnessing a disconnect between the urgency of global problems and the way the international community was dealing with them. He saw how decision-makers were meeting behind closed doors – out of touch with reality. Activists and civil society organisations were at the same time gathering outside those meeting rooms, often presenting constructive solutions to the problems. However, their proposals were not taken seriously. So, von Uexkull decided to do something about it.

“Whoever gets the Nobel Prize will be listened to,” he thought. However, the Nobel Foundation politely rejected his proposal to establish two new awards.

That is when von Uexkull decided to create the Right Livelihood Award to support people fighting for a just, peaceful and sustainable world. He sold parts of his stamp collection to start the prize.

The Right Livelihood Award was first presented in 1980 – one day before the Nobel Prize. Even in its very first year, the Award received a lot of attention. Today, it is one of the most prestigious prizes in sustainability, social justice and peace.

Because of the story of how the Right Livelihood Award was founded, it is sometimes referred to as the “alternative Nobel Prize.”

While income generated from the sale of stamps allowed von Uexkull to start the prize, the Right Livelihood Award has since been funded by private donors.

Parallel to his work with the Right Livelihood Award, von Uexkull went on to co-found The Other Economic Summit in 1984 and served as a Member of the European Parliament from 1987-1989. In 2007, he founded the World Future Council. He also served as board member for several organisations, including Greenpeace Germany.

In 2005, he was honoured by Time Magazine as a European Hero. In 2006, he received the Binding-Prize (Liechtenstein) for the protection of nature and the environment, and, in 2008, the Erich-Fromm-Prize in Stuttgart, Germany. He also received the Future Research Prize of the State of Salzburg, Austria in 1999, the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana of the Republic of Estonia in 2001, and the Order of Merit First Class of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2009. On August 28th, 2014, the Government of Sweden bestowed on him the Illis Quorum Meruere Labores, a gold medal awarded for outstanding contributions to Swedish culture, science or society.

Von Uexkull stepped down as chairman of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation in 2015. Today, he no longer has a formal role in the Foundation.

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    Right Livelihood Laureates work on urgent climate action globally. We strive to reflect this in our day-to-day operations.

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