40th Anniversary Conference in Bangkok
In February, the Right Livelihood Foundation organised a conference in Bangkok to discuss how education and activism can be linked closer together to inspire holistic change. The participants made it clear that such change was needed to tackle the world’s most pressing problems.
More than a dozen Laureates took part in the event, which turned out to be one of the last ones to be held in person before the pandemic.
The Laureates, who gathered in Thailand from all over the world, discussed the ways academia can be used to educate activists on proven solutions and how activists, in turn, can bring their experience in grassroots-organising to academia.
Representatives from four Right Livelihood College campuses and a group from our partner organisation the Global Campus of Human Rights also took part in the meeting.
The conference culminated in a public forum on February 22, bringing Right Livelihood Laureates, students, academics and the interested public together.
In his keynote speech, 1995 Laureate Sulak Sivaraksa called for a radical re-imagining of education to put humanity and not knowledge at its heart.
“Learn to bring your heart and your thoughts together,” he said. “You must learn not to exploit yourself and others.”
Indian Laureate Vandana Shiva, who received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993, said that young people must learn that human flourishing was tied to the preservation of nature and respect for all life forms.
“Human rights flow from the rights of the Earth,” Shiva said. “Earth comes first because we are part of her.”
She said that the narrative of an ongoing battle between nature and humanity, which has resulted in greed and exploitation, must be dismantled, including through education.
“You are our hope,” Shiva told the students present.
Reflecting on the then-ongoing pro-democracy protests in his home country India, 2017 Laureate Colin Gonsalves encouraged students to stand firm and fight for human rights even in the face of intimidation.
“The path of human rights and the struggle for human rights is not an easy path,” he said. “But if you surmount the initial fear, the initial beatings, the initial interrogations by the police, and you stand firm, the enemy is ultimately a very weak enemy.”
He urged students not to let themselves be frightened by repressive authorities.
“We are stronger than they are, we are more numerous than they are, we have greater grit than the state,” Gonsalves said.
Other Laureates present at the conference participated in panel discussions during the public event, sharing their insights on the importance of education concerning various topics such as sustainable food production, eliminating nuclear power and indigenous rights.
At the end of the conference, participating Laureates visited Wongsanit Ashram, a spiritual activist community and alternative learning centre founded by Sivaraksa in the 1980s.
Enjoying the beauty of this secluded natural reserve devoted to developing and promoting a sustainable lifestyle, the participants reflected on the many new ideas they would take home with them from the conference.