Paul Ekins at the dinner before the Award Presentation in 2019. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist

Paul Ekins, former Executive Director and current Chair of the Board, retires

News 29.06.2022

British academic Paul Ekins, whose trail-blazing work focuses on achieving an environmentally sustainable economy, has supported Right Livelihood in various capacities since 1987. After 35 years of serving Right Livelihood as its former executive director, board member, jury member, and most recently, chair of the board, he’s retiring from his duties at the end of June.

During his tenure, Ekins witnessed and oversaw Right Livelihood’s development into an international organisation with the power to put change-makers into the global spotlight, connect their work and provide them with long-term support.

Ekins first met Right Livelihood Founder Jakob von Uexkull in 1985 through their involvement in an economics think-tank. When, in 1987, Von Uexkull was looking for an executive director to steer Right Livelihood, he offered Ekins the position, which was in the form of a 3-year fellowship at the University of Bradford, England. Ekins accepted.

“Up until then, I’d been almost entirely focused on problems and understanding the problems,” he said. “Here was an organisation that was looking right across the piece at development and poverty, at peace and social justice, at the environment and trying to integrate all those topics into a coherent worldview. And I felt I was ready to help them do that.”

Ekins was the sole full-time employee at Right Livelihood when he took up the post. That meant he was doing research and compiling reports on incoming nominations. Just like today, anyone could submit nominations for the Award.

“To start with, I would deliver a report on perhaps 40 or 50 [nominees],” Ekins said. “At the end, I was delivering a report on at least 100. So the task grew. But obviously, the more I did it, I hope I became better at spotting those aspects that were particularly exciting and the jury would be interested in.”

During Ekins’ involvement with Right Livelihood, the Award was presented to more than 100 Laureates. Becoming familiar with the work of these change-makers has had an impact on Ekins’ work as well.

“I’ve managed to get a much much broader perspective on the whole array of problems that humanity is facing, and I would never have got that if I hadn’t been involved with an organisation like this,” he said.

There have been many highlights over the years: Ekins mentioned American economist and 1996 Laureate Herman Daly and Indian social worker and 1984 Laureate Ela Bhatt as personal inspirations.

However, Right Livelihood’s work has gone beyond just highlighting change-makers: the Award has also been able to create very important connections among Laureates.

“There was that amazing year, where we managed to bring together Bill McKibben, the American climate activist who had just founded, and Alan Rusbridger, who was then editor-in-chief of The Guardian newspaper,” Ekins said. “The direct result of their meeting in Stockholm was Alan Rusbridger starting The Guardian’s ‘Keep it in the ground’ campaign.”

Going forward, Ekins sees a “huge” potential for Right Livelihood’s work.

“There’s an increasing hunger for solutions among many, many people, especially young people,” he said. “We desperately need the solutions that the Laureates have. And we desperately need organisations to be able to scale up so that those solutions match the scale of the problems, which they don’t yet. And that’s the challenge for Right Livelihood going forward.”

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