Manfred Max-Neef, October 2010. Credit: Wolfgang Schmidt

The Right Livelihood Foundation mourns its first Latin American Laureate, Manfred Max-Neef

Press releases 08.08.2019

Right Livelihood Award Laureate Manfred Max-Neef passed away today on 8 August at his house in Valdivia, Chile, at the age of 86. He will forever be remembered for his leadership, scholarship, and dedication to the empowerment of impoverished communities. 

Manfred Max-Neef was a world-renowned Chilean economist most famous for his work on development alternatives. In 1983, he became the first Latin American to receive the Right Livelihood Award, widely known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize,’ for ‘revitalising small and medium-sized communities through “Barefoot Economics.”’

Max-Neef, Manfred, October 2010 (Photo: Wolfgang Schmidt)
Max-Neef, Manfred (Photo: Wolfgang Schmidt)

The book for which he is best known, From the Outside Looking In: Experiences in Barefoot Economics (1981) published by Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation in Sweden, describes his experiences as an economist attempting to practise ‘economics as if people matter’ among the poor in South America. In the same year, he set up CEPAUR (Centre for Development Alternatives), a non-governmental organization in Chile dedicated to stimulating local self-reliance, satisfying fundamental human needs, and, more generally, promoting human scale development.

‘I severed my ties with the trends imposed by the economic establishment, disengaged myself from objective abstractions and decided to step into the mud.’ – Manfred Max-Neef, at the Right Livelihood Award Presentation (1983)

A committed environmentalist, passionate musician, and inspiring professor, Manfred was also a leader seeking to bring about changes from the bottom up. In 1993, he was the first-ever ecologist to run for president in Chile, eventually achieving an impressive minority vote in the presidential election.

A year later, he was appointed Rector of the Universidad Austral de Chile (UACh), where he taught for 25 years until he retired last March. He was Director of the Master’s Degree Programme in Human Scale Development, and Director of the Right Livelihood College campus in Valdivia.

During his extensive academic career, he authored fourteen books and more than a hundred scientific articles and essays which were translated into several languages. He received a number of prestigious recognitions, including the National Prize for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, Chile, and the Kenneth Boulding Award from the International Society for Ecological Economics, as well as honorary degrees from international universities.

While Manfred aspired to become a famous musician just like his German parents, he never quite fulfilled his childhood dream. Yet his legacy lives on like music, touching the hearts and lives of many, inspiring and mobilizing them to strive for a more equitable and sustainable world.

‘When I was 11 years old, one day we were in a group of friends and the question was: What do you want to do when you grow up? There was the doctor, the lawyer, one who wanted to be an explorer in Africa, and when it was my turn, I was not sure and I said ‘I want to be a great man’. Many understand that it meant to be a powerful, strong, rich, leading man. And no, for me, the greatness consisted in the ability to make friends. Today, I can say that I managed to be a great man.’  – Manfred Max-Neef (March 2019)

Media contacts

Emoke Bebiak

English, French & International Media

Phone: +41 (0)78 333 84 84

Nayla Azzinnari

Spanish Media

Phone: +54 9 11 5460 9860

Nina Tesenfitz

German Media

Phone: +49 (0)170 5763 663

Sydney Nelson

Swedish Media

Phone: +46 (0)73 043 13 01