Conversation with the 2020 Aurora Prize Laureates

Conversation with the 2020 Aurora Prize Laureates

The 2021 Aurora Dialogues Online event titled “Conversation with the 2020 Aurora Prize Laureates” took place on April 19, 2021 and featured 2020 Aurora Prize Laureates and their designated organizations. The discussion, organized in cooperation with the Futures Studio platform and moderated by Susannah A. Friedman, Associate Director of Humanitarian Policy Focus Area at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, brought together 2020 Aurora Prize Laureates Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman who lead The Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Somalia; 2018 Aurora Humanitarian Sunitha Krishnan, founder of Prajwala; Dae Eriksson, Executive Director of Love Does, and Emily Warne, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications at Panzi Hospital & Foundations.

Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman were awarded the fifth annual Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity in 2020. As Aurora Prize Laureates, they received a US $1,000,000 award and a unique opportunity to continue the cycle of giving by supporting the non-profit organizations that help people in need. Fartuun Adan and Ilwad Elman have selected three organizations – Love Does, Panzi Foundation, and Prajwala – that fight for freedom and human rights, provide healthcare to marginalized populations, and save victims of sex-trafficking to be the beneficiaries of their million-dollar prize.

The Aurora Dialogues event opened with welcoming remarks from Merit E. Janow, Dean of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and Professor of Professional Practice in International Economic Law and International Affairs. “We are grateful to be co-sponsoring today’s event with the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative and the Aurora Dialogues. We also acknowledge and mourn the passing of Vartan Gregorian. Aurora is a remarkable and important organization and I think it’s undertaking deeply meaningful and inspiring work around the world to address on-the-ground humanitarian challenges. Conflicts take different forms and create immense human suffering and human challenges; they grow more complex and varied each day,” said Dean Janow.

Conflict was certainly on the front of mind of many participants. “We recently had an eruption of violence in one of our schools in Congo. In the worst-case scenario, people are dying from conflict, and then even at the most minor [case], there’s such disruption in education and we’re wondering if the kids are actually going to come back to school and if their families are going to be displaced. We can see on the education side the very real impact that has – even just lost school time. That, I think, is one of the challenges I see in all of our projects around the world,” noted Dae Eriksson, Executive Director, Love Does.

Before delving into the situation in Somalia, 2020 Aurora Prize Laureate Ilwad Elman thanked the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative for the support it network had provided: “It’s a great honor for us to be the 2020 recipients of the Aurora Prize, but well before that, when we were being considered for the Prize in the Top 5 in 2017, we remained in touch with the Aurora community, and they’ve been staunch supporters of our work.” 

Speaking of the issues they have to deal with in their work, she said: “The biggest challenges could be divided between the ones that we could see and the ones that we can’t see. In Somalia right now, we’re facing a political stalemate that’s been ongoing since February 8, officially, when the current administration became “illegitimate.” And since then, there’s been conflict, there’s been protests, there’s been armed violence, there’s been schools closing down. And a lot of these things has been disproportionally affecting women and girls.” Ilwad’s mother, 2020 Aurora Prize Laureate Fartuun Adan, added: “The challenges we are facing in Somalia are on same level of what we used to have. <…> We have Al Shabaab and we have conflict in different sectors, we have coronavirus. So it’s a lot of things going on in Mogadishu.”

As speakers shared their perspectives on the most pressing issues in their fields, they all agreed that the global outbreak of COVID-19 has further exacerbated all local crises. 2018 Aurora Humanitarian Sunitha Krishnan, founder of Prajwala, admitted that the pandemic was one of the biggest challenges for their work today. “We have an increase in human trafficking, in sex trafficking, especially with women and young girls, and it’s very, very frightening. <…> Every day we’re rescuing women who are forced into prostitution because of the pandemic. It’s a very frightening situation and it’s also because the systems are collapsing, so there are fewer safety nets and protection mechanisms for women and girls to fall back on,” she explained.

Emily Warne, Director of Strategic Partnerships and Communications, Panzi Hospital & Foundations, stressed out the fact that the full scale of the pandemic consequences remain unknown: “Before COVID-19 hit, the DRC where Panzi works was already facing an epidemic of rape as a weapon of war for decades. And I think that right now, as everyone is saying, with the disproportionate effect on women and girls, you don’t even know what the full effect of the pandemic is going to be on our region, on the work that we do, and probably won’t know for some time. We’ve been very encouraged by some of the funding that we’ve seen that looks like it will be devoted to research and trying to address some of these increased vulnerabilities, but I do think it will be some time before we actually learnt exactly the true extent of what has happened.”

In conclusion of the discussion, the event’s moderator Susannah A. Friedman, Associate Director of Humanitarian Policy Focus Area at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, highlighted the fact that it has been an all-female panel and expressed her gratitude to the speakers and viewers. “I think we’ve learned a lot today about some very important work that’s taking place on the ground and heard from remarkably active, strong and proud group of women moving that work forward. Thank you so much for your reflections and the work that you do. Thank you to all of our speakers for sharing their stories today and also to the audience for watching and listening,” said Susannah A. Friedman.

You can watch the full video of the Conversation below.