Laureates of the Right Livelihood Award are not only human rights defenders or environmental advocates. They are also writers, poets, musicians and artists.

This month, we are celebrating the multitude of cultural expressions of the ‘Alternative Nobel’ Laureates: from promoting intercultural harmony in Malaysia to safeguarding Oaxaca’s unique heritage in Mexico, and from using poetry to build peace in Colombia to preserving traditional culture of India’s ‘Little Tibet’. Some Laureates have dedicated their lives to inspiring and empowering children and youth – through books and music. Here are their stories.

From 8-15 July, the 27th International Poetry Festival took place in Medellín, Colombia. Established in 1991, when Medellín was one of the most dangerous cities in the world, the Festival received the Right Livelihood Award in 2006, “for showing how creativity, beauty, free expression and community can flourish amongst and overcome even deeply entrenched fear and violence”. The 27th edition gathered more than 90 artists from 45 countries under the slogan of ‘Building the dream country’. In addition to the Festival itself, four other Right Livelihood Award Laureates were in attendance – Asociación de Trabajadores Campesinos del Carare (ATCC), Helen Mack Chang, Bianca Jagger and Martín von Hildebrand – lending their support to the process of peace and reconciliation in Colombia. Read more here.

One street in the heart of Malaysia’s old city of Georgetown on the island of Penang may well hold the key to achieving intercultural and interreligious harmony, which often remains elusive in today’s world. Dubbed ‘Street of Harmony’, this 800-meter stretch has numerous places of worship – from Hindu and Chinese temples to mosques to Catholic and Protestant churches. In recognition of their unique blend of cultures, Old Georgetown streets were inscribed on the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage List. In this new video, the 1982 Right Livelihood Award Laureate Anwar Fazal explains how Penang became such an amazingly cosmopolitan microcosm.

Francisco Toledo, a Zapotec, who celebrated his 77th birthday this month, was born in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. He studied at the Escuela de Bellas Artes de Oaxaca and the Centro Superior de Artes Aplicadas del Instituto de Bellas Artes, Mexico. In 1960 he moved to Paris from where he travelled through Europe. Upon his return to Mexico in 1965, he started to promote and protect the arts and crafts in Oaxaca – his life’s work that earned him the Right Livelihood Award in 2005. This summer, on the occasion of the creation of an elaborate carpet for the Library of Mexico, Francisco Toledo’s works are on display at the Mexican Cultural Centre in Paris, where visitors can learn about traditional and contemporary tapestries of Oaxaca made using natural materials such as alpaca wool and vegetable dyes.

When José Antonio Abreu takes up his baton, he does not forget about the world outside the concert halls. It stays right next to him – in the children, the youths who come from Venezuela’s streets and poorest neighbourhoods and find a future in the orchestras Maestro Abreu founded. A vocation far away from the drugs, poverty and crime, which would otherwise be part of their daily lives. Development work, human rights, poverty alleviation and conflict healing do not normally represent a musician’s successes. But Maestro Abreu is no ordinary musician. He knows that the poor need to overcome cultural as well as material poverty if they are to create lives with new hope, meaning and joy. José Antonio Abreu received the Right Livelihood Award in 2001. His vision of “social action through music” has inspired many young musicians around the world, including “El Sistema” Europe Youth Orchestra, which will perform in Herodion, Greece on 1 August.

Ladakh, or ‘Little Tibet’, is one of the last remaining traditional cultures on earth. For over a thousand years the Ladakhi people prospered, creating a rich, harmonious and sustainable culture from the sparse resources of their region. In 1975, traditional self-reliance and cultural pride were suddenly replaced by feelings of inferiority, dissatisfaction and competition when the area was opened to ‘development’. Outside economic pressures began undermining the local economy, and ills that were previously unknown – pollution, crime, unemployment, family breakdown, rapid urbanisation and ethnic conflict – began to take hold. The 1986 Right Livelihood Award Laureate Helena Norberg-Hodge founded the Ladakh Project in 1978 as a way of countering destructive trends of conventional development in this Himalayan part of India. She went on to coin the term the ‘economics of happiness’ in 1994, decades before the idea of valuing wellbeing over GDP growth became fashionable. Helena Norberg-Hodge was in Sweden earlier this month, speaking at the European Ecovillage Conference. Watch her interview.

Astrid Lindgren, who would have turned 110 this year, is Sweden’s best-known author. Her books, especially her children’s books, are known and loved around the world. Pippi Longstocking, one of the most loved, has been translated into 60 languages. Although she never received the Nobel Prize for Literature, Astrid Lindgren was recognised with the Right Livelihood Award in 1994. “I remember when Astrid Lindgren received the Prize: The music played the theme of Pippi Longstocking, and when Astrid left the stage she was smiling all over and dancing to the music. It was wonderful!,” recalls Kerstin Bennett, former Operational Director of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation.

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