How it all began

How it all began - The Nobel Foundation rejected an environmental prize

In 1979, the Swedish-German philanthropist and stamp collector Jakob von Uexkull turned to the Nobel Foundation with the proposal to create two new Nobel Prizes, one environmental award and one award to promote knowledge and perspectives of people in poor countries. To fund the prizes, he offered to sell his stamp collection, worth more than one million US Dollars, and donate the money to the Nobel Foundation.

Jakob was alarmed by the disconnect between the urgency of global problems and the way the international community was dealing with them. He saw how decision-makers were meeting behind closed doors, out of touch with reality. Activists and civil society organisations were at the same time gathering outside the meeting rooms, often presenting constructive solutions to the problems. But their proposals were not taken seriously, and Jakob wanted to do something about it.

“Whoever gets the Nobel Prize will be listened to”, he thought and contacted the Nobel Foundation, which politely rejected the proposal to establish two new awards. There and then, Jakob decided to create the Right Livelihood Award to support people fighting for a just, peaceful and sustainable world. He went ahead and sold parts of the stamp collection, and that was how it all began. The Right Livelihood Award received a lot of attention when it was presented for the first time in 1980, one day before the Nobel Prize. Today, it is one of the most prestigious awards in sustainability, social justice and peace.

Income from the sale of stamps generated sufficient means to kick off the prize but ever since the Right Livelihood Award has been receiving its funding from private donors. A unique feature is that the Award comes with long-term support that includes networking and protection for Laureates under threat. Because of its founding history, it has come to be known as the ‘Alternative Nobel Prize’.

1980

The Right Livelihood Award first presented in Stockholm. The "Right Livelihood Foundation” registered on the Isle of Man.

1982

The Right Livelihood Award logo created by Gro Isali Faye Stjerneham.

1985

First presentation of the Right Livelihood Award in the Swedish Parliament.

1987

Award office established in the School of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. Paul Ekins becomes its Executive Director.

1990

10th Anniversary Conference near Genova, Italy.

1991

The office of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation moves to Sweden, first full-time paid staff in Sweden recruited.

1995

15th Anniversary Conference in Cologne, Germany.

1999

20th Anniversary Conference in Salzburg, Austria.

2003

The total number of Laureates reaches 100.

2005

25th Anniversary Conference in Salzburg, Austria.

2006

Ole von Uexküll becomes Executive Director.

2007

Establishment of the Swiss Right Livelihood Award Foundation.

2009

2009 Establishment of the Right Livelihood College on the initiative of 1982 Laureate Anwar Fazal.

2010

30th Anniversary Conference in Bonn, Germany.

2011

Establishment of the protection programme for threatened Laureates.

2013

First Regional Conference held in Bogota, Colombia for Latin America and the Caribbean.

2015

Jakob von Uexküll retires from Board.

2015

Geneva office established, Stockholm office moves to the Right Livelihood House in Gamla Enskede.

2016

The Right Livelihood Award gets a new look.