Celebrating sustainable development champions

The PAGE Ministerial Awards celebrated four individuals advancing the sustainability agenda in their own way, from the founder of a women’s cooperative protecting mangroves in the Gambia, to a young copywriter using the power of advertising for good.

Held at the PAGE Ministerial Conference in Berlin, the Awards followed two days of intensive discussion on how governments, multilateral organizations, the private sector and civil society can contribute to a greener economy.

The winners of four prestigious awards, namely the UN Environment Champion of the Earth, Cannes Young Lions, Equator Prize and SEED Award spoke about why sustainability is important to them, while inspiring the audience to play their part too.

“Every problem holds its own solution… and we need pioneers and miners of problems, not just people who talk about them,” said Leyla Acaroglu, 2016 UN Champion of the Earth and founder of the UnSchool of Distruptive Design.“If we’re not willing to imagine something different to what we see every day, we won’t actually have the foresight to do that. We create the world, the world creates us as much as we create it,” she added.

Sam Vitou, Executive Director of the Cambodian Centre for Study and Development in Agriculture, saw a need for more sustainable rice production methods in his country, which used to rely on imports. They introduced a new technique that not only uses less water and pesticides, but generates bigger yields and more income for farmers.

“After two years we found that farmers who used to have food insecurity, now have surplus,” said Mr Sam whose initiative won the SEED Award for entrepreneurship in sustainable development in 2005.

“Our government started to recognize our initiative, replacing conventional practices, and introduced this as part of its strategy to improve rice productivity in Cambodia,” Mr Sam added.



When the benefits of an initiative are so visible, other countries are often quick to follow suit, as was the case for the TRY Oyster Women's Association, which won the Equator Prize in 2012 for exceptional indigenous community efforts to reduce poverty, protect nature and strengthen resilience.

The Gambia-based association supports collectives of women to harvest oysters so that they can generate an income, while conserving the mangroves, which have great importance for biodiversity.

“Our programme has been so successful that we are now replicating this same programme in Senegal, where we share the same estuary, and we have also passed it on to Ghana,” said founder Fatou Janha.

While Ms Janha founded her organization after seeing firsthand the terrible conditions women were working under, young marketing professional Christina Rankel believes positive imagery can be just as powerful to inspire people to take action.

Ms Rankel, now Senior Copywriter at the Jung von Matt advertising agency in Hamburg, and her teammate Juarez Rodriguez, won gold in the film category of the Cannes Young Lions in 2015, which celebrates excellence in marketing and advertising.

“I think the most frightening thought is what the world will look like if we don’t work on ideas that we have now… We have to keep annoying people with our ideas until they start listening and cooperating,” she said.

From Australia to Cambodia and the Gambia to Germany, the four individuals celebrated on stage all have one thing in common: the courage to imagine a better world and implement ideas that benefit everyone.