By Raquel Solomon
The United Nations Development Program Equator Initiative is a partnership that brings together the United Nations, governments, civil society, businesses and grassroots organizations to build the capacity and raise the profile of local efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
One way in which this is done is through the recognition of the success of local and indigenous projects that work toward the advancement of sustainable development solutions for communities around the globe. June 20 marked the 10th anniversary of the Equator Prize, magnificently celebrated with a gala event at the Vivo Rio concert hall, as part of the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
The 2012 Equator Prizes were awarded to 25 local initiatives from Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Nicaragua, Swaziland and Brazil to name a few. The Women’s Empowerment award was captured by Swazi Indigenous Products, which is a member-owned natural seed oil enterprise that provides jobs and income to local women, while also protecting the ecosystems of the Lubombo region of the country. The initiative also heads up a tree-planting program and environmental education training program for more than 2,400 seed collectors on the threats of over-grazing, soil erosion and unsustainable harvesting methods.
What a night of celebration! Actor Edward Norton, a UN goodwill ambassador for biodiversity, and Camila Pitanga, Brazilian actress and environmental advocate, served as emcees. Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Program; British businessman Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group; and Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, assisted with awards presentations. The smiles on the faces of the recipients and the crowd cheering them on was a heart-warming experience, capped off by sweet melodies from Gilberto Gil, the world-renowned musician and former Brazilian minister of culture.
Raquel Solomon is a student at Columbia’s School of General Studies majoring in sustainable development and French, class of 2012, and will go on to pursue a master of public administration with a concentration in energy and environment. She is a member of the Columbia University Coalition for Sustainable Development and attended the Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro in mid-June.