King Abdullah II and Queen Rania of Jordan and a foundation in Haiti were on Friday named the joint winners of this year's Zayed Award for Human Fraternity.
The royal couple and the Foundation for Knowledge and Liberty in Haiti (Fokal) will share the $1 million prize to enhance their humanitarian work.
The winners were selected by a panel of judges appointed by the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity, an independent body tasked with promoting human fraternity worldwide, for encouraging togetherness and peaceful coexistence.
King Abdullah was chosen for promoting interfaith dialogue in the Middle East, addressing divisions among Muslims and fostering harmonious relations between East and West. Queen Rania was honoured for her advocacy for refugee rights and consistent efforts to promote tolerance and acceptance through philanthropic initiatives.
“King Abdullah II and Queen Rania have carried the message of peace over successive decades, emphasising the essence of human fraternity, strengthening solidarity and love among human beings without discrimination on the basis of race, creed, or geography,” said Judge Mohamed Abdelsalam, Secretary General of the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity.
Monsignor Yoannis Lahzi Gaid, former personal secretary to Pope Francis and a member of the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity, said he saw first-hand the good work of King Abdullah.
“I had the honour to serve in the Vatican Apostolic Nunciature in Amman and I saw with my own eyes, the work of his majesty. He is known around the world as a man of peace and a man who helps others.
“This is a very difficult time for the world. There is a lot of fear – fear of war – fear of crime and we need to see good models. So in this time of darkness we need to see light, to speak of it and to speak about good things.”
Described as a “beacon of hope in Haiti”, Fokal was recognised for its work to promote sustainable development, education, art and culture and for its work in raising humanitarian aid for farmers and grass roots organisations affected by the earthquake in the Tiburon Peninsula last year.
“The work of [Fokal] to improve the lives of Haitians and build a more peaceful and resilient society is a shining example of implementing the principle of human fraternity,” Judge Abelsalam said.
Founded in 1995, the foundation supports the creation of a sustainable and fair democratic society in Haiti by encouraging critical thinking, accountability and creativity. It targets children and young people, as well as historically marginalised sectors such as women and the poor.
Well known across Haiti, the foundation is predominantly supported by Open Society Foundations, created by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, and the European Union.
Its founder and president, Michele Pierre-Louis, who is a former prime minister of Haiti, has dedicated her life to human rights and gender equality. Under her management, the foundation has been involved in an urban development project in the impoverished neighbourhood of Port-au-Prince. The project includes protecting the last remaining wooded area in the city and transforming it into a natural park.
Ms Pierre-Louis said thousands of impoverished Haitian families would benefit from the winnings.
“When they announced that we were getting the prize, oh my God, I cried, we cried. We were so honoured,” she told The National.
“The award will help us continue our work, not just symbolically but even the financial support is very helpful to the people that we work with. This is also going to be an encouragement for us to continue that type of work.”
The award was established on February 4, 2019, to mark the meeting between Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr Ahmed Al Tayeb, in Abu Dhabi.
It rewards individuals, governments or organisations worldwide for their difficult and often unheralded work with the aim of inspiring others and creating a global community of those committed to bringing about a more just and harmonious world.
This year's winners were chosen from 200 nominations.
“Since the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity, the Zayed Award has sought to celebrate inspiring initiatives to advance our common humanity and provide the necessary support for it,” Judge Abdelsalam said.
“Each candidate proved to be a source of inspiration and true epitome of human fraternity.”
Previous winners include Dr Al Tayeb and Pope Francis in 2019. The religious leaders were presented with the award after signing the Document on Human Fraternity in Abu Dhabi. The document calls for all people to put aside differences in pursuit of progress through understanding, reconciliation and peace.
Last year's winners were UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Latifa Ibn Ziaten, a Moroccan-French activist and founder of the Imad Association for youth and peace.
Nominations for the award, named after the UAE's Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, are made annually and can include people of all backgrounds. They can be nominated by former winners, leaders, members of governments, parliaments, heads of state (former or present), university presidents, heads of research institutes or religious and cultural institutions, heads of international organisations or UN offices, and people well known for their humanitarian work.
Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue of the Holy See, and member of the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity, said the award was a reminder that good still exists in the world.
“This is an important celebration because it will be a further occasion to remind us all of the importance of the event that took place in 2019 – the signing of the document between Pope Francis and Imam Ahmed Al Tayeb.
“It is another occasion to implement the values of the document; and the beauty of its values is that it must be applied to the four corners of the world.
“We have to seek, not only locally but on a global level, all the elements that may help … to implement the values of the human family, which is human fraternity.
“What we want and what we need is that a new generation to be educated in a way that they may discover their future, in a good spirit of humanity.”
The judging panel comprises six members, including the former presidents of Niger and East Timor, Nobel prize winners, religious figureheads and activists.
Dr Leah Pisar, chair of Project Aladdin, which works to counter extremism, anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bigotry, said she was inspired by her father, who was a Holocaust survivor and, despite all he endured, instilled in her the values of human fraternity.
“He was an optimist. And he really taught me, but in a profound way, that we're all human and we're all born equal. We can all aspire to the same values,” she said.
She said the judging panel looked for a variety of attributes in the winners.
“The question was whether to choose an awardee who has a great platform to inspire the world or someone who does not yet have that platform and help empower them to reach a bigger platform and become a sort of a model for others.”
They decided to have both: a head of state with a huge platform; and a small organisation – each doing good in different ways.
“It was not an easy choice and I think we all felt a sense of sadness when we made the decision, because when you read about all these wonderful nominees, you get to know them, you establish a kind of a relationship, a friendship with them.
“A lot goes into a decision-making process, but I think we all felt that maybe we can find other ways to highlight and help some of the other nominees, because there were many whose work was just spectacular and inspiring and at once humble and noble.”
The award is just one part of the work that the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity carries out.
“The higher committee promotes the oneness universally, of people and religion. And ideologies, that we can be different, but the understanding that we are the same. If you cut me right now, my blood is red like yours,” Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian peace activist, Leymah Gbowee, told The National.
She said she only agreed to join the panel under the condition that she not be made “an ornament".
“I want to make a change. I have a voice and I want my voice to be heard.
“I scream for our collective humanity and the representation of women and children.
“There is no way we can do an award and leave out the voices of women. So last year, you see that we had a woman as a winner.
“There is absolutely no way we can continue to conduct our world on the basis of individualism. It is time for us to look and see that the one with the silo mindset is driving us deeper and deeper into crisis,” she said.
As the winners were announced on Friday, Russia's invasion of Ukraine roared in the background.
Ms Gbowee said it was a perfect example of a crisis where people were being left out of the “peace conversation".
“Listen to the news and with all of what is happening with Ukraine. There hasn't been one single conversation about people,” she said.