An Indian who led a grassroots movement on behalf of the low-caste Dalit community and the Philippines' chief anti-corruption fighter are among the six recipients of this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award, honoring leadership in solving society's most intractable problems.
The other recipients named Wednesday are an emergency aid provider in Laos, an Indonesian Muslim philanthropy group, an Indian musician and a Japanese volunteer group. The awards, named for a former Philippine president, are regarded as Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize. The foundation will formally confer the awards on Aug. 31 in Manila.
Bezwada Wilson, who was the first in his Dalit family to pursue higher education, is being honored for his 32-year crusade. He recruited volunteers and worked with Dalit activists to organize a people's movement called Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) that has filed cases and liberated around half of an estimated 600,000 people from manually removing human excrement from dry latrines.
Conchita Carpio-Morales, the Philippines' ombudsman, or public prosecutor, is also being honored "for her moral courage and commitment to justice" in tackling head-on corruption, one of the most intractable problems of the Philippines. The former Supreme Court justice has filed cases against a former president and other high-ranking officials and raised her office's conviction rate from 33.3 percent in 2011 to 74.5 percent in 2015. The foundation praised her "example of incorruptibility, diligence, vision and leadership of the highest ethical standards in public service."
Indian artist Thodur Madabusi Krishna has been chosen to receive the emergent leadership award for "his forceful commitment as artist and advocate to art's power to heal India's deep social divisions." Born to a privileged Bhramin family in Chennai in 1976, he was trained in aristocratic Karnatic music that has become almost exclusive to the elite. But he has worked since the 1990s to bring Karnatic music to the youth and public schools, identify gifted rural youth to be trained in Chennai under well-known artists, and to bring together students from diverse social backgrounds to interact with renowned artists and learn about different art forms.
The Indonesian organization Dompet Dhuafa has redefined the landscape for zakat — the tax on an adult's wealth that is a cornerstone of the Islamic faith. The organization has become the largest philanthropic organization in Indonesia today, in terms of donations received totaling US$20.2 million, reaching 13 million beneficiaries as of 2015, with at least 20 percent of them moved out of poverty.
The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers group, founded 51 years ago, sends young adults abroad to volunteer in other communities. The foundation praised its volunteers "for their idealism and spirit of service in advancing the lives of communities other than their own" and laying "the true foundation for peace and international understanding."
Vientiane Rescue of Laos is being awarded for its "heroic work in saving Laotian lives in a time and place of great need, under the most deprived circumstances." The group, put up in 2007 by volunteers aghast at how victims of road accidents in Laos' capital are left to die because of lack of emergency assistance, operates a free ambulance service, despite the lack of equipment, sponsors, and formal training.