person with a hat that says "equality"

One Billion Voices: Grant from the MacArthur Foundation


RWI makes it into the final stage of the MacArthur Foundation ‘100 & Change’ Grant as part of the Consortium for Building Inclusive Societies.

Professor Gerard Quinn and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute have recently made it, as part of a broad coalition, into the final 100 proposals being considered by the MacArthur Foundation for its prestigious 100 & Change’ grant. 

This unique grant – worth US $100 million – has only been made once before. It is usually awarded to facilitate high performing entities to drive positive and sustainable change throughout the world. There were over 750 applications from around the world in this round. To have made it into the final 100 is quite an achievement in itself and attracts major interest from a variety of foundations.  A final decision is due later this Summer (2020).

Gerard Quinn

Professor Quinn, in his capacity as Wallenberg chair, was an integral part of a disability group led by Judy Heumann (former special adviser to the US Secretary of State on international affairs and disability) for its bid.  The group came together in 2019 to form the Consortium for Building Inclusive Societies (CBIS). It includes prominent groups such as Women Enabled International, Disability Rights International (DRI), Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF), Mobility International USA (MIUSA) as well as Professor Quinn and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute.

The group partnered with Management Sciences for Health (MSH) in Massachusetts which is a technical agency that builds partnerships between governments and civil society worldwide.

The bid is entitled ‘1 Billion Voices – Leaders with Disabilities Building Inclusive Societies.’  As the title suggests, the bid is built on the insight that the invisibility of persons with disabilities in processes of change is what accounts for a cycle of exclusion.  Lasting change will therefore depend on getting those voices to the table.  Voice isn’t optional anymore.  It is central to both the UN convention on the rights of persons with disabilities (UN CRPD) as well as to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs).

When asked this Spring by the MacArthur Foundation to clarify its proposal in light of the Covid crisis, the consortium responded in detail by emphasizing that public confidence in short term emergency responses depended on equal treatment and that sustainable recovery was impossible without inclusion.

In reaching the final 100, the MacArthur review panel commented:

the CBIS and MSH partnership is presenting an ambitious, urgent and potentially transformative initiative that would place people living with disabilities to the forefront of activism in countries and regions of the world where such visibility and empowerment is still very much a work in progress.

The proposal targets several countries (e.g., Vietnam, Ethiopia, Cambodia) to help develop the co-production of change between civil society and governments.

Judy Heumann says of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute input:

Gerard Quinn joins other eminent disability scholar/activists at the Institute like Dr Anna Bruce.  This is a clear statement of their vision for the future.  There is an ongoing need to provide impactful training that strengthens the voices and capacity of disabled people and their allies throughout the world.  The global RWI history of training is well respected.

Sharing their human rights knowledge into the worldwide disability community, now more then ever, would be invaluable That is why we greatly welcome the RWI input to our bid.  And right now, we need to stop the world sliding backwards during the Covid crisis and we need a much more inclusive and sustainable future based on the voices of persons with disabilities.  This applies as much to development assistance as it does to domestic policy.

Welcoming the good news that the Consortium bid had made it to the final 100, Morten Kjaerum, the Director RWI said:

This offers a unique possibility for the Consortium and RWI to take the work on the rights of persons with disabilities to another level.  The Covid-19 pandemic has been a mirror to all our societies and have laid bare the human rights challenges in a way that make them so obvious that a new widow of opportunity for human right promotion is there. Human rights grew out of crisis to protect people in a crisis situation.