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Global Witness wins TED and Skoll Foundation awards

Yesterday Global Witness won two prestigious awards: the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, and the TED Prize.

The Skoll Foundation gave the award in recognition of “the organisation’s extraordinary innovation in disrupting an unjust and unsustainable status quo” and TED gave the award because of Global Witness’ “bold and creative vision to spark global change”.

The awards are together worth $2.25 million. It’s a nice birthday present for Global Witness, which is in its 20th anniversary year.

I met Simon Taylor and Patrick Alley in the early 1990s when they were researching their first trip to Cambodia. They came to Oxford where I was working with a team of people on rainforest campaigns. I was obsessed with Vietnam and one of my colleagues was obsessed with Cambodia. Back in the days before the internet, we’d collected several filing cabinets of information, including one drawer labelled “Cambodia”.

Simon and Patrick spent a couple of days working through the files. I remember them getting very excited when they read that the Tonlé Sap, the tributary of the Mekong that flows through Phnom Penh, changes its direction of flow twice a year.

A year or so later, I met them again in Bangkok. I was on my way to Vietnam to work in a tree nursery. Simon and Patrick were there posing as timber buyers and using a hidden camera to film their meetings with a company called Display Tech. One of Display Tech’s directors told them, “I pay both sides, from the Khmer Rouge, mostly the wood it belongs to the Khmer Rouge.” I was amazed by Simon and Patrick’s courage as well as their determination to uncover corruption and environmental crimes.

Since then, Global Witness has continued to uncover illegal logging and corruption in the forestry sector. The organisation has expanded into a campaign aimed at combating “blood diamonds”, and has launched an oil and corruption campaign. The recognition from the Skoll Foundation and TED is thoroughly well deserved. Congratulations to Charmian, Patrick and Simon and all at Global Witness!

Here’s Charmian Gooch’s 2013 TED talk – the transcript (with detailed foot notes) is available on the TED website – and the video has been watched more than one million times:

Corruption is not just something that happens “over there”, as Charmian points out:

“So many of these scandals are hidden in plain sight — they’re down the road in the City of London. They’re in our company boardrooms. They’re in the corridors of power we walk past every day. What we need to do is piece these things together, expose the links and then we can start to break them.”


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