Philanthropy moves to protect land rights


Edmund J. Cain


Providing enough food, the most basic of human needs, has proven to be one of humanity’s greatest challenges. Fortunately, with the advances in technology, transportation and agriculture, we are making real progress. But despite these gains, millions of people remain in extreme poverty.

Often the solution to solving endemic poverty is not just about growing more food. It’s also about breaking down the centuries of cultural, ethnic, geographic and governmental obstacles and stigmas that have denied people, especially women, access to the vital resources. Luckily, many dedicated organizations such as Landesa, to whom we have just awarded the 20th Hilton Humanitarian Prize, are working worldwide to provide more food and attack the systemic issues that perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

Most often poverty starts with a basic right: land ownership.

In far too many countries, land ownership for women is not an option. Women might work the fields, but they are dependent on the men in their lives for continued access to the land. We have seen countless stories of women who are thrown into abject poverty when they are thrown off the land after the death of a husband or father. Challenging the status quo must be the first step if we are to provide real and established equal opportunities for these women.

Fortunately, here too we are beginning to see real progress. Just a few weeks ago, the United Nations passed their Sustainable Development Goals that, among other things, included specific goals and targets for women’s economic empowerment, including strengthening women’s rights to owning land.

The passage of these Goals was a monumental step forward in not only recognizing the issue, but also taking concrete actions toward making real progress. One of the organizations that fought for the inclusion of the land ownership in the goals was Landesa.

For two years Landesa and numerous other organizations fought hard to ensure this issue was included in the UN framework.

It was for that reason, and many others, that Landesa was chosen as this year’s 2015 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize recipient. We commend Landesa’s tireless efforts to address land ownership issues, using innovative projects, partnerships with local governments, and legal advocacy to ensure the world’s poor have guaranteed rights to the land they work.

There is still much more we need to do to.  That is why, last month, the Foundation announced an all-new $2 million commitment to formalize a coalition comprised of many of the 20 Hilton Humanitarian Prize recipient organizations.  The grant kick-starts two initiatives: the Hilton Prize Laureates Fellowship Program, designed to inspire a new generation of humanitarian leaders; and the Disaster Resiliency and Response Program, created to help Prize laureates join forces to leverage their work partnerships to improve services during disasters.

The Hilton Prize Laureates Fellowship Program will seek to address the lack of professional mentorship and real-world training for young people. Such experience is often required for jobs but most students do not have it when they enter the non-profit sector. The program, in partnership with several universities, will provide a select group of graduate and undergraduate Fellows with the ability to learn from non-profit leaders and organizations and participate through both headquarters and fieldwork. Ultimately, we expect to grow the program to 25 fellows annually.

The Disaster Resiliency and Response Program is a three-year pilot program aimed at developing an innovative, collaborative model that delivers timely and effective systems and processes, which should be in place before and after a disaster. The unique structure of this program not only helps the Laureates understand, adapt and respond to disaster situations immediately, but also provokes an analysis about how communities can become more resilient in the long-term wake of such disasters. Eleven Laureate organizations have expressed interest in this program, and a Working Group has been formed to lead design and implementation efforts.

In short, by strengthening the bonds between our Laureates, the Hilton Prize Coalition will help each organization to best utilize their resources and maximize the impact of their work.

The world is changing and faces greater challenges. If we are to solve the problems that vex our species, then we must learn to work together better. We must find new and innovative ways to save lives and alleviate suffering and inspire a new generation to carry on the work and the legacy of caring for one another.

Edmund J. Cain is vice president for grant programs, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Tagged in: Food security land ownership

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