The Elinor Ostrom awards for scholars and practitioners were presented at the International Association for the Study of the Commons (IASC) conference in Lima, Peru, against the splendid backdrop of the ancient Huaca Pucllana, on 2 July.
The Award was created to honour and develop the legacy of Elinor Ostrom. It aims to acknowledge and promote the work of practitioners (campaigners), young scholars, and senior scholars who are involved in the field of the commons.
The winner was the brilliant Liliana Pechene Muelas, to whom I and other judges had awarded high points. I presented the certificate to her at the IASC dinner with a one-minute address which had been translated into Spanish.
Liliana is of the Misak people in southern Colombia and was wearing the traditional dress. Despite her youthfulness, she is affectionately known as ‘Mama Liliana’. The Misak were at severe risk of losing their culture and way of life, and Liliana helped them to recover these. She led them through the Plan de Vida (plan of life) approach, enabling them to determine their own governance and development, and encouraging them to celebrate, share and protect their commons.
Liliana was elected governor of the Misak people in 2017 and was the sole indigenous representative in Oslo when the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, received the Nobel prize for peace, in recognition of his role in the peace process in Colombia.
Liliana has helped other nations and communities, including the Scottish crofters on Eigg, with the Plan de Vida approach. As I told the gathering, she is a pioneer for peace; she is courageous, ingenious and deeply respected.
Elinor Ostrom, who did more than anyone to bring academics and practitioners together, would have been delighted that Liliana had won the award.
The winner of the young scholars award was Giuseppe Micciarelle, lawyer and researcher from the department of political science at the University of Salerno in Naples. Giuseppe is both academic and practitioner, lobbying to help communities reclaim abandoned spaces in Naples and Salerno. His acceptance speech was delightfully forthright on the connection between academics and activists.
He said the award was an acknowledgement of his case-study experiences, from Asilo Filiangieri (a community claiming a bulding space in Naples) to the wider network of commoners that are fighting daily for a non-hierarchical and collective use of abandoned spaces.
‘When you are particularly involved in your case studies, many critics can take aim. We need to stand up in the academia to say that scientific rigour is not the same as neutrality. We are here to study, but also steward and defend the commons. Also, we should be aware that we are part of a common ensemble, starting from our colleagues and practitioners who are under attack for their activity. We are interdependent and our work is a common work.’ This was a welcome of the symbiotic relationship between academics and practitioners.
The senior scholar award was presented to Ruth Meinzen-Dick, a doyenne of IASC, for her distinguished career at the heart of the commons. For 25 years she has worked for the International Food Policy Research Institute. Her research has focused on how institutions and policies affect the way people manage natural resources, especially land and water. She also studies gender issues in agriculture and its effect on the control of assets. She has written many publications, some of which are useful handbooks for collective action. She too could not be more deserving of the award.