Later today, November 20th, the historic Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. will set the scene for the Global Fairness Initiative’s (GFI) fifth annual Fairness Award ceremony. GFI is a Washington-based NGO founded by Karen Tramontano which works in developing countries – including Ghana, Guatemala, India, Tunisia, and Guinea Bissau – to enable women and marginalized groups to enter the workforce through targeted programs which rely largely on local staff for implementation.

The Fairness Awards are a five year tradition, meant to honor exceptional leaders who have created opportunities for poor and marginalized communities. GFI operates through an integrated leadership approach based on consulting with governments, civil society, and the private sector, and the awardees themselves are selected by a combination of GFI leadership and in-country civil society partners.

This year’s Awards recipients are Robert B. Zoellick, former President of the World Bank Group, Karl-Johan Persson, President and CEO of global retailer H&M, and Nani Zulminarni, the founder of the Program for Women Headed Households in Indonesia (PEKKA).

Later today, November 20th, the historic Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. will set the scene for the Global Fairness Initiative’s (GFI) fifth annual Fairness Award ceremony. GFI is a Washington-based NGO founded by Karen Tramontano which works in developing countries – including Ghana, Guatemala, India, Tunisia, and Guinea Bissau – to enable women and marginalized groups to enter the workforce through targeted programs which rely largely on local staff for implementation.

The Fairness Awards are a five year tradition, meant to honor exceptional leaders who have created opportunities for poor and marginalized communities. GFI operates through an integrated leadership approach based on consulting with governments, civil society, and the private sector, and the awardees themselves are selected by a combination of GFI leadership and in-country civil society partners.

This year’s Awards recipients are Robert B. Zoellick, former President of the World Bank Group, Karl-Johan Persson, President and CEO of global retailer H&M, and Nani Zulminarni, the founder of the Program for Women Headed Households in Indonesia (PEKKA).

After consulting with its civil society partners, GFI chose to honor Robert Zoellick given his success in creating a holistic approach to in-country programs and investments. As president of the World Bank, Zoellick collaborated closely with national governments to understand what they needed, as well as with civil society groups from the countries where the World Bank was proposing projects. While at the Bank, Mr. Zoellick also made strides in eliminating corruption andhas advocated tirelessly for the Darfur region in Sudan since his service in the Bush administration.

Karl-Johan Persson was chosen due to his dedication to better labor standards around the world. The majority of H&M’s clothing is sourced from Bangladesh, a country which has suffered from various labor-related disasters in recent years – most notably, the 2013 Rana Plaza factory collapse which killed over a thousand garment workers.  Instead of turning a blind eye to poor labor practices, H&M, under the leadership of Mr. Persson, has actively lobbied the Bangladeshi government for safer working conditions and a higher minimum wage, and ensured that factories which produce their clothes meet the standards of both Bangladesh’s national safety code as well as a more stringent H&M safety code. 

H&M was also the first company to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, an agreement holding companies to higher safety standards, which inspired a number of other European clothing brands to sign on.  As part of the Accord, H&M independently employs 100 full-time safety inspectors in Bangladesh, which make thousands of unannounced inspections each year, and the company will not source from factories which are located in unsafe residential buildings, as was the case with Rana Plaza. 

In doing so, H&M has a ripple effect throughout Bangladeshi society, improving the conditions not just for workers who produce their clothes, but also for all those who are working in the same factories on other brands.  In addition, H&M has launched a “Fair Living Wage” roadmap over the past year, to ensure that all garment workers are paid a living wage, and the company has introduced its Conscious Collection clothing line made with recycled fibers. 

While Mr. Zoellick and Mr. Persson are honorees from the “Grasstops,” or leaders who can make top down changes in society, Ms. Zulminarni from Indonesia’s PEKKA was chosen from the “Grassroots,” or civil society leaders who work from the ground up. 

In Indonesia, households headed by women make up much of the poorest strata in society, and their position as heads of household still goes unrecognized by Indonesian law, which only recognizes male heads of household.  The subsequent lack of opportunities led to the founding of PEKKA in 2000 in order to provide support for these women, many of whom are illiterate and average six dependants.  Under Nani Zulminarni’s leadership, PEKKA implements a variety of programs, including providing microcredit loans to women, teaching them vocational and leadership skills, and running adult literacy programs.

Additionally, PEKKA finances a social fund for older women who cannot work, paralegal assistance, and scholarships for children whose mothers cannot work. The group also has special rehabilitation programs for widows of the lengthy conflict in Aceh province, as well as for widows of the recent tsunami. For her work, Ms. Zulminarni has been honored by The Asia Foundation, received the Saparinah Sadli award, and is an Ashoka Fellow. 

All three awardees have made concrete differences in the lives of marginalized people through a variety of means – by engaging with governments and civil society to provide useful in-country programming, by providing decent work to thousands, and by advocating for women and enabling them to enter the workforce. GFI looks forward to honoring and celebrating their contributions to a more just global society.