The citizenship award 2021 Goes to Jean Drèze
On Tuesday 30 November 2021, the P&V Foundation gave its 17th Citizenship Award to Jean Drèze. The Citizenship Award is awarded annually to individuals who have shown exemplary commitment to an open, democratic and tolerant society. Jean Drèze is receiving the prize for his work as a development economist and his fight for social equality in India and elsewhere. Due to the corona crisis, the official award ceremony will be postponed to a later date in 2022.
A commitment that started early
Born in 1959 in the city of Leuven (Belgium), Jean Drèze is an economist with a degree in mathematical economics (Essex) and a committed activist. His father founded the Centre for Operational Research and Econometrics in Leuven and later transferred it to the Catholic University of Louvain-la-Neuve.
His commitment started very early, on the school benches where he was marked by the 1972 famine in the Sahel. He says: "'I got the belief in the possibility to change the world for the better from home, and that grew through high school, thanks to many conversations and actions with fellow students and good teachers.”
From Wavre to Ranchi
He has lived in India since 1979, except for his London period, when he accepted a position in 1988 at the prestigious London School of Economics to work with Amartya Sen (Nobel Prize winner in economics), whom he had met a few years earlier.
In London, he lived with squatters and campaigned for the right to housing. From this struggle came a book "No. 1 Clapham Road: The diary of a squat" published under the pseudonym, Jean Delarue. At the same time, he wrote the book "Hunger and Public Action" with Amartya Sen, which is considered an important contribution to economic thinking and to the literature on antihunger policy. Several other collaborations with Sen and other leading economists followed.
He is currently an honorary professor at the Delhi School of Economics and a visiting professor at the Department of Economics, Ranchi University.
From research to action
Jean Drèze always lives and works in the same conditions as his respondents, so that he can truly understand them. From the age of 20, when he first moved to New Delhi to do his PhD, he adopted a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity close to the villagers. In addition to his academic work, he has been actively involved in many social movements, including the peace movement, the Right to Information campaign, and the Right to Food campaign in India. It was also Jean Drèze who conceptualised and co-drafted the first version of the National Rural Employment Act which provides for labour rights and social security.
Gie Goris, former editor-in-chief of Mo* Magazine, who will give the laudation of Jean Drèze at the award ceremony, says of him: “Jean Drèze is unable to be an outsider. Academic rigour, for him, is not about being distant or aloof, but about being immersed and engaged. He cannot be involved with slumdwellers without living in the slum, he cannot advocate action for the homeless without becoming a squatter amongst them, he cannot live in India without being involved in social action and advocacy – and he cannot advocate without being one of the billion he is advocating for.” He became an Indian citizen in 2002.
Activism as a life mission
With the Citizenship Award, we want to highlight the importance of engagement in society. Olivier Servais and Jessy Siongers, co-presidents of the P&V Foundation: "Active and exemplary citizenship is what this award wants to highlight. Thanks to the work of Jean Drèze, the lives of many Indian men and women have improved considerably. Aware that he is not seeking recognition, we want to use the Citizenship Award to draw everyone's attention to his commitment and impact. Jean Drèze has a great sense of responsibility and a need to get involved in society, grafted on the conviction that he must put his own values into practice. His life journey and his mission to fight against social inequalities are a source of inspiration for many people in Belgium and around the world.”
The Covid crisis and its devastating consequences in India prompt Jean Drèze to continue his daily fight against social inequalities. The right to education, but above all the right to health, has become fundamental in a time of global pandemic.
With the award, Jean Drèze can support a project of his choice in India in line with the mission of the P&V Foundation. He chose Mobile Creches, a pioneering organisation that works for the right of marginalised children in India to early childhood care and development. Jean Drèze: “Mobile Creches (MC) has played a leading role in the creation of worksite creches for children of construction workers, and beyond that, in the campaign for early childhood development as a right of all Indian children. We have also been comrades in the right to food campaign. MC’s work is an abiding source of inspiration.”
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MO*-Topeconoom Jean Drèze: ‘Solidariteit is geen eenrichtingsverkeer’ - 01/12/2021
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