UC Santa Cruz’s global impact grows as campus becomes next leader of Right Livelihood College network

Vandana Shiva on stage at an event
Anthropology Professor Nancy Chen (left) interviews 1993 Right Livelihood Laureate Vandana Shiva (right), a counter-development activist from India, during a January 2020 public workshop on sustainable agriculture at UC Santa Cruz. Photo: Steve Kurtz
a group of people of all ages holding flowers in front of a barn
Following a May 2022 student-run guest lecture organized by the Right Livelihood Club, UCSC faculty, students, and staff met with Jamila Raqib (second from left), nonviolent action expert and legacy holder of the 2012 Right Livelihood Laureate for Gene Sharp. Photo: Leah Stern
teacher speaking to a class of people of all ages
UCSC Right Livelihood College Coordinator Dave Shaw hosts a "World Cafe" dialogue in 2019 with students and members of the campus community as part of the Right Livelihood College-affiliated Anthropology 110I course, Cultures of Sustainability and Social Justice. Photo: Steve Kurtz

The University of California, Santa Cruz will take on a new leadership role in worldwide social-change efforts as the next Global Secretariat of the Right Livelihood College. This position will enable UC Santa Cruz students and faculty to work directly with some of the world’s leading advocates in social justice and sustainability and will draw upon the campus’s expertise in building productive and equitable community-based research partnerships. 

The Right Livelihood College is an initiative of the Right Livelihood Foundation, which honors and supports change-makers working for a just, peaceful, and sustainable world for all. The organization’s annual award has been given to 190 Right Livelihood Laureates from 74 countries since 1980. Each laureate becomes a fellow of the Right Livelihood College—a network of campuses and centers hosted by nine universities on five continents. The Right Livelihood College engages laureates in education, scientific research, and practical activities to spread and upscale their work. The college is also an affiliate of the UNESCO-based International Association of Universities. 

UC Santa Cruz has been a member of the Right Livelihood College since 2013 through the Right Livelihood Center, which is supported by the Division of Social Sciences’ Institute for Social Transformation. UCSC was nominated by the Right Livelihood Foundation to serve as Global Secretariat, a position that rotates periodically among Right Livelihood College members. In this role, UC Santa Cruz will be the network’s main administrative hub and will take an active role in developing the overall strategy and direction of the initiative. 

Ole von Uexkull, executive director of the Right Livelihood Foundation, celebrated the campus’s willingness to lead.

“UC Santa Cruz has always been an engaged and highly collaborative member of the Right Livelihood College,” he said. “We are excited about the possibilities for how their leadership could continue to advance the network’s impact.”

UCSC Chancellor Cynthia Larive also praised how the new role reflects campus values.

“As a global research university, our faculty and students are innovators with a deep commitment to social justice,” she said. “Becoming Global Secretariat of the Right Livelihood College network fits well with our focus on transformative research and scholarship that serves society.”

Dave Shaw, the Right Livelihood College coordinator at UC Santa Cruz, will take the lead on the campus’s new role. He hopes to grow the Right Livelihood College initiative globally through programs that could include a transdisciplinary international research agenda, student exchange programs, new courses at UCSC and partner campuses, additional grant funding for graduate and undergraduate students to work alongside laureates, and more lectures and conferences connecting laureates with students, faculty, and the public. 

“Right Livelihood Laureates want nothing more than to work with all ages, stages, and nationalities to build movements,” Shaw said. “And the exciting thing about the Right Livelihood College is that it provides unparalleled access to this amazing global network of change-makers who want to collaborate with us.”

Laureates themselves congratulated UC Santa Cruz on accepting the Global Secretariat role and shared what they value about the Right Livelihood College, as well as their hopes for what the program might accomplish in the future. 

“The Right Livelihood College is a globally pioneering initiative that brings together academia and activism. Most importantly, it sprouts a whole new spectrum of changemakers.” Anwar Fazal, Malaysia, 1982 Right Livelihood Laureate, Founder and Inaugural Director of the Right Livelihood College 

“The college provides the opportunity for students as well as professors to engage in vitally important cross-disciplinary dialogue.” Helena Norberg-Hodge, Sweden, 1896 Right Livelihood Laureate 

“The most important thing about the Right Livelihood College is its cross-cutting capacity to bring the understandings and experiences of all our generations to bear on our shared challenges. We’ve never needed the colleges more!” Pat Mooney, Canada, 1985 Right Livelihood Laureate 

“The Right Livelihood College network connects the wisdom of those inspired to bring about sustainable, transformative, and progressive change in our world—the Right Livelihood Laureates—with the world of academia.” —Neshan Gunasekera, Sri Lanka/Sweden, Legacy Holder of 2007 Right Livelihood Laureate for Christopher Weeramantry

“The Right Livelihood College serves a unique purpose in taking the experience and expertise of the many laureates from around the world and making them available to students.”Maude Barlow, Canada, 2005 Right Livelihood Laureate 

"The Right Livelihood College is not a structure designed to do and repeat what the universities do, but rather as an instance of education and multilateral action between laureates, universities, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities fighting for their environment, their health, and their rights."Raúl Montenegro, Argentina, 2004 Right Livelihood Laureate

“It is time to spend resources on peace-building and supporting people to live with dignity. The Right Livelihood College is needed, and more research is required for a better world.” Sima Samar, Afghanistan, 2012 Right Livelihood Laureate  

“Together with the capacity of colleges and laureates, we can change the world and solve burning problems such as climate change and green development.” Shrikrishna Upadhyaya, Nepal, 2010 Right Livelihood Laureate

Over the years, UC Santa Cruz has hosted a wide variety of in-person and virtual events with Right Livelihood Laureates. Faculty have joined laureates on discussion panels and connected over shared research interests, while students and community members have learned directly from laureates and joined the conversation. Laureates have also visited classrooms, and several courses have featured their work as part of the curriculum. Research travel grants are available for faculty and graduate students to visit Right Livelihood laureates and colleges, and there’s a student club that organizes conversations with laureates about pressing local issues. 

Speaker on stage
2003 Right Livelihood Laureate Nicanor Perlas, an activist, writer,
and publisher from the Philippines, teaches a 2019 Right
Livelihood Summer Institute on artificial intelligence risks at
UC Santa Cruz. Photo: Dave Shaw

Campus Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Lori Kletzer believes these types of initiatives through the Right Livelihood Center have made valuable contributions to the UC Santa Cruz academic experience. 

“Our students are the next generation of change-makers, and it’s extremely important that the education they co-produce is informed by global perspectives,” she said. “The Right Livelihood Center at UC Santa Cruz is a great example of the creative ways in which we’re doing that.”

Sharan Sethi, a literature and philosophy major, is the student coordinator for UCSC’s Right Livelihood Center, and she said the Right Livelihood College program has helped her to see herself as part of a global community in ways that she believes will make her activism more impactful. She says the highlight of her involvement with the program thus far has been when she and other UCSC students met with laureate Nnimmo Bassey, an environmental activist from Nigeria whose work focuses on the harms caused by oil production. 

“​​We were able to directly speak with Nnimmo about his work and his ideas for solutions about these environmental issues,” Sethi said. “This was a very fruitful experience, because his talk made me reflect on things I may consider small actions, such as which company I buy gas from, and the larger impact these actions have.” 

Dave Shaw said he ultimately hopes the Right Livelihood College program will inspire students to have hope and to dream big about the impact that they could make in the world. 

“We’re living in a time when more than 50% of young people think humanity is doomed, and there’s so much anxiety around big issues like racial and gender injustice and the climate crisis,” he said. “But it’s important to remember that these struggles are intergenerational, and we are standing on the shoulders of giants. When students work with these laureates and learn how they’ve been able to create substantive change in their lifetimes, I hope they will see themselves as junior versions of them and know that a better world is not only necessary, but possible.”