“The jury was impressed by Rupantar’s creative approach of using cultural performances to address sensitive social issues. Rupantar is truly working at the grassroots – mobilizing the most vulnerable in Bangladesh, including women and youth – to help build a vibrant democracy.”

Joe Clark, former Prime Minister of Canada and Chair of the Global Pluralism Award Jury.

Rupantar’s Story

Dressed in colourful costumes, performers sing, dance and play instruments on an outdoor stage. “Human rights are violated time and again,” they sing, “and yet the people are not vocal.”

While entertaining, the performance is also a call to action, urging the audience to claim their rights and protect their vulnerable populations. This is a traditional form of popular folk performance called a pot song. It is also one of the many tools used by the non-profit organization Rupantar to address pressing social issues in Bangladesh.

Rupantar, which means “transformation,” has been working in Bangladesh since 1995. The organization was founded by two individuals from different religions who shared a common vision for a just society. In such a complex setting, Rupantar has adopted a truly holistic approach to encourage social change and promote pluralism. Their work covers five programmatic areas: democracy and political empowerment, peace and tolerance, disaster management and climate change adaptation, children and youth rights, and cultural dialogue through popular media and folk theatre. With a diverse staff of 525, the organization is the largest awareness and social mobilization organization in Bangladesh.

Rupantar works at the grassroots level to empower vulnerable populations to be agents for change in their communities. They are especially successful in mobilizing women and youth leaders. For example, since 1998, Rupantar has helped set up 32 government-registered women’s organizations, empowering women to run for and win seats in local elections. Rupantar has also been successful in implementing the Promoting Engagement and Actions for Countering Extremism (PEACE) initiative, which connects youth from different social groups to promote tolerance and pluralism in their communities. They have run more than 200 faith-based dialogues in which Muslim, Hindu and Christian leaders develop action plans to combat extremism.

Rupantar’s work is extensive. Sometimes it takes the form of a dialogue between religious leaders. At other times, it is a pot song on land rights or a climate change awareness campaign. In such a complex country, their approach has to be multi-faceted. What is constant is the organization’s goal of mobilizing Bangladesh’s diverse population to create lasting peace, stability and vibrant democracy.

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world with considerable religious and ethnic diversity. The country’s history is marked by periods of colonial rule, poverty, famine, ethnic tension, political turmoil and military coups. Bangladesh continues to experience substantial economic and social change and faces a number of challenges, including political instability, corruption and discrimination. In recent years, the country’s social unrest has been exacerbated by violent attacks from extremist groups, reports of abuse by law enforcement and a humanitarian crisis caused by the arrival of approximately 740,000 Rohingya from Myanmar.

Politize! Civic Education Institute

Politize’s Story

A diverse group of youth gather at a university in Brazil to discuss challenges in their communities. They discuss their community’s latest concerns – inadequate public transportation and an increase in traffic. There are many different perspectives in the room but, guided by a healthy dialogue built around empathy and cooperation, the participants come to an agreement about several solutions. They conclude the workshop by developing a public policy proposal.  Proposals from these workshops will be presented to a local congress or mayor’s office, and some will go on to become part of legislation. In Brazil, where consensus between different groups is incredibly hard to reach, and much of the country’s diverse population feels excluded from decision-making, a workshop like this is groundbreaking.  

This is an example of the award-winning Ambassador’s Program from Politize!, a non-partisan, civil society organization that promotes inclusive participatory democracy and fosters a democratic political culture in Brazil. Its mission is to build a generation of conscious citizens committed to democracy. They are bringing political education to anyone, anywhere. 

Brazil is experiencing extreme political and social polarization, which is putting its democracy in crisis. The past decade saw tremendous unrest as millions of people demonstrated against inadequate social services and corruption; elections relied on polarizing rhetoric and fake news campaigns; a presidential impeachment deepened the divide between political parties; the pandemic exacerbated divisions; and an anti-democratic armed insurgency followed a general election. The growing political divide has made it hard for many Brazilians to engage with people who hold different ideas.  

Politize! was established in 2015 to strengthen democratic values, political culture and participation in Brazil. Politize!’s Active Citizenship School Program offers courses on democracy and citizenship for secondary students and trains secondary school teachers on citizenship, democratic values, human rights and governance. In schools, 125,508 students have used their pedagogical materials, which are being disseminated by 2,605 teachers trained by the organization. Their online portal, which has been accessed by 93 million users, increases citizens’ political awareness and strengthens their commitment to democracy in their communities. Politize!’s work has attracted volunteers, bloggers, teachers and students in the thousands, as well as numerous partnerships with state education secretariats. 

At a time of profound polarization and misinformation in Brazil, Politize!’s work to promote civic engagement is crucial. By empowering all of Brazil’s citizens to have their say, the organization is building stronger communities and a healthier, more pluralistic political dialogue that greatly benefits from the rich diversity of the nation.