Award Ceremony for Haitian Conservationist Marks 10th Anniversary of Stanford Bright Awards

Award winner Anderson Jean discusses the challenges of advocating for the environment in Haiti

On June 1, Haitian conservationist and biodiversity champion Anderson Jean received Stanford University’s highest environmental prize, the Bright Award for Environmental Sustainability. The award ceremony and panel discussion marked the 10th anniversary of the annual award, established by a gift from Stanford Law School (SLS) alumnus and lifelong conservationist Raymond E. Bright, JD ’59, who passed away in 2011.

Bright Award winner Anderson Jean presented with the Bright Award by Professor Buzz Thompson

Bright Award Committee Chair Barton “Buzz” Thompson, Jr., the Robert E. Paradise professor of Natural Resources Law, professor in the Doerr School of Sustainability, and senior fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment, welcomed the audience at the evening awards ceremony. The Bright Award recognizes “unsung environmental heroes” around the world who have made significant contributions to preservation and sustainability, Thompson said. 

Jean was named the 2022 winner last August, but the award ceremony was delayed due to challenges in securing a visa for him to travel to the United States. The long wait to celebrate did not dampen Jean’s emotions. The founder of Action Pour la Sauvegarde de l’Écologie en Haiti (ACSEH) (Movement for the Preservation of Haitian Ecology) discussed his sometimes-dangerous role as one of the country’s few advocates for biodiversity, conservation, and the protection of endangered island birds. 

‘Haiti Doesn’t Want Someone Like You’

Anderson told the audience that in Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, simply leading groups of researchers through the dark countryside to study nocturnal animals often invites suspicion and even threats of violence. “They can only imagine I am a cattle thief. No one else would be out in the dark,” Jean said. “Many times I have to talk for hours to people who are very angry and try to explain what we are doing. They would bring machetes and would call me a ‘devil’ or a ‘cattle stealer.’ I would hear often, ‘Haiti doesn’t want someone like you.’” 

The stress of advocating for the environment in a country where most people are simply struggling to feed their families takes an emotional toll, he said, despite the unwavering support he has received from his family. (Jean began his remarks with an emotional thank you to a “very good mom.”) He recalled how he would turn to YouTube videos of speeches by Barack Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger for motivation and encouragement. 

“In one video, Schwarzenegger said, ‘Don’t listen to the naysayers’ and so I went to Google to look up ‘naysayers,’ and I said to myself, ‘Ah, yes, that is it! That’s what I’m fighting against.’ And since then, I have had my ears plugged to the naysayers.”

Among the evening’s attendees was 2020 Bright Award winner Maria Azhunova, an indigenous Buryat conservation leader from Mongolia.

Read more about Anderson Jean

A Decade of Honoring Heroes of Conservation and Sustainability

Since 2013, the Bright Award winner has been chosen annually from one of 10 rotating regions worldwide, based on recommendations from regional consultants and a nominating committee composed of Stanford Law School faculty and students. Prior winners were:

  • Tasso Azevedo, a social entrepreneur from Brazil working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;

  • Art Sterritt, a conservationist from British Columbia working to save the Great Bear Rainforest and create jobs for the Coastal First Nations;

  • Polly Courtice, the director of the Cambridge University Institute for Sustainability Leadership, who is training business leaders in sustainable practices;

  • Tom Lalampaa, the chief programs officer of the Northern Rangelands Trust, who is working on conservancy management and community development in Kenya;

  • Andrij Zinchenko and Roman Zinchenko, two entrepreneur-brothers developing energy solutions at a grassroots level in Ukraine;

  • Gidon Bromberg and Munqeth Mehyar, two peacebuilders working together on water conservation and security in the Middle East;

  • Aisha Khan, a climate activist who led multiple efforts to restore and preserve the high mountain regions of Pakistan;

  • Maria Azhunova, a conservation leader using Indigenous knowledge to drive conservation projects in Eastern Russia and Mongolia: and

  • India Logan-Riley, an Indigenous climate youth leader working for climate action and Maori sovereignty in New Zealand.

Conservation in the Face of Poverty

From left to right: Greg Dalton, Anderson Jean, Ursula Parilla, and Rodolfo Dirzo

Following Jean’s remarks, he participated in a panel discussion on “Conservation in the Face of Poverty” with Rodolfo Dirzo, professor in Stanford’s Biology and Earth Systems departments and associate dean of the Doerr School for Sustainability, and Ursula Parilla, regional director for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean at the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Greg Dalton, founder and host of the Commonwealth Club’s Climate One podcast, moderated. 

The wide-ranging discussion touched on challenges to defending the environment in the Caribbean and Latin America, specific hurdles faced by women environmentalists, and how to balance the mandate to move away from fossil fuels against the demands put on the environment for certain resources, including copper and lithium, required for electrification. 

Watch the panel