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Young Innovators in Social Justice Receive $100,000 Grinnell Prize

October 8, 2014

The 2014 Grinnell Prize — a $100,000 award honoring young innovators advancing positive social change — was presented by Grinnell College on Tuesday, Oct. 7 to founders of two organizations making the world a healthier, cleaner place.

The prizewinners, all under age 40, were selected from among hundreds of nominees from across the globe.

During the awards ceremony late Tuesday afternoon, Grinnell President Raynard S. Kington presented the first 2014 Grinnell Prize to Adam Kircher, 29, and Kiah Williams, 28, co-founders and directors of SIRUM (Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine).

Based in San Francisco, SIRUM bridges the gap between America’s health facilities that discard more than $700 million in unused medicines every year and millions of Americans who go without medications they urgently need but can’t afford. SIRUM’s online platform makes it easy for health facilities to donate their unused medicines to safety-net clinics. This system supplies medicine to as many as 20,000 Americans a year, reducing the volume of wasted medications that require disposal.

In awarding the 2014 Grinnell Prize to Kircher and Williams, President Kington recognized them for their “innovative efforts to improve Americans’ health, mitigate the serious consequences of poverty, and simultaneously reduce environmental harm.”

"We believe that health care a basic human right," Williams said, "and we are thrilled to receive this award to help us to continue to grow our programs and continue to reduce the number of people in this country who skip their prescription drugs due to cost.”

From Medication to Sanitation

President Kington then presented the second 2014 Grinnell Prize to Lindsay Stradley, 33, and her husband, Ani Vallabhaneni, 33, co-founders of Sanergy, which designs, builds and franchises low-cost, high-quality Fresh Life porta-toilets for use in the developing world.

Sanergy uses an innovative business model in which franchisees purchase and independently operate Fresh Life facilities. Sanergy provides operators with training, access to financing and daily collection of waste, which is converted into organic fertilizer and renewable energy. Since 2011 Sanergy has hired 163 local employees, launched 461 franchises and provided more than 18,000 residents of Nairobi, Kenya, with access to affordable, hygienic sanitation.

In awarding the 2014 Grinnell Prize to Stradley and Vallabhaneni, President Kington praised them for  “improving public health and contributing to financial independence and sustainable agricultural and energy practices across East Africa.”

"On behalf of the more than 150 teammates that we have back in Nairobi, Lindsay and I are deeply honored and humbled to accept this award from Grinnell," Vallabhaneni said, noting that the Grinnell Prize will help Sanergy expand its operations.

"Social change, whether it's in San Francisco where Adam and Kiah work, or in Nairobi, where we work, can often seem like a very lonely endeavor," he added. "Over the past couple of days, getting to know the entire Grinnell community that is so committed to social justice is quite refreshing and inspiring."

Prize Honors Innovators Under Age 40

The largest prize for social justice awarded by a U.S. college, the Grinnell Prize is presented annually to leaders under 40 who have devised innovative ways to advance positive social change. Half of each $100,000 award goes to the individual honorees and half goes to their organization.

“When I created the program in 2010, my goal was to honor people who are modeling the Grinnellian ideal of learning in the service of social commitment,” President Kington said. “As the program has matured and thrived, I’ve come to see that it’s also a powerful way to connect our students and community with exceptional young innovators. The winners teach classes and workshops, mentor students and — increasingly — host internships that benefit both organizations and our causes.”

About Grinnell College

Since its founding in 1846, Grinnell has become one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges, enrolling 1,600 students from all 50 states and from as many international countries. Grinnell's rigorous academic program emphasizes excellence in education for students in the liberal arts; the college offers the B.A. degree in a range of departments across the humanities, arts and sciences. Grinnell has a strong tradition of social responsibility and action, and self-governance and personal responsibility are key components of campus life. More information about Grinnell College is available at grinnell.edu.