Jacob von Uexküll, a young Swedish nobleman, founded the Right Livelihood Award in 1980. He felt that it cheapened the Nobel Prize when the award went to the likes of Henry Kissinger and other politicians. What Jacob meant by “right livelihood,” was that the way that one made one’s living did not damage the environment or other people’s livelihood and helped out overall.
I have the honor of being the first winner of this award in 1980, along with Hassan Fathy, an Egyptian architect. My award was for founding our community, the Farm, in Summertown, Tennessee, in 1971, and for founding our overseas relief and development organization, Plenty, in 1974. I donated my $25,000 cash award to Plenty for further project work.
Plenty Bulletin, Winter/Spring 1981: In presenting the award, Jakob von Uexküll cited the Farm and Plenty as “…an example of that Spiritual Revolution which is working to save and change the planet…” von Uexküll also pointed out that Plenty volunteers, who live in the villages with the people they help, “have come to be accepted and trusted, and have been able to help bridge the gap between good intentions and practical help.”
According to von Uexküll, the award “recognizes that the materially poor hold the key to much of the ancient human wisdom, and so it is intended to support those who have invented and developed the practical means whereby traditional societies can maintain their dignity and cooperative values.”