Finalists (L-R) Jo Cox, Margaret Simpson, Marcelline Budza
Three female humanitarians – including a young Congolese woman working to empower women, Jo Cox – the MP killed in her Yorkshire constituency last year, and a woman who has helped change lives for disabled people in the Scottish Borders – are all in the running for this year's Robert Burns Humanitarian Award, which will be announced in Alloway on Sunday (29 January).
Part of the annual Alloway 1759 celebrations, the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award – supported by South Ayrshire Council and Scotland's Winter Festivals – recognises courage, commitment, inspiration and hands-on humanitarian efforts from people of any nationality, race, age or gender.
As the country gears up to celebrate Burns' Night tomorrow (25 January) – the 258th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns – Marcelline Budza, Jo Cox and Margaret Simpson MBE have all been shortlisted as finalists for the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award 2017.
They were among more than 50 nominations received for people who have saved, improved or enriched the lives of others or society as a whole, through personal self-sacrifice, selfless service or direct humanitarian work.
Judges selected this year's finalists for the difference they have actively made for others:
The first finalist for 2017 is Marcelline Budza, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Marcelline founded the women's coffee producing association Rebuild Women's Hope in 2013. In a country considered the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman, Marcelline has helped many women regain their economic empowerment as coffee farmers and become active participants in society and the economy. More than 1,000 women are now registered as farmers and subsequently sell their coffee to Coffeelac SARL (the DRC's largest Arabica coffee export company) for international distribution through Falcon Coffees in the UK.
Marcelline said: "I'm really delighted about my nomination and my work with women in the Democratic Republic of Congo."
Andreas Nicolaides from Coffelac, added: "We have worked to create a commercial partnership that uses coffee as a vehicle to create social impact. What I have appreciated the most and respect about Marcelline and Rebuild Women's Hope is that they are not sitting around waiting for handouts – all they want is an opportunity to work. They want to be in control of their own destiny and this is inspirational for all of us."
The second finalist is Jo Cox, the former MP for Batley and Spen. Jo spent her entire life working to make a difference for others. She spent much of her career working in a variety of humanitarian roles before being elected as an MP. She worked to use her position for the good of everyone – and was well known for her support for refugees. Jo was killed on 16 June 2016. Millions have been raised in her name since then to ensure her good work continues.
Jo's sister Kim Leadbeater said: "We are delighted that Jo has been nominated for the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award and extremely grateful to the South Ayrshire Council and EventScotland for recognising the work Jo did during her lifetime. Jo was driven throughout her life by her desire to help. Her commitment to making the world a better place was never without a winning smile and her great sense of fun."
The last of the three finalists is Margaret Simpson MBE from the Scottish Borders. Margaret used her own experience to inspire the creation of Disabled Persons Housing Services (Borders) almost 20 years ago. DPHS provides a one-stop shop on all aspects of housing for people with a disability. She also created Scottish Borders Social Enterprise Chamber, which has helped people with disabilities gain employment. Margaret has worked tirelessly to highlight issues for people with disabilities, actively campaigning for improvements.
Margaret said: "I cannot say how absolutely proud I am to have been nominated and considered for this wonderful award. Robert Burns was the hero of both my grandfather and father who always reminded us of what he achieved in his short life and they would have been so proud of my nomination. I really do what I do to just try and make a difference and could not do it without my family and my team."
Bill McIntosh, Chair of the RBHA judging panel and Leader of South Ayrshire Council, said: "These three very worthy women are all very different and have carried out their humanitarian works in very different ways. However, the one thing they have in common is that they well and truly live up to the principles and ethos of Robert Burns and are devoted to delivering social change on the ground and making a real difference for others.
"They have all shown a clear passion and commitment to human rights and a determination to battle inequality, injustice and intolerance. I'm very proud to see such a strong line-up for this year's Robert Burns Humanitarian Award and I wish them all the very best of luck."
The winner of the Robert Burns Humanitarian Award will be announced at the awards ceremony and celebration concert on Sunday 29 January 2017 at the Brig O'Doon Hotel in Alloway – the birthplace of Burns.
As well as the RBHA 2017 title, winners receive the equivalent of 1759 guineas (approximately £1,800) – a sum which signifies the year of the Bard's birth and the coinage then in circulation.