Claremont McKenna College announced today that four-time Olympic gold medalist and nonprofit leader Johann Olav Koss has been awarded the eighth annual Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership. The Kravis Prize, which carries a $250,000 award designated to the recipient organization, recognizes extraordinary leadership in the nonprofit sector. Koss will be presented with The Kravis Prize at a ceremony on April 18 held on the CMC campus.
Founded in 2000 by Koss, Right To Play is a global organization that uses the transformative power of play to educate and empower children facing adversity. Right To Play’s impact is focused on four areas: education, health, peace building, and community development.
Right To Play reaches 1 million children in more than 20 countries through play programming that teaches them the skills to build better futures, while driving social change in their communities. The organization promotes the involvement of all children and youth by engaging with girls, persons with disabilities, children affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as former combatants and refugees.
“We use play as a way to teach and empower children,” Koss says. “Play can help children overcome adversity and understand there are people who believe in them. We would like every child to understand and accept their own abilities, and to have hopes and dreams. But also, to have respect for the person on the other side of the field or who has been on the other side of conflict.”
Henry R. Kravis ‘67, co-founder of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P. and founder of the Prize, says it is important that recipients of the Kravis Prize “have a real and measurable impact in the community. Johann Olav Koss is not only a champion in his native country and a true hero for aspiring athletes, his legacy also now includes transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of children through something as simple as the opportunity to play sports.”
“We seek nonprofits that have a far-reaching, tangible impact,” adds Marie-Josée Kravis, chair of the Kravis Prize Selection Committee. “Right To Play reaches 1 million children and youth through weekly activities, and has trained nearly 12,000 volunteer coaches and 5,000 Junior Leaders to help run its weekly programs. All of these efforts are educating and transforming a new generation, globally.”
Considered one of the best speed skaters in history, Koss made his debut at the 1992 Winter Olympics, where he won the gold in the 1,500 m despite surgery for an inflamed pancreas just five days prior. At the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics he won three more gold medals in his native Norway, setting records along the way. That year, Sports Illustrated named him Sportsman of the Year and featured him on its cover with U.S. Olympic speed skater and gold medalist Bonnie Blair. In the midst of his decorated career, Koss was restless to help and empower children challenged by poverty, conflict, and disease.
Beginning as an ambassador for the organization Olympic Aid, Koss traveled to Eritrea—a country in the Horn of Africa recovering from years of civil war. The trip would change his life. The sight of children playing amongst broken-down tanks with makeshift balls made from rolled-up shirts, struck him deeply.
“I realized there was one incredibly powerful tool that was not being used to help improve their lives,” he says. “Sports.”
Right To Play is supported by a network of more than 300 Athlete Ambassadors–professional and Olympic athletes from more than 40 countries, including ice hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky and retired U.S. basketball player Dikembe Mutombo.
In 2010, acclaimed producer Frank Marshall directed Right To Play as part of “30 for 30,” a series of documentaries inspired by ESPN’s anniversary and featuring 30 of today’s “finest storytellers telling thirty remarkable stories from the ESPN era.” Marshall’s Right To Play captured the story of Johann Olav Koss and aired on ABC last spring. About The Kravis Prize Established in 2006, The Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership recognizes and celebrates extraordinary accomplishment and bold leadership in the nonprofit sector. The Kravis Prize is presented and administered by Claremont McKenna College and Marie-Josée Kravis and Henry Kravis. Mrs. Kravis, an economist, is a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute; Mr. Kravis, founding partner, co-chairman and co-CEO of Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co., is an alumnus and trustee of Claremont McKenna College.
The Kravis Prize Selection Committee, chaired by Mrs. Kravis, includes: Harry McMahon, CMC alumnus and chair of the Claremont McKenna College Board of Trustees, and executive vice chairman, Bank of America Merrill Lynch; Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate in economics and the Thomas W. Lamont University Professor, Harvard University; Surin Pitsuwan, CMC alumnus and former Secretary General of ASEAN; Ratan Tata, chairman, Tata Group; and James D. Wolfensohn, chairman, Wolfensohn & Company, L.L.C., and former president, The World Bank.
Past recipients of The Kravis Prize are: Roy Prosterman (2006), founder of Landesa (formerly the Rural Development Institute); Fazle Abed (2007), founder of Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC); the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) (2008); Dr. Sakena Yacoobi (2009), founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning; Pratham (2010), India’s largest nonprofit dedicated to improving the reading, writing, and basic arithmetic skills of children ages six through 14; Vicky Colbert (2011), founder of the Escuela Nueva Foundation; Soraya Salti (2012) regional director of INJAZ Al-Arab; and also in 2012, mothers2mothers, an organization preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. About Claremont McKenna College Claremont McKenna College (CMC), established in 1946, prepares students for leadership in business, the professions, and public affairs through the liberal arts. The College is home to more than 130 accomplished teacher-scholars who are dedicated to teaching and to offering unparalleled opportunities for student collaboration in the research process. CMC combines need-blind admission, innovative programs, a nine-to-one student-faculty ratio, ten research institutes, and a strong and committed network of alumni, to educate its graduates for a lifetime of leadership. CMC is a member of The Claremont Colleges.
To learn more about Claremont McKenna College, please visit www.cmc.edu. About the Kravis Leadership Institute The Kravis Leadership Institute is the premier academic center for the promotion and understanding of responsible, innovative leadership, providing unique opportunities for students at Claremont McKenna College to develop as outstanding real-world leaders for the public, private, and social sectors. Anchoring The Kravis Prize in the Kravis Leadership Institute allows students to engage with and learn from Prize recipients through lectures and seminars, internships and student projects, course curriculum and research. Right To Play is a global organization that uses the transformative power of play to educate and empower children facing adversity. Through playing sports and games, Right To Play helps children in more than 20 countries to build essential life skills and better futures, while driving lasting social change. Founded in 2000 by four-time Olympic gold medalist and social entrepreneur Johann Olav Koss, Right To Play is headquartered in Toronto, Canada, and has national offices in Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and regional offices in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America. Its programs are facilitated by 590 international staff and nearly 12,000 volunteer coaches.
To learn more about Right To Play, please visit www.righttoplay.com.