Ireland, 15 February 2020
The Irish online course providing information about coronavirus (COVID-19) in more than 70 languages is among 23 projects from the EU and the UK that have received the award for their outstanding contribution to fighting COVID-19 and its disastrous consequences.
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) has awarded the Civil Solidarity Prize to the Irish learning platform Alison for its free online course which was developed and published at the very start of the pandemic to educate as many people as possible about the virus, its spread and its effects.
The EESC, an advisory body representing Europe's civil society at EU level, selected the learning platform Alison as the best Irish candidate for the prize, saying that its project Coronavirus: What you need to know stood out as a shining example of solidarity and civic responsibility during the COVID-19 crisis.
The online course was launched in February 2020 when knowledge about the virus was still very scarce and governments were still struggling with how to respond to the looming crisis. With its training programme, which is based on guidelines from the WHO and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and is continuously updated to include the latest information, the Irish platform has given people free access to potentially life-saving knowledge.
The social enterprise Alison was announced as one of the 23 prize winners in a virtual award ceremony held by the EESC on 15 February. Each winner received a prize worth EUR 10 000.
Handing out the prizes, the EESC's vice-president for communication, Cillian Lohan, said:
"The EESC has repeatedly stressed that solidarity and targeted shared action are key to surviving such a pandemic. The only effective response to a crisis such as this pandemic is to act quickly, decisively, and together. There are lessons here for dealing with other crises whether they are social, economic or environmental.
Civil society has been at the forefront of all solidarity actions and without their help on the ground, the price paid for this pandemic would be much higher. All the projects we received are proof of selfless citizen and grassroots engagement, showing the contribution of civil society in this fight to be enormous. With this prize, we are acknowledging the people and organisations making a difference in these unprecedented times. It is an honour to be able to celebrate together".
The awards went to the winning entries from 21 countries of the European Union. One prize was given to a project with a cross-border focus and one to an organisation from the United Kingdom, as a gesture meant to show that the EESC wanted to keep close ties with UK civil society despite the fact that the country has left the EU.
Although the EESC aimed to find a winner in each EU Member State and in the UK, it received no eligible entries for projects in six countries.
The full list of the winners is available below and on our webpage.
The winners were selected from a total of 250 applications submitted by civil society organisations, individuals and private companies. All of the projects had solidarity as their driving force and displayed creative and effective ways of rising to the often daunting challenges posed by the crisis.
Most projects targeted vulnerable groups or people most affected by the crisis such as the elderly or young people, children, women, minorities, migrants, the homeless, medical personnel or employees and employers.
As regards the content of the projects, they focused on five main themes: food supply and assistance to vulnerable groups, medical equipment, advisory services, educational services and information on the pandemic, and culture.
The Irish Winner
The course Coronavirus: What you need to know received the award as one of the entries focusing on the theme of "educational services and information on the pandemic".
The course covers many aspects of the disease in detail and offers advice on how to protect yourself. It was translated into more than 70 languages in less than four months, with the help of 5 000 volunteers, many of whom were immigrants. Approximately 350 000 people had completed the course as of September 2020, with some 100 000 people signing up for it in a single day.
The course is certifiable, which means people can assess how much they have learned at the end. Alison has previously organised courses on SARS, swine flu and Ebola. Its next task will be to come up with courses on learning to live with COVID-19.
"As Europe's largest free learning platform, we understood the opportunity and responsibility upon us to disseminate information and advice about the threat of COVID-19 in January 2020. A learning platform like Alison has the potential to spread certifiable information for the public good extremely quickly in multiple languages," said Mike Feerick, CEO and founder.
"We particularly welcomed the help of Alison's volunteers from Europe's immigrant population, who helped with translations across the world. We see our work, and that of our volunteers, as not just part of an effort of Europeans helping fellow Europeans, but Europeans making a very positive civil society contribution across the world.”
Detailed information about all of the winners and other candidates can be found in our brochure, which is available upon request.
The EESC hopes the Civil Solidarity Prize will enhance the visibility and raise awareness not only of the winning projects but also of many other creative citizens' initiatives taking place in the EU.
"Today, we are not applauding only our 23 winners. We are taking our hats off to all of Europe's civil society and to so many of its organisations, companies and individuals who have shown and who keep showing unprecedented solidarity, courage and civic responsibility in these difficult and trying times", Mr Lohan said.
The projects and initiatives run by citizens and civil society in many ways complemented efforts undertaken by Member States to cushion the blows of the crisis and were even ahead of them in some areas, such as the production of face masks at local and regional level, the EESC said.
Compared to the entries received for the Civil Society Prize in previous years, the EESC saw an increased number of applications from informal or less well-established organisations, which clearly demonstrates the spirit on the ground. There were also fewer entries from some countries that were less severely hit during the first wave of the pandemic or from those with stronger welfare systems.
The Prize Criteria
The EESC launched the prize in July 2020 with the theme "Civil Society against COVID-19", announcing that it would be an exceptional, one-off award replacing its trademark Civil Society Prize. The aim was to pay tribute to Europe's civil society who actively and selflessly engaged in acts of solidarity from the very first days of the pandemic.
The contest was open to individuals, civil society organisations and companies whose projects had to be strictly not-for-profit and not more than 50% publicly funded. They had to be directly linked to COVID-19, specifically aiming to fight the virus or to tackle its consequences.
Each year, the EESC's flagship Civil Society Prize honours civil society organisations and/or individuals whose projects celebrate European identity and common values in a particular field of work. It has been awarded since 2006.