Letten Prize Winner 2018

Tarunabh Khaitan

The Letten Prize Committee met on June 24 in Oslo to identify the top candidates and the winner of the Letten Prize 2018.  Five of the long listed candidates were found to be significantly better qualified for the Prize than the other candidates. These are (in alphabetical order) Nassim El Achi, Robert Aldridge, Sophie Harman, Tarunabh Khaitan, and Jorge E. Viñuales. Among these five candidates, Tarunabh Khaitan was ranked as number one due to his outstanding achievements within the fields covered by the call. The proposal put forward to the Board of Letten Foundation is that Tarunabh  Khaitan be awarded the Letten Prize 2018.

This was an unanimous decision on the part of the Letten Prize Committee.

For shortlisting and ranking of candidates the Prize Committee used the following criteria:

  • The successful candidate should conduct research aimed at solving global challenges within the fields of health, development, environment and equality in all aspects of human life
  • The successful candidate should be able to document excellent research of great societal relevance
  • The successful candidate should be younger than 45 years of age at the time of the award

These are the criteria embedded in the call for the Letten Prize.

The Prize Committee also took note of the fact that the call looks for candidates that 1, have conducted research with impact across national borders; 2, have engaged in interdisciplinary research; and 3, have demonstrated their proficiency in science dissemination. In addition, the Prize committee placed emphasis on the potential of the candidates´ future research, as judged from the descriptions of research activities enclosed with their applications.


Tarunabh Khaitan

Tarunabh Khaitan (born 1981 in India) is affiliated with the University of Melbourne and University of Oxford and works across several disciplines including discrimination law, constitutional law, legal theory, political philosophy, democratic theory, constitutional design, and ethics. In his scholarly activities Khaitan has brought to the fore the stark and unjust inequalities that characterize present day society, not only in his native India but in all countries of the world. His engagement extends way beyond his academic publishing: he has been active in mentoring young academics from the global south, and he has founded India’s first academic law journal.  He has written numerous articles for Indian newspapers and actively disseminated his research also in other media. It is clear that his work has had impact on legislation in India as well as in Europe and thus on the society at large.

Khaitan writes that he will use the prize money to launch an “Indian Equality Law Program” hosted at the Melbourne Law School. While focused on India, the program will surely impact other societies where injustice and inequity are as widespread and rampant as in India. Khaitan emphasizes the need to understand and combat the mechanisms that underlie violence against women and LGBTQ persons, as well as the mechanisms that propagate discrimination on the basis of religion and race. The proposed program focuses on supervision of doctoral students and early career scholars. The Prize Committee felt that this program holds great promise and that it is very much in the spirit of the Letten Prize.


Khaitan has published two books and numerous articles and book chapters with documented societal impact. His book “A theory of discrimination law” was cited before the UK supreme court and by the European Court of Human Rights and informed the Anti-Discrimination and Equality Bill in India’s parliament.

In sum, Khaitan’s achievements meet all the criteria listed in the call for the Letten Prize. He has conducted ground breaking research on the root causes of inequality and injustice – a research that is undoubtedly of great relevance and that addresses one of the major challenges of present day society. His work bears on several of UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, not least goal 10 (reduced inequalities) and 16 (peace, justice, and strong institutions). It is clear that his research has had – and will continue to have – an impact across national borders. His research is truly interdisciplinary in nature, and his proficiency in science dissemination is well documented. His work serves as a sterling example of research that combines scientific excellence and rigor with a true social engagement. Tarunabh Khaitan will stand as a worthy recipient of the Letten Prize 2018.


Shortlisted candidates for the Letten Prize 2018


Nassim El Achi,

Nassim El Achi (born 1985 in Lebanon) is affiliated with Jinan University. Her fields of research are water and environmental management, and water and energy policy. She states in her application that it is a major aim of hers to mitigate water insecurity of marginalized communities in Lebanon. El Achi has a PhD in chemistry and obtained an MSc degree in water management at the University of Oxford. Her work has addressed how water supply is managed in the Middle East – a complex issue that is relevant also for other parts of the world where water is in short supply. She writes in her application that the results of her work will be published in the course of 2019.

El Achi has joined the Lebanese Committee for Environment and Sustainable development (LCESD) so as to put her skills to good use for the Lebanese society. She is involved in a project that aims to ensure equitable access to piped water in Tripoli. In another project she hopes to mitigate water insecurity among Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

The latter project is the one she describes in more detail. The project is based on harvesting of rainwater. The technology is not original by any means, but has not been adopted in Lebanon thus far. The implementation of rainwater harvesting necessitates a change in culture and behavior and thus entails challenges that go far beyond the technological ones.

Syrian refugees now amount to near 25% of the total Lebanese population and it is an issue of urgency to ensure adequate water supply to the refugees as well as to the local residents. In this context the work of Nassim El Achi is of utmost importance. Her work should be seen as an integral part of the peace building process in the Middle East.

Nassim El Achi is still early in her career but has published 12 papers already and has received awards for her communication skills as well as for the quality of her PhD.

Nassim El Achi is a chemist who has seen something bigger. She uses her education and skills for the benefit of marginalized people. While focused on the Middle East, her work has impact far beyond this region. Scant water resources fuel distrust and conflicts in many parts of the word, creating an urgent need for new approaches to secure clean and safe water supplies. This is not so much a technological challenge as a political and cultural one. Nassim El Achi is a highly qualified runner-up for the Letten Prize.


Robert Aldridge

Robert Aldridge (born 1977 in the UK) is affiliated with University College London. His fields of research are epidemiology, public health, migration, and data science. His interest in migration is both timely and relevant in the context of the present call. Aldridge is spot on when he asks for better data, evidence and accountability in the current discourse on migration.

Aldridge is member of the Lancet Commission on Migration and Health. In this capacity he has studied health outcomes for international migrants. He has identified significant voids in our knowledge of this important issue. There is an urgent need to attend to migrants’ right to health and to come up with the data that are needed for sound decision making.

Aldridge has made significant contributions in this field. He has examined the risk of tuberculosis among international migrants and showed how this risk can be alleviated by improved screening. This work has informed new guidelines and has received much attention internationally.

His research plan is focused on the establishment of a Migration and Health Observatory. The idea is that this observatory will provide data on the size and health outcomes of the world’s migrant populations and create a monitoring framework within the realm of UN’s sustainable development goals.  The Observatory will also develop a training program set to challenge prejudice and racism in the public discourse on migration and migration politics. Accountability will be another key issue for the proposed platform.

Aldridge has published in leading international journals including the Lancet and has worked creatively across disciplines to shed light on the health challenges of the migrant populations. He has an impressive track record when it comes to academic and clinical experience and is the recipient of several prizes and awards. His work goes back to the roots of epidemiology as a discipline set to highlight social inequality.

In sum, Aldridge has addressed one of the major challenges in present day society – the health and health care of the world’s migrant populations. He has worked across borders and disciplines and has impacted international guidelines. His plan for a Migration and Health Observatory is original and timely. Aldridge is a highly qualified runner-up for the Letten Prize.


Sophie Harman

Sophie Harman (born 1981 in the UK) is affiliated with Queen Mary University of London. Her fields of research are international relations and global health with focus on feminism and global governance. She has received several awards for her work.

In her application she emphasizes her interest in addressing global challenges in the fields of global health and gender equality, with particular reference to HIV/AIDS and Ebola, as well as global health governance, gender, and African agency. Sophie Herman has published six books and more than 20 peer reviewed articles within these fields, and has also been active in science dissemination. She has documented experience in research leadership, in organizing conferences and workshops, and in PhD mentoring. Sophie Harman has provided advice to WHO and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and has established an NGO that enables people in rural Tanzania to access health care for HIV.

Harman’s research program sets out to develop a feminist approach to global health governance. She is right in pointing out that there is a need to explore how feminism and feminist theory can be applied to promote global health and health equity. The research program is described in rather general terms but is detailed enough when it comes to the dissemination aspects.

In sum, Sophie Harman is a qualified runner-up for the Letten Prize. Global health governance is certainly center stage when it comes to present day global challenges, and her work has had – and will have – significant societal relevance. She is working across disciplines and she excels when it comes to science dissemination. Her research is highly relevant for UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and for goal 3 and 5 in particular. Sophie Harman is moving beyond the academy with a strong commitment to make a significant impact on global governance for health.


Jorge E. Viñuales

Jorge E. Viñuales (born 1976 in Argentina) is affiliated with the University of Cambridge. His fields of research are energy transition, water-food-energy nexus, climate change policy, environmental law and policy, and international law. His work and interests are truly interdisciplinary with a clear focus on major global challenges including climate change and energy transition. In his application he emphasizes his interest in the governance of sustainability transitions. This is certainly one of the most challenging issues embedded in UN’s sustainability development goals.

Jorge E. Viñuales is the founder of the Cambridge Center for Environment, Energy, and Natural Research Governance (C-EENRG). This is a truly interdisciplinary initiative that brings together engineers, physicists, ecologists, lawyers, economists, political scientists, and historians. The Center focuses on the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy with due attention to the risk of entering an era of widespread resource scarcity.

The proposed project includes a visiting fellowship scheme and expansion of the research to the water-health relationship. Efforts will be made to integrate economy, technology, and climate change in models that can be put to good use by political decision makers and that represent a significant advance over current models that often focus rather one-dimensionally on the carbon price. The planned research has implications across geographical borders and embodies a realistic and distinct dissemination component. Current dysfunctions in global governance are identified and will be duly addressed in the proposed research. The implementation plan appears somewhat premature and would have benefited from a more detailed description.

Jorge E. Viñuales has an impressive track record when it comes to publications and outreach. He addresses some of the most complex and pressing global challenges of present day society by drawing on a broad range of disciplines. He is a qualified runner-up for the Letten Prize.