This fall, three exceptional blind individuals will set off around the world on adventures supported by the inaugural Holman Prize for Blind Ambition.
The three winners, Ahmet Ustunel, Penny Melville-Brown, and Ojok Simon, were selected after a rigorous judging process that narrowed down the applicants to eleven highly competitive finalists. Each winning project embodies its own sense of adventure and ambition – whether it takes the winners around the world or allows them to build and foster social impact in their immediate communities.
Created to honor “blind ambition” in all its forms, the annual $25,000 awards will spring-board future generations of entrepreneurs, adventurers and ambassadors in the blindness community.
With over 200 applicants from 27 countries, The Holman Prize saw stiff competition in its first year. All applicants were required to upload 90-second YouTube videos to pitch their idea for a dream project with a budget up to $25,000, and later asked to submit formal proposals.
Named after the 19th century explorer James Holman (known around the world as “the blind traveler”) The Holman Prize aims to launch worthy projects that will change the public perception of blindness for years to come.
“We are thrilled to support these three individuals,” LightHouse CEO Bryan Bashin noted Thursday with the announcement. “They are all incredibly ambitious in different ways, and their projects will have a real effect on the way blindness is perceived globally. I think about Ahmet’s determination, Penny’s cultural savvy, and Ojok’s entrepreneurial spirit – this is what blindness looks like today. These three will change minds about what blind people can accomplish.”
The 2017 Holman Prize Winners
The Three Holman Prizewinners will fly to San Francisco in September 2017 for a week-long orientation before starting their projects on October 1. Once they land in San Francisco, the winners will not only meet and learn from each other, but will engage with other blind teachers, technologists and leaders from LightHouse’s extended network. The winners will also create comprehensive plans to document and share their experiences along the way through video, audio, writing and other storytelling mediums.
Ahmet Ustunel’s project has a clear, unprecedented goal: to kayak solo, without eyesight, from Europe to Asia. With potential for a dramatic climax and high stakes, Ahmet’s daring proposal to cross the 3-mile Bosphorus Strait caught the attention of the Holman Prize Committee. By training in California and working to develop a suite of non-visual guidance technology to thrive on his own in the water, Ahmet hopes to join the ranks of other great blind outdoor heroes such as Erik Weihenmayer, Lonnie Bedwell and others.
Penny Melville-Brown has a project with a universal focus: food. With a deep belief in the power of food to connect people, Penny’s project is a bid to claim a place at the stove for blind chefs everywhere; her intentions are less about competition and perfection and more about connecting with others through culture and shared experience. Maybe she’s the blind Julia Child, or the blind Anthony Bourdain; either way, as Penny documents her travels and successes in her series, “Baking Blind,” the world will follow along with her.
Ojok Simon will take on a drastically different kind of project than his fellow winners. Ojok seeks to raise employment rates for blind and partially sighted individuals in rural regions of his home country of Uganda. His method? Teach them a very specialized and somewhat unlikely skill: beekeeping. For decades, Ojok has been a passionate beekeeper finding ways to tend bees in nontraditional and non-visual ways. Ojok wants to impart his warm attitude and entrepreneurial spirit on other blind individuals in Africa and abroad, rather than seeing them relegated to poverty and reliance on charity.
The LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, which is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, is actively seeking sponsorships and support for the 2018 Holman Prize, including donations of equipment for the winner’s projects. To offer your support, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Individuals may donate any amount using LightHouse’s secure form. For sponsorship inquiries, email us or call +1 (415) 694-7333.