Successful Letten Prize Days

f_Ahh5BR_400x40012-13 September 2018 the Young Academy of Norway, the Letten Foundation and Centre for Development and the Environment, University of Oslo joined forces to celebrate the inaugural Letten Prize, awarded to Indian legal scholar Tarunabh Khaitan. Over the course of two days, a seminar on how research can solve global challenges and prize ceremony were held at the University of Oslo. A festive and colourful dinner at Hotel Continental marked the end of the very first Letten Prize Days. Member of the the Young Academy of Norway and the Letten Prize Committee, Katerini T. Storeng reports from the Letten Prize Days:

Major new Prize for young researcher awarded to Indian equality law expert

Tarunabh Khaitan, a lawyer from India, was awarded the Norwegian-based prize, worth 2 million NOK, or roughly 185000 GBP on September 13, for his contribution to addressing the structural inequalities that undermine social and economic development.

Khaitan´s work was cited in the Indian Supreme Court’s recent historic judgment decriminalizing gay sex, repealing a law dating from British colonial times.

This is one example of how his work has contributed directly to changing the interpretation of discrimination and minority rights, with implications beyond the LGBT community to other minorities discriminated on the basis of religion, caste or gender.

“It makes you proud to be Indian when your institutions do the right thing,” he told his audience at an award seminar in Oslo last week, commenting that he couldn’t have written the judgement better himself even if he had tried”.

The implications of this ruling extend far beyond India, however, not least to all the other Commonwealth countries that are still grappling with the consequences of an inherited British Penal Code that is inherently discriminatory.

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Tarunabh Khaitan receiving the Letten Prize. From left: Magnus Aronsen (Chair of the Young Academy of Norway), Borghild Roald (Chair of the Letten Prize Board), winner Tarunabh Khaitan and Katerini T. Storeng (member of the Letten Prize Committee). Photo Øyvind Aukrust. 

Mirroring the unsung heroes of international development

In many ways, Khaitan´s story mirrors that of a great many other unsung heroes of international development: Growing up in small-town, India, Khaitan’s life might have turned out very differently were it not for a serendipitous exposure to unwanted prospectus for law school that opened up a window of opportunity for addressing the stark inequalities of Indian society – a country where wealth is highly concentrated and discrimination in private employment and housing is legally permitted.

Today, Khaitan is Associate Professor of Law at Oxford, currently on leave to work at the University of Melbourne. Researching across the fields of law, political philosophy and ethics, he is a distinguished academic, recognized for his work on discrimination law. However, as a member of the Letten Prize selection committee, what impressed me most about Khaitan was his strong commitment to not only to understanding, but also to combatting the mechanisms that propagate violence and discrimination based on gender, sexuality, religion and caste.

One of the things that marks Khaitan’s work out is the way in which he has consistently engaged with civil society, politicians and other lawyers. He has helped to shift the conversation on discrimination in India and beyond, and demonstrated what academic research with societal relevance can look like. This is exactly the sort work that the Letten prize was established to support.

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Tarunabh Khaitan in conversation with master of ceremony Asta B. Lydersen. Photo Øyvind Aukrust. 

A prize for excellent research with societal impact

The prize itself is a novel initiative by the Young Academy of Norway, of which I am a member, and the Letten Foundation. It seeks explicitly to recognize the contribution of younger researchers in addressing global challenges across the fields of health, environment, development and equality. In doing so, it honours the legacy of Letten Saugstad, a Norwegian doctor and researcher who, until her death in 2014, fought for her conviction that health, environment and equality in all aspects of human life is key to a sustainable development and a better future for all.

As this year´s awardee, Khaitan was selected from among over 200 candidates – young researchers representing every continent and academic disciplines ranging from chemistry to anthropology. Unusually, because this new global prize will be distributed bi-annually, Khaitan will return in two years, at the moment of the next award, to report on what he has been able to do with the award.

Prize to be used to launch the ‘Indian Equality Law Program’ 

Khaitan will use his prize to launch the ‘Indian Equality Law Program’ at the Melbourne Law School, with an agenda for research training, engagement and dissemination. As Khaitan wrote in his motivation letter for the Letten Prize, India’s democratic institutions, albeit flawed, offer the possibility of change. By training a critical mass of equality scholars, the program he envisions can create a real impact.

The Letten Prize committee hopes that this, and the other awards it seeks to make, will raise public awareness of how research can be used to solve global human development challenges like the ones Khaitan has been addressing in his work.

Winner of the 2018 Letten Prize

In March 2018, the Young Academy of Norway and the Letten Foundation launched the Letten Prize. The purpose of the prize is to recognize younger researchers’ contributions in the fields of health, development, environment and equality in all aspects of human life. The prize of 2 million NOK (ca. 215 000 EUR/260 000 USD) will be awarded biennially to a young researcher under the age of 45 conducting excellent research of great social relevance.

The Letten Prize – a global prize for young researchers

“From the onset, our goal was to create a global prize,” Magnus Aronsen, leader of the Young Academy of Norway, explains. Along with the rest of the Board of the Letten Prize, he is content with the result:

“We did hope to reach a broad audience of young researchers, but we were rather overwhelmed by the response. We did not expect well over 200 applications! With a number of excellent researchers from medicine, sociology, biology and law to name but a few disciplines, the committee has had a challenging task!”


Winner of the 2018 Letten Prize

From the impressive diversity of applicants, a unanimous committee shortlisted five candidates, from whom Tarunabh Khaitan was chosen as the winner:

Tarunabh Khaitan (from India) is affiliated with the University of Melbourne and Wadham College, University of Oxford. He 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 also in other countries. His engagement extends way beyond his academic publishing: he has been active in mentoring young academics from the global South, and founded India’s leading academic law journal.  He has written numerous articles for Indian newspapers and actively disseminated his research in other media. His work has had an impact on law in India as well as in Europe and thus on the society at large.

Khaitan’s achievements meet all the criteria listed in the call for the Letten Prize. He has conducted groundbreaking 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 2018 Letten Prize.” For the full quote, see Winner of the 2018 Letten Prize.

Responding to the news Khaitan notes: “I am very grateful to the Letten Foundation and the Young Academy of Norway for this Prize, which I hope to use towards contributing, in a small way, towards a vision of an India free from unfair discrimination. This ideal, reflected in the principled pragmatism of Dr Ambedkar, the chief architect of India’s pluralistic Constitution, has been a guiding light for my scholarship. I would like to think that Professor Letten F. Saugstad—a refugee herself, who appreciated the role of scholarship in social transformation—would have approved.”

The runners-up for the 2018 Letten Prize

In alphabetical order, the runners-up for the 2018 Letten Prize are:

  • Robert Aldridge (University College London) – public health
  • Nassim El Achi (Global Health Institute-American University of Beirut) – environmental management
  • Sophie Harman (Queen Mary University of London) – international relations
  • Jorge E. Viñuales (Clare College, University of Cambridge) – environmental law

Read more about the runners-up.

Celebrating the winner, runners-up and addressing how research can help solve global challenges, join us for the Letten Prize Days 12-13 September.

Contact persons:

Would you like an interview, get in touch with:

Borghild Roald (Letten Foundation) – email: Phone: +47 950 85 835

Magnus Aronsen (The Young Academy of Norway) – email: Phone: +47 992 68 241

Register for the Letten Prize Days!


The program for the Letten Prize Days 12-13 September is ready! Events take place at Gamle Festsal, at the University of Oslo. 

Check out the full seminar program and the award ceremony on the Letten Prize Days.

The events are open to the public and free to attend. For practical purposes, registration is required. Please register using the registration link

The Letten Prize – vision and history

A new prize for 21st century research

In 2018 The Letten Foundation and the Young Academy of Norway joined forces to establish the 2 million NOK Letten Prize for young researchers.

Research is paramount for solving global challenges. Yet the role of research and the researchers behind changemaking discoveries often remain hidden. Celebrating young researchers’ commitment towards solving global human development challenges, the Letten Prize aims to change this.

A generous prize

The Letten Prize of 2 million NOK will be awarded every other year to a young researcher under the age of 45 who conducts research aimed at solving global challenges within the fields of health, development, environment and equality in all aspects of human life. Aimed at reaching a global audience and funding research of great societal relevance, researchers within all disciplines are encouraged apply for the prize.

A partnership since 2018

Since Professor Letten F. Saugstad (1925-2014) founded the Letten Foundation in 1986, the foundation has funded research in Norway and abroad. According to the Letten Foundation’s board members, Professors Borghild Roald and Sidsel Roalkvam, the prize marks a new era for the foundation. In the years to come, efforts will be concentrated on building up the prize. Both are delighted to have joined forces with the vibrant Young Academy of Norway in establishing the prize.

The Letten Foundation (LF) partnering in up with the Young Academy of Norway (YAN) in 2018. From left: Borghild Roald (LF), Guro Lind (YAN), Ernst Alsaker (LF), Sidsel Roalkvam (LF), Arve Johnsen (LF), Herdis Hølleland (administrator of the prize) & Magnus Aronsen (YAN).

The Young Academy of Norway is equally excited about the new partnership:

‘For us as a young organization, the prize represents a unique opportunity to celebrate both researchers and research: The prize celebrates the commitment of excellent young researchers and will no doubt make a big difference for the winners in the years to come. At the same time, the prize also serves as a platform wherein we hope to increase the public awareness and inform debate on how research can be used to solve global challenges.’

Dr. Magnus Aronsen, Chair of the Young Academy of Norway (2017-2018)

For more information

Keep up to date by following the Letten Prize and the Young Academy of Norway on social media: @lettenprize (FB), @lettenprize (twitter) and @akademietforyngreforskere (FB) @yngreforskere (twitter).