Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 2011


This profile was prepared when Harry Jonas was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2011.
The New Idea
Convinced that indigenous peoples and rural communities have long possessed customary laws that establish clear rules for how they manage and share their natural resources and traditional knowledge, Harry is partnering with these communities to help recover, organize, and “translate” these customary laws into their formal equivalent. Dubbed Bio-cultural Community Protocols or BCPs, these more formal versions of customary law then serve as innovative tools to articulate the concerns of communities in a language and a format that is comprehensible to lawmakers and other stakeholders, and thus, commands greater attention, transparency, and accountability in all legal processes. In other words, armed with BCPs, communities now have a concrete way to assert their rights when engaged in formal dialogue with the government or private and research sectors about their natural resources and/or traditional knowledge.

Not only is this placing natural resources back in the hands of communities, but through his BCPs and advocacy work at the community, national, and international level to ensure the widespread recognition of these new legal instruments, Harry is effectively creating a new way of looking at community justice and environmental law altogether. He is transforming the way the legal profession thinks about empowering communities, and spearheading a new field of public interest environmental law that places community rights at the heart of the legislation process rather than at the periphery.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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