Published Jan 1, 2007 8:00 AM

11. Seeds of Success

What: The Goldman Environmental Prize

Who: Philanthropists Richard and Rhoda Haas Goldman

Impact: The Goldman Environmental Prize, also called the "Green Nobel," recognizes and funds grassroots environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America. The prize is the most lucrative environmental award in existence, a no-strings-attached $125,000 for each recipient. Last year's winners include China's Yu Xiaogang, who documented the socioeconomic impact of dams on Chinese communities, and pushed the Chinese government to pay additional restitution to displaced villagers. Craig Williams, of Kentucky, also received the 2006 prize, for persuading the Pentagon to stop plans to incinerate old chemical weapons stockpiled around the U.S. and for building a nationwide grassroots coalition to lobby for safe disposal solutions.

Eureka moment: One morning over breakfast in 1988, philanthropist Richard Goldman was reading an article in the San Francisco Chronicle announcing the winners of several Nobel Prizes, when he noted what he believed to be a glaring omission. There was no prize honoring the efforts of grassroots environmentalists. Two years later, the first Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony was held on April 16 — Earth Day. Also, happily, Richard's 70th birthday. The prize, he says, is "proof that ordinary people are capable of doing truly extraordinary things."

— Carrie Ching