Reflecting the Goldmans’ longtime commitment to both philanthropic endeavors and environmental concerns, they envisioned their prize as a way to demonstrate the international nature of environmental problems, draw public attention to global issues of critical importance, reward ordinary individuals for outstanding grassroots environmental achievement, and inspire others to emulate the examples set by the Prize recipients. Before the Prize was launched, Rhoda Goldman said, “We have no idea how important this prize program will turn out to be, but we hope it will be very important.”
The first Goldman Environmental Prize ceremony, timed to coincide with Earth Day, took place on April 16, 1990. Coincidentally, it was also Richard’s 70th birthday. The Goldmans sent out over 3,000 invitations, expecting only a small fraction to attend. Instead, 1,600 people sent RSVPs, and on the day of the event, a lively and supportive audience cheered the first six Goldman Environmental Prize winners, each of whom received a $60,000 cash award with no strings attached (the award has since grown to $150,000). Of that first ceremony, one attendee wrote to the Goldmans, “We came without too much advance thought, mostly out of curiosity, and left an hour and a half later in awe.”
That first year will remain special for the Goldman family. Yet, each year since then has brought its own inspiring moments. In 2001, jailed environmental activist Rodolfo Montiel Flores (Mexico, 2000) was released, in part because Goldman Prize winners and jurors traveled to Mexico to demand his release. In 2003, Marina Silva (Brazil, 1996), a former rubber tapper, became Minister of the Environment in Brazil. In 2004, Goldman Prize recipient Wangari Maathai (Kenya, 1991) received the Nobel Peace Prize, the first environmentalist to win the prestigious prize. Nine months after the 2005 Goldman Prize ceremony Corneille Ewango (Democratic Republic of Congo, 2005) and his wife, Esialambele, named their new daughter Rhoda.