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Social entrepreneur Sarah Lance awarded 2016 Opus Prize

Sarah LanceSarah Lance, a social entrepreneur dedicated to helping women escape the horrors of human trafficking and the sex trade in Kolkata, India, has earned this year’s $1 million Opus Prize.

In a ceremony this evening hosted by Creighton University at the Holland Performing Arts Center, Lance, who founded and runs Sari Bari, a nonprofit business which employs women seeking a new life in the repurposing of the traditional Indian sari, was named the recipient of the 2016 Opus Prize.

Two runners-up, the Rev. Peter Balleis, SJ, representing Jesuit Worldwide Learning: Higher Education at the Margins, helping refugees gain access to higher education; and Sister Anne Jordan, PBVM, spiritual director of Cana Communities Inc., of Sydney, Australia, which ministers to the profoundly marginalized homeless and drug-addicted, each earned $100,000 prizes.

“I am very humbled and honored,” said Lance. "This award is for the women of Sari Bari and the women who have yet to claim freedom.”

Lance, co-founder of Sari Bari, originally started her work in India helping the sick and dying with Word Made Flesh, a faith-based organization making inroads to urban redevelopment in 12 countries on five continents. But as she came into closer contact with trafficked women, she saw a new way to help a population often at the margins of hope and care. Sari Bari seeks the sustainable restoration of the city’s 22 red-light districts and the prevention of continued exploitation of the nearly 60,000 women and children in the commercial sex trade by offering a safe place of gainful employment and providing benefits including health care and education. The $1 million prize will be used in furtherance of Sari Bari’s mission.

University President the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, SJ, said it was a joy and an honor for Creighton to host the prize and he said awareness of the Opus Prize and this year’s nominees has heightened conversation around the University’s mission. “At Creighton, we are men and women for and with others,” Fr. Hendrickson said. “The finalists for the Opus Prize have provided us with inspiration and examples to follow as we continue to propel the University further into the world through our own Creighton Global Initiative and as we broaden and enhance our service programs locally. We heartily congratulate Sarah and wish her the very best as she proceeds with her mission, and we extend thanks for the continued work and faithfulness of Fr. Balleis and Sr. Jordan.”

Creighton has been preparing for the Opus Prize — one of the world’s most prestigious recognitions for faith-based, nonprofit innovation — and its attendant events for more than a year. After an extensive observation process by a group of jurors selected from Creighton faculty, staff and students, the finalists were selected from several nominees scattered around the globe. Creighton faculty and students traveled to each of the three finalists’ sites where this transformational work is being done.

The work of the Opus Prize finalists in the areas of homelessness and addiction, human trafficking and exploitation, and the plight of refugees, worked its way into classroom conversations and panel discussions for the past several months. The 2016 prize’s theme, “Restoring Hope: Lighting the Way Home,” accompanied by a stylized flame, was found on signage across campus.

Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.