Nominating the White Helmets for the Nobel Peace Prize

The Nobel peace prize is a fiercely competitive accolade that dozens of incredible humanitarians are nominated for every year. We believed, and still believe, that the White Helmets are deserving of the award. Once we heard that they had been nominated we wanted to provide a way for people around the world to show their support for the group’s nomination. Although the prize is not decided by public voting, we wanted to provide a way for diverse groups to show their support for the White Helmets’ lifesaving work.

The campaign began with us launching a website calling for the White Helmets to win the prize. It included a petition for people to sign.

The site spotlighted the White Helmets’ incredible work through photos, video, and text, and introduced visitors to individual volunteers risking their lives to save others. The website functioned as a way to teach people about the work of the White Helmets and generate support for their peace prize nomination.

We also worked with friends of TSC with celebrity connections to reach out to influential people to endorse the White Helmets for the prize. A-list celebrities like Alicia Keys, George Clooney, and Ben Affleck were just some of the dozens of famous people who publicly endorsed the group. We secured their endorsements by going through people who knew how to reach them, and what the right approach would be to gain their support.

When reaching out to celebrities and influencers, it’s important to do so at the right time. If there is very little awareness of your issue of the campaign amongst the general public, it’s pretty unlikely that any celebrities you approach will have heard of the issue either. It helped tremendously that the White Helmets’ work had already been covered in some excellent feature pieces, which we could forward on. We reached out to people who had shown an interest in or who had done charity work around issues related to the campaign. This included the Syrian conflict, the protection of civilians, bombardment, refugees, and human rights. Building engagement with celebrities takes time. In the past, we’ve begun by asking someone to retweet or share something on social media, then perhaps sign a petition or an open letter. But other asks might include making a donation, starring in a video, or conducting a high-level visit. It is better to start small and then build upon that relationship.

Major Syrian and international organisations also endorsed the White Helmets for the prize, and the campaign had huge support amongst Syrians, which is so vital to our work. Syrians truly owned this campaign, and we should never lose sight of the importance of securing their support in the work that we do. This campaign provided a public way for Syrians to express their pride in the White Helmets and helped push them on to an even bigger international platform.

The campaign gathered such momentum that the nomination of the White Helmets was covered extensively in the press, with some publications making their own video stories or actively endorsing them for the prize.

The international community has utterly failed Syrians, by failing to protect them from mass atrocities. No Nobel peace prize can erase that. But because symbols can be powerful, the White Helmets should be recognised with this award.

Guardian editorial in support of the nomination

Although we were desperate for the White Helmets to win, we were prepared in case they didn’t. Straight after the announcement, in which the prize was awarded to then-President of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos, we sent out an email asking people to donate to a crowdfunding campaign where we’d raise $1 million for the White Helmets – the prize money they would have received had they won the Nobel.

This final action reflects the overall tone of the campaign, which was hugely positive, celebrating the achievements of the White Helmets, and the love and unity behind their nomination for the prize.

‘It is not the Nobel we long for most, but peace itself’

The White Helmets react to missing out on peace prize

What we learnt

It’s exciting and refreshing to ask people to do something positive; calling for the recognition of heroes as opposed to condemning something.