Lara Mitra: How did it feel to be told you had won the Nobel Prize?
Dr. Ostrom: I was very surprised to find out I had been awarded the Nobel Prize. I was not expecting it. It
was a great honor and a great surprise.

Lara Mitra: What are the implications of your research for community service or volunteerism?
Can communities be relied upon to look after the less privileged among them?
Dr. Ostrom: There are no automatic processes that lead groups to engage in community service. What we
know is that when there are individuals who take some of the responsibility for getting people together and
discussing their needs then communities can, and do organize, for that purpose. It is not an automatic
process. Once they get started and begin to get one activity undertaken, they usually can involve other
groups and move on to still others. What is key is getting the trust established that they are actually doing
something and that others will contribute and that together people will make a difference.

Lara Mitra: How can the power of the "commons" be harnessed to address social (not just
environmental) problems? Can you give an example?
Dr. Ostrom: We are looking at the commons as they may relate to healthcare at the initiative of some
scholars who are working on better ways of coping with our healthcare system. While the relationship
between a doctor and a patient is usually "private," if doctors find ways of networking more effectively
with local hospitals, e.g., if doctors have access to patient information across hospitals, etc., they can
reduce the costs of healthcare in a community while at the same time increasing the quality of the service.
This is a recent development, and we will have some further work on this in another 2-3 months.

Lara Mitra: Your work shows that people are capable of acting in the common interest rather than
just their own personal interest. Are there any steps governments or the private sector can take to
ensure that they will?
Dr. Ostrom: No, there are no definite steps. However, if a local government starts taking a real interest
and backs the efforts of neighborhoods and voluntary groups then that can make a big difference. In
Indianapolis, for example, the local government engaged in a rather major tree planting effort. The city
planted the trees at the city's cost. Then the problem was how to get them watered so that they would
survive. Different neighborhoods took this on in different ways, but those groups that decided to meet
regularly every Saturday and water the trees in their neighborhood found this to be the most satisfactory
way. That got them together and talking and learning about other neighborhood activities that needed to be
taken on. In this instance, the city's effort to add more trees to the city started a process that in some
neighborhoods has led to still other voluntary activities.
Interview of Dr. Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate,
2009 Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences
The first political scientist and first woman ever to win this prize!
Dr. Ostrom’s Nobel Prize Winning Research Refuting the “Tragedy of the Commons”

Based on her and colleagues research in Nepal, Uganda, Kenya, Mexico, and other countries, Ostrom shows that "When local users of a forest have a long-term perspective, they are more likely to monitor each other's use of the land, developing rules for behavior." Whereas the "Tragedy of the Commons" had led people to believe that private property was the only effective method to prevent finite resources from being depleted, according to Joseph Stiglitz, Ostrom has demonstrated the existence of social control mechanisms that regulate the use of the commons without having to resort to formal property rights. "What we have ignored is what citizens can do and the importance of real involvement of the people involved," Ostrom explains.

From:; and

  • The Nobel Prizes are widely regarded as the most prestigious awards given for intellectual achievement in the world. Using a fund bequeathed for that purpose by the Swedish dynamite inventor and industrialist Alfred Nobel, they are awarded annually since 1901 ―to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind,‖ one each for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace, and beginning in 1969 for Economic Sciences also.

  • Each Nobel Prize consists of a gold medal, a diploma bearing a citation, and a sum of money, the amount of which depends on the income of the Nobel Foundation (A sum of $1,300,000 accompanied each prize in 2005).

  • Some prizes have been declined by their winners, and in certain instances governments have refused to allow their citizens to accept them. Those who win a prize are nevertheless entered into the list of Nobel laureates with the remark ―declined the prize.‖ Motives for non-acceptance may vary, but most often the reason has been external pressure; for example, in 1937 Adolf Hitler forbade Germans in the future from accepting Nobel Prizes because he had been infuriated by the award of the 1935 Peace Prize to the anti-Nazi journalist Carl von Ossietzky, who at the time was a political prisoner in Germany.

Dr. Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Nobel Laureate
Article From Empower Magazine 5