OMAHA, Neb. (CNS) — Social entrepreneur Sarah Lance has been awarded the 2016 Opus Prize for her work as director of Sari Bari in Kolkata, India, a nonprofit anti-trafficking initiative.

The organization offers “opportunity and hope” to women who have been impacted by Kolkata’s sex trade, or who are vulnerable to trafficking, said an announcement on the award. Sari Bari employs 120 women, training them as artisans in a safe environment. The women transform used saris into beautiful handmade products — blankets, bags, purses, scarves, ties and more — while creating new lives for themselves and promoting freedom for other women.

The prize is $1 million and “will allow Sari Bari to double the number of women working for the organization, as well as expand critical services for members of the Sari Bari family to heal, support and build with each other,” Lance said in a statement.


There were two Opus Prize finalists: Jesuit Father Peter Balleis, of Jesuit Worldwide Learning in Geneva, and Sister Anne Jordan, a member of the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of Cana Communities in Sydney. Each was awarded $100,000. The prize was awarded during a ceremony and reception at the Holland Center, Omaha’s center for performing arts.

It was hosted by Jesuit-run Creighton University and the Opus Prize, one of the world’s largest faith-based awards for social entrepreneurship.

The prize is awarded annually to an individual or organization of any religious background, anywhere in the world. Recipients must demonstrate a pioneering approach to solving the root cause of social problems in their community.

It is presented through a partnership with a university or college “as a way to inspire lives of service,” according to a news release.

Creighton University was selected by the Opus Prize Foundation to administer this year’s award because of the university’s commitment to international service and social justice.

The foundation is a philanthropic organization created by the Opus Group, a national real estate development company with headquarters in Minneapolis and offices across the country.

Creighton students, faculty, alumni and administration all were involved in the 20-month process to identify, nominate and review candidates for the prize. The review process included trips by faculty members and students to see final three organizations in action; those who traveled to the sites had to file reports on their findings.

“In Kolkata, more than 11,000 women are employed in the commercial sex trade, and 40 percent of those women are under age 18,” Joe Rauenhorst, chair of the Opus Prize Foundation board, said in a statement. “Sarah Lance and her team embody the values of the Opus Prize as they offer vulnerable women and girls a ray of hope and inspire others through their work.”


He added that the “entrepreneurial creativity of the Sari Bari business model is the critical element in providing women opportunities for freedom and success.

The two finalists were also honored for their faith and dedication to those in need. Father Balleis’ organization, Jesuit Worldwide Learning, has partnered with Jesuit Refugee Services to provide tertiary education to thousands of displaced people whose lives have been interrupted by natural disasters and conflict.

Sister Jordan is spiritual director of Cana Communities. The Sydney-based nonprofit agency has developed a network of more than 700 volunteers who offer the city’s homeless population a community of care. Recognizing the value and beauty of each person, Cana Communities serves those with the fewest options by providing an emergency shelter, meals, counseling and supportive relationships.