What Does it Take to Win a Nobel Peace Prize?

Discover the top 12 reasons that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee has selected winners over the past 25 years.

By Jen Lilienstein

gandhi postage stamp

Each October, the world celebrates individuals who embody Gandhi’s plea for humanity to “be the change you want to see in the world.” Even though Gandhi himself never won the award, the Committee did not award the prize the year that he died. The reason they cited for no prize winner was that, “there was no suitable living candidate.” In the twenty-first century, we’ve seen the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a handful of American presidents and vice presidents, a group of countries, organizations, and individuals who have dedicated their lives to helping ALL individuals have a voice that is heard in the world.

The History of the Nobel Peace Prize

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 93 times. Why fewer than one time per year? Because when Alfred Nobel willed his fortune to a series of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace prizes, he made sure to include a clause that read, "If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year. If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation's restricted funds."

This year, the person who wins the award will receive eight million in Swedish krona. So, what does it take to win a Nobel Peace Prize? The Nobel Prize committee must agree that the recipient has conferred the “greatest benefit on mankind” in the previous year. Alfred Nobel spoke about furthering “fraternity between nations” and the “promotion of peace congresses” in his last will and testament. That’s a tall order!

Who Qualifies for the Nobel Peace Prize?

First, other people need to know about your work to better mankind. Each year, the Nobel Committee sends out thousands of letters asking people to submit their nominations. In 2013 alone, 259 individuals and organizations were nominated. It’s from this pool of nominations that the Committee ultimately selects a winner.

Here’s a tally of the top 12 reasons that the committee has given for selecting winners from the past 25 years, which provide an idea of what it takes to receive the award:

  • Peace and Reconciliation - 11 times
  • Human Rights - 10 times
  • Democracy - 9 times
  • Diplomacy between Nations - 5 times
  • Sustainable Economic & Social Development - 3 times
  • Women's Rights - 2 times
  • Non- Violent Struggle - 2 times
  • Using Nuclear Energy for Peaceful Purposes - 2 times
  • Social Justice - 2 times
  • Chemical Weapons - 1 time
  • Climate Change - 1 time
  • Banning Landmines - 1 time 

Many of the recipients of this honor have echoed a similar sentiment to the Dalai Lama’s acceptance speech in 1989. “No matter what part of the world we come from, we are all basically the same human beings. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering. We have the same basic human needs and concerns. All of us human beings want freedom and the right to determine our own destiny as individuals and as peoples.” It’s clear that, if you want to someday be awarded this prize, you must start as soon as possible and begin to make changes in yourself and your community. How could you start affecting this kind of change in your family? How about your school? Could you make an impact of this kind in your community?

Lesson Planet Nobel Peace Prize-Related Resources:

There are nearly 300 Nobel Peace Prize teaching resources on Lesson Planet. Here are a select few stand-outs:

Right On Time! (Elementary school)

Pupil read portions of biographies about human rights activists before participating in a jigsaw activity in which they report out on what they read. They make a timeline of one of the human rights activist's lives. Next, they write a newspaper article from the point of view of the person they researched.

Let There Be Peace on Earth (Middle school)

After they establish criteria for great leadership, secondary learners read a New York Times article about President Jimmy Carter's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Individuals research the lives, achievements, and impact of other Peace Prize laureates and create storyboards for documentaries about them.

Model United Nations (High School)

Young scholars examine current and past problems and situations affecting the United Nations. They explore the life, career, and philosophy of Ralph Bunche, American diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Pupils then prepare portfolios to participate in a model UN activity.