Last year, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and India’s, Kailash Satyarthi were honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for their work as advocates and providers of education for the poor, especially girls. Behind the award was the thinking that if children and youth are educated, they have a stake in society and won’t drift easily into extremism or antisocial activities. Education is a direct contributor towards creation of more peaceful and inclusive societies. Malala’s work can be embraced by all and she has become a ‘brand’ for Education for at basic and secondary levels. She is indeed a symbol and inspiration – and she has just turned 18. The Norwegian Nobel Committee did the right thing when she and Kailash were awarded the prize. We are proud on the sub-continent!

Malala was honored by the Nobel Prize and got fame and fortune. But we should remember that there are many girls and boys like Malala, doing great things in poor and remote areas of Pakistan and elsewhere. Often, I think that people in villages far away from the big cities, or people in the poor areas of the cities, like Kailash, do more for keeping the world afloat and advancing than the rich and powerful. That is a key message behind last year’s prize and Malala’s continued efforts. It is certainly encouraging to be awarded grand prizes, the world’s most prestigious prize, no less. But above all, in whatever we do, it is important to be recognized by family, friends and peers. I hope we remember all the ‘Malalas’ in our everyday lives.

This year, we were not directly in the limelight for the Nobel Peace Prize in Pakistan. But indirectly, we were, because the prize was for democracy and peaceful development everywhere, so we have a share in it.

The Prize went to the National Dialogue Quartet “for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011”. The Quartet began its organized work in 2013 and the prize was awarded jointly to the four member organizations; employers, workers, human rights, and lawyers. The Quartet’s efforts are widely viewed as having played a decisive role in moderate and peaceful follow-up after the Revolution five-six years ago, which ousted the authoritarian Ben Ali-regime, showing that it is possible for Islamite and secular groups to work together and reach results. The work of the Quartet is important for democratization processes everywhere, indeed in North-Africa and the Middle East.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the Nobel Peace Prize, is a group of five highly respected Norwegians, appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, but entirely independent. Naturally, the committee members receive advice and suggestions as for whom to honour out of the more than three hundred nominated candidates annually. The Nobel Institute’s administration carries out massive investigation and background work for the committee. But it is the committee that decides, and its chair says that the final decision is usually only taken in one of the final meetings, before it is announced on the second Friday of October. The award ceremony takes place in Oslo on 10 December with all pomp and pageantry that comes with such an event – often in wintery weather with large crowds of supporters, carrying candles, singing and making the event festive and pleasant.

The Nobel Prize Committee has a new chair this year, Kaci Kullmann Five (64), elected by her fellow committee members. She is a former politician who has already served on the committee for many years. She took over after Thorbjørn Jagland, who is still a member of the committee. He is a former Norwegian prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, and is currently Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The fact that the committee members are usually former politicians, and are appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, does raise questions about the committee’s neutrality and independence. It is underlined that it is indeed independent, albeit it may not seem so on the surface. Still, one could say that the committee represents mainstream Norwegian thinking; liberal, open-minded, international, and very much on the side of poor and oppressed people.

Earlier this year, the former Director of the Nobel Institute, Geir Lundestad (70), a history professor, wrote a book (in Norwegian) about his twenty-five years as secretary to the Nobel Committee, entitled ‘Secretary of Peace’. Without revealing confidential material, his memoir and indeed his ‘off the cuff remarks’ about the committee’s work style, members and former chairs, have created quite a stir in Norway.

Some will say that there is need for peace negotiations to help them to settle it all – whether it is just a storm in a teacup or it has more substantive aspects. However, in our time, openness is important, and the book will hopefully contribute positively to further debate and discussion about the Nobel Peace Prize – what goes on behind closed doors when the world’s most prestigious prize is decided, and what principles that are followed.

Looking back, some of the prizewinners may not have been as deservedly as they should have been, and clear justification has been lacking. Yet, debate about the prize does not necessarily reduce its value and importance.

This year’s prize seems to be more above controversy, at least thus far. Last year’s prize to Malala was not above controversy, yet, it was highly appreciated at the same time. The justification for the Nobel Peace Prize to Mother Theresa of Missionaries of Charity (1979), Wangari Maathai of the Green Belt Movement (2004), and certainly to President Obama (2009), has also been questioned, as well as several other prizes to individuals and organizations. Personally, I find it questionable that international organizations, indeed United Nations organizations, are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One can ask why they should receive such an award simply for doing their job.

Questions are often raised about how well the statutes of Alfred Nobel’s will from 1895 are followed. The prize shall be awarded to the person or persons (up to three) or organization that has contributed most to peace and disarmament in the previous year. Thus, important fields such as education for girls, care for the poorest of the poor, women’s issues, environment, and other ‘modern’ issues, may fall outside what the Nobel Peace Prize should be used for. However, one can also justify awarding the prize to work in such broader areas; they may have more profound structural effects on peace and people’s lives than individual achievements.

As a Norwegian, I am proud that we have the Nobel Peace Prize, and that Norway is put on the agenda, a little country with five million inhabitants, including about 100,000 of Pakistani, Afghan, Iranian, Iraqi, and Indian heritage. But it is much more important than that; it puts peace on the agenda for several days every year; it may inspire us to think and act peacefully the whole year. All of us become a bit better thanks to the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet, we should also note that the prize is honored by humans, good humans, but nevertheless just by humans.