Lou is CEO of ‘Find a Better Way’, a charity founded by football legend Sir Bobby Charlton, which provides funding to universities undertaking research into better detection systems for landmine clearance, prosthetics, regenerative medicine and better amputation techniques.
“Receiving this award means a great deal to me,” said Lou. “It’s fantastic to get recognised for the work that I’ve achieved.
“On seeing the devastation caused by landmines in Afghanistan at the end of the 1980’s after the Soviet Union withdrew, and realising that people had been maimed and killed when they went back to their villages – with my brother I founded the Mines Advisory Group, which set about training people to clear landmines safely. At the same time we went to form the International Campaign to Ban Landmines with other organisations and in 1997 we achieved our objective and 120 countries signed a treaty in Ottawa banning the production, use and export of all anti-personnel landmines.”
Lou added that the highlight of his career had been being able to train people who’ve lost a limb to landmines to be able to clear mines and make land for their community safe.
Speaking about the advice he would give to students and graduates, he said: “I suppose the best advice I can give someone is to use the skills and the education that you have to better yourself, but also to be grateful to those who helped you get there. Use your skills in a way to help your fellow man and woman and think about the people who will come after you on this earth.”
In the early 1990s, Lou began working on a campaign on landmines and was involved in the early development of the clearance organisation the Mines Advisory Group - MAG, assisting in the setup of the first clearance programmes in northern Iraq, Cambodia, Angola and Laos. From 1995, his work for the campaign, both in the UK and internationally, was focused on conducting research into the countries and companies that were producing and exporting landmines and using many covert ways to find the evidence that could be brought to the attention of the public through the media.
Much of that research provided invaluable evidence for the campaigners in their negotiations with governments. In 1997, 120 governments signed the Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa, Canada. It was the fastest international weapons treaty that had been brought about by coordinated civil society groups drawn from countries on every continent.
In addition, Lou served as CEO to MAG for 14 years. Under his leadership both MAG’s income and its landmine clearance programmes grew substantially. He later established MAG America in Washington DC, opening the organisation’s humanitarian work to new sources of funding.
He has played a key role in the development of landmine clearance techniques which MAG has implemented in more than 35 countries since its foundation in 1989, and has overseen the growth of the organisation into one of the world's leading agencies providing mine clearance, ammunition disposal, destruction and safe stockpiling of abandoned and ignored weapon caches.
In 2007 he was awarded an OBE for services to landmine clearance.
Leeds Beckett University Chancellor, Sir Bob Murray CBE, said: “It is almost impossible to measure the incredible work that Lou McGrath OBE has done at an international level; campaigning against landmines and implementing clearance programmes around the world.
“He has made a difference to the lives of so many people and is an inspiration, not just to our students and graduates – but to us all and we could not be happier to recognise his work with this award.”