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“We take our leadership cues from the defenders on the ground—people at grave personal risk—who put themselves on the line for basic rights,” explained Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. In an interview with Kennedy, we discussed the Ripple of Hope Award honoring those whose demonstrated commitment to social change exemplify Robert F. Kennedy’s passion for equality, justice, and basic human rights.
At the end of 2015, over 700 guests attended the Ripple of Hope event at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York City, honoring U.S. congressman John Lewis, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Evercore co-founder Roger Altman, and UNESCO Ambassador Marianna Vardinoyannis--raising over US$3 million.
At Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, what kinds of issues are you tackling and what's on the horizon for 2016?
Building off our successes in 2015 we will continue to work to combat femicide in Central and South America, fight for the rights of Dominicans of Haitian descent, advocate for people of Western Sahara and Gambia, and we are proud to announce a partnership with human rights defender Natalia Taubina, who is on the front lines of dealing with police brutality in Russia.
Exposing injustice, righting wrongs, and teaching change are at the heart of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights. At the same time, leadership seems to underpin all three. How do you think about the role of leadership in fostering social progress and the work you do?
Leadership sets the tone for an organization and also gives it direction when it faces new challenges. Working in the area of human rights this is critical as you never know when a new crisis will need to be addressed or an opportunity to make a real impact will arise. We take our leadership cues from the defenders on the ground—people at grave personal risk—who put themselves on the line for basic rights.
What kinds of activists and advocates have you honored over the years?
We recognize leaders in government, business, and entertainment who are dedicated to social change. Past winners include Al Gore, George Clooney, Hillary Clinton, Bono, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Robert De Niro, Bill Clinton, and Taylor Swift.
This year, you're honoring Congressman John Lewis (D-GA), Apple CEO Tim Cook, Evercore co-founder Roger Altman, and UNESCO Ambassador Marianna Vardinoyannis. Why these particular individuals, and why now?
All of the honorees were recognized because they have been at the forefront of pushing for positive social change.
Since 1986, Congressman Lewis has been a strong voice for social justice and equality in the House of Representatives. As an activist and Chairperson of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, he was a leader in the 1963 March on Washington, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the Selma to Montgomery March.
After Tim Cook was named the CEO of Apple in August 2011, he increased Apple’s charitable donations and been a strong voice for equality, including speaking out against Indiana’s attempts to pass anti-LGBT laws.
As a global activist and philanthropist, Marianna Vardinoyannis is a tireless advocate for children's and family rights. She focuses her work on issues including health, education, social welfare, and combating child abuse and exploitation. Vardinoyannis has worked on these issues in her native Greece and internationally as a UNESCO Ambassador.
And finally, Roger Altman. He began his public service career with his involvement in Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign. He went on to serve in the Carter and Clinton Administrations before founding independent investment bank Evercore. In addition to his work in public serve and finance, Altman commits his resources to improving the quality of public education.