Humanitarian Leaders Celebrate The Task Force’s Contributions to Alleviating Human Suffering

Against the backdrop of a day-long symposium that examined the future of humanitarian action, The Task Force for Global Health was recognized on Sept. 30 for its significant contributions to alleviating human suffering with the 2016 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize.

Throughout the event in New York City, The Task Force’s achievements were honored by some of the leading hearts and minds in global health, development, and social justice. During keynote remarks, former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson cited The Task Force’s value of consequential compassion – linking empathy for others with effective actions – and, in a video message, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, MD, PhD, praised The Task Force’s ability to build effective coalitions.

“The Task Force is a monument to the fundamental truth that movements for social justice for the poor require partnerships,” said Kim. “But they also require courage, a courage born of humility.”

During remarks, Hilton Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Peter Laugharn, who has spent his career working with humanitarian organizations, recalled his first encounter with The Task Force in the 1980s while working on a health program in Mali, West Africa.

“What I didn’t know then was that I was being given a master course in smart solutions by The Task Force,” said Laugharn. “They have transmitted to the farthest corners of the globe, ideas about how to perform this work and how to approach grand challenges. Those lessons have been fundamental to my career and fundamental to thousands of other people.”

The Prize ceremony also featured a panel discussion with Task Force founder Bill Foege, MD, MPH, former Task Force President Mark Rosenberg, MD, MPP, and former CEO of Merck Roy Vagelos, MD, who reflected on the success of the Mectizan Donation Program that was started at The Task Force when Foege accepted Vagelos’ offer to donate the anti-parasitic drug Mectizan for “as long as needed” to eliminate river blindness.

“Coalitions are like marriages. It’s very easy to get into one, but it’s very hard to make it work,” said Rosenberg. “If you can build a coalition where there is trust – where there’s not fear, but there’s a belief in a shared goal and that a rising tide will raise all boats, you can overcome this.”

Foege added, “That’s the trick of coalitions. Instead of gaining turf, you get your satisfaction by being part of a group where everyone has improved and reached certain objectives. When I look at the big lesson from The Task Force, it’s that the thing that holds coalitions together is trust.”

At $2 million, the Hilton Prize is the world’s largest humanitarian award. The Task Force will use the Prize to fund the purchase of a larger headquarters in Decatur, GA.

“The facility that we have identified will help unlock our tremendous capacity to help more people,” said Dave Ross, ScD, Task Force president and CEO, who accepted the Hilton Prize during the symposium. “It will also give us the capacity to move into other areas of global health, specifically noncommunicable diseases where we know there is demand and need for our services and expertise.”

The Task Force joins 20 other Hilton Prize laureates, including global health organizations PATH, Partners In Health, and Doctors Without Borders, as a member of the Hilton Prize Coalition which works to address some of the world’s most pressing humanitarian issues through collaboration.

A video recording of the Hilton Prize ceremony is available here.

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