Rep. Lee and Mr. Naidoo, Honored at Shared Interest's Spring Benefit for South Africa

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Patrick Gespard, President of Open Society Foundations, Felicia Mabuza-Suttle, Mayor De Blasio, Donna Katzin, Executive Director of Shared Interest, and honoree Kumi Naidoo. Photo: Shared Interest.

Nineteen ninety four was historic-- it was the year that apartheid in South Africa became unlawful with the election of Nelson Mandela as the country's first Black president. The institutionalized system of racial segregation and unjust governance that dehumanized and impoverished the majority Black population was dismantled. People of good conscience and a disdain for injustice throughout the world rejoiced. In New York, the passion that fueled anti-apartheid activism would lead to the establishment of Shared Interest, a non-profit investment fund, founded by partners with a mission to “invest in Southern Africa’s future.” 

Shared Interest held their 2018 Annual Spring Benefit on March 20 and witnessing the ongoing show of support twenty-four years later, reflected by the sold-out attendance, was a heartwarming experience and a testament to our shared humanity. The benefit was held at The Edison Ballroom with South Africa’s talk show hostess Felicia Mabuza-Suttle presiding over the evening’s program. Ms. Suttle’s joyful, indomitable spirit --typically South African-- certainly set the mode for what was deservedly a 24th anniversary celebration. The current progress reports reflect sustained successes in Shared Interest’s objectives to effect systemic change in South Africa’s low-income communities through agriculture, microfinance, small and growing business, infrastructure & housing sectors. This is the kind of good-will that defines the lives of the event’s 2018 honorees-distinguished individuals recognized for their dedication and commitment to economic democracy, sustainability and women’s empowerment.

Honoree, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Democratic Representative to the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, received the prestigious Champion Award for People and Planet. Her diverse resume ranges from advocacy in the US Congress on issues that address reproductive rights, gender equality, food security, global peace and security to being co-chair of the Sudan and South Sudan Caucus. Her acceptance speech read by Valerie Bo Bradley-who received the award on her behalf- emphasized Ms. Lee’s dedication to her advocacy. “My commitment to women’s empowerment both in the US and Africa has been at the very core of my work in Congress, and I am delighted to be honored by Shared Interest with this award. We have come a long way in valuing the contributions that women make to society at large, but there is still much more work to be done to ensure young women and girls can thrive and succeed. I remain dedicated to the cause of gender equality, which will help not just women, but everyone on the planet” were her reassuring words.

Kumi Naidoo, global activist and former Executive Director for Greenpeace International was honored with the Advocate for Justice Award. A South African citizen, Mr. Naido’s passion for justice began as a young boy living under SA’s apartheid system. He now serves as the Founding Board Chair for the Pan African Civil Society Movement, African Rising for Justice Peace and Dignity. He is a founding ambassador to the Campaign for Just Energy Future and patron of Future SA as well as other portfolios. He has lost loved ones, victims of violence during the anti-apartheid struggle and yet his fervor for advocacy remains palpable and inspirational. There is no doubt that he will be just as passionate when he assumes the position of Secretary General of Amnesty International in July 2018. In accepting this honor, he stated that “The fate of people and planet cannot be separated. I am pleased to accept this award from Shared Interest, which unlocks resources that Southern Africa’s people require to protect their economic and environmental rights. Today, the region’s most vulnerable communities --and some of its largest cities-- depend on making these rights a reality for all.”

New York Mayor Bill De Blasio's surprise, brief appearance, squeezed into his evening schedule, was his stamp of approval and unwavering support for Shared Interest. His remarks, reminiscence on his role as an activist during the anti-apartheid resistance in New York emphasized the virtue of the empathy for those who are disenfranchised.

The musical interlude featured a performance by South Africa’s jazz trumpeter Lesedi “Hugh” Ntsane in a tribute to his muse the late Hugh Masekela- South Africa’s legendary trumpeter and composer of the anti-apartheid protest anthem “Bring Him Home (Nelson Mandela)”. Guests were also entertained by Malawian musician and humanitarian Masauko, whose jazz and genre-diverse renditions were welcomed by the appreciative audience.

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