5 Questions for Judy M. Miller, Vice President and Director, Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize
October 8, 2015
(At $2 million, the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize is the world’s largest humanitarian award and is presented to organizations judged to have made extraordinary contributions to alleviating human suffering. Judy M. Miller oversees all aspects of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, from the nomination and evaluation process to the final selection of recipients by an independent international panel of jurors.)
Transparency Talk: Anniversaries are often a moment when foundations reflect on the past and open up around lessons learned from their work, and then share that knowledge and that body of work in new ways publicly. It seems like Hilton is undergoing one of those kinds of moments now, both with the 20th anniversary of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, and also with your leadership transition. Can you talk about how those milestones have contributed to taking stock of the Humanitarian Prize and informing new directions, such as the new Coalition?
Judy Miller: Just like in any other field, practice and experience make us better at our jobs, and input from our partners helps us to be more effective. As we embarked upon the 20th year of awarding the Hilton Humanitarian Prize, we looked to our Laureates to see how the Prize had shaped their paths – what doors it opened and how it enabled them to grow. The 19 past prize recipients are some of the most effective and prestigious humanitarian organizations in the world, and what we found when talking with them was that this group had become quite a formidable, yet informal network. On their own, they started partnering with each other as they learned about each other through our annual Hilton Prize events. Soon it became clear that beyond just one or two of their organizations, they saw that even very disparate organizations could join forces to leverage their work and maximize the use of their resources.
So it became clear that there was tremendous value in further developing the network that our laureates had formed, as strengthening those bonds could only magnify our collective efforts to alleviate human suffering. At the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, we are always reflecting on how we can amplify the impact of our work. The 20th anniversary of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize was certainly an impetus for more of that reflection.
TT: The Hilton Humanitarian Prize awards an organization rather than an individual. Can you explain the strategy behind that choice? Prizes are typically designed to recognize specific leaders, so this seems somewhat unique.
JM: This was purposeful. Since most individual prizes are recognizing the past accomplishments of the recipient, by selecting organizations, we wanted to identify those that were already doing great work, but utilize the Prize to increase their exposure so that they could attract support to innovate and expand even more. By focusing on organizations rather than individuals, we can actually contribute to building their capacity, and with the unrestricted Prize money they can test new ideas to improve the quality of their services. We’ve seen tangible results from this approach. For example, BRAC, our 2008 Hilton Humanitarian Prize Laureate, used their grant money to expand their anti-poverty program into South Sudan, where they have built a microfinance operation and continue to work on small enterprise development. In just the past seven years, BRAC has reached an estimated 50,000 people in South Sudan who were in desperate need of help. This is the kind of impact we want the Hilton Humanitarian Prize to have, and we have watched our Prize Laureates accomplish this and more as they’ve grown through the years. While there are certainly individuals working in this field of humanitarian work who deserve recognition, the Hilton Prize is meant to facilitate and improve, as well as recognize excellent humanitarian work.
TT: Prize philanthropy is often, by design, shrouded in secrecy—from the selection process to the jury. Your website actually lists its current and past jury members. Can you talk about why you made the choice to be transparent about these behind the scenes elements of the Prize?
JM: We are very proud of the panel of independent, international jurors who are at the top of their respective fields and meet in person each year to deliberate on selecting the prize recipient. They take their role very seriously. While the selection process itself remains discrete, we do not feel the need to hide the people who are making the final decisions. In fact, we take pride in their distinguished credentials and know that the individual Laureates selected feel honored that this prestigious group had selected them. Our current panel includes a Nobel Prize-winning economist, a former Prime Minister of Norway who also led the World Health Organization, one of the most prominent philanthropists in Africa who focuses on education, and a former leader of UNICEF. Previous jurors held equally distinguished credentials.
TT: Your recent announcement to create a network or Coalition of your Humanitarian Prize winners seems a great way to extend the value of the Prize beyond the monetary and profile-raising value, since it’s a way for organizations to build peer networks that contribute to shared learning. Can you speak to some of these aspects and your hopes for how this group of organizations will learn from one another, and how you are supporting them to best enable them to live up to that potential?
JM: Given today’s global challenges, often many issues are simply too large or complex for any single organization to handle, particularly in such areas as disaster response where collaboration in the field is essential for impact and efficiency. We recognized the unique opportunity for our Laureates to join forces in the field because they already know and respect each others’ accomplishments, and each organization’s work is very diverse so they can address multiple areas of need. Key to supporting their efforts was funding a Secretariat to be the backbone behind what the Laureates wanted to accomplish together. Individual Laureate organizations do not have personnel to devote to the organizational or fiduciary role, which is needed. As a unique collective force with common goals, we are confident their experiences will produce learning that will contribute to the entire humanitarian field.
As for financial support of their combined work, the Foundation has dedicated $2 million to kick-start the implementation of two new, signature programs already identified by the Laureate Coalition to be priority issues.
First, the Hilton Prize Laureates Fellowship Program is a joint effort to train the next generation of humanitarian activists, selecting a group of graduate and undergraduate students to learn from the best nonprofit organizations around the world. Not only will this program draw the Laureates closer together by requiring cooperation in educating these young humanitarians, but it will also lay the foundation for a future in which these organizations and others are led by the program’s alumni, who will have a common base of knowledge and close personal relationships to these important causes. The Hilton Prize Coalition is as much about acting together as it is about learning together. Tostan and Amref Health Africa piloted the first such initiative in Senegal and that collaboration is still ongoing.
The second signature program that the Coalition is implementing this year is the Disaster Resiliency and Response project. As a group, the Laureates Coalition is present in more than 150 countries. At any time, perhaps 4-5 or even 8-10 Laureates could be active in a single country, making disaster response a key initiative for collaboration. After the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, some of our Laureates -- Operation Smile and Partners In Health -- collaborated to treat 380 trauma cases across the country. Following the earthquake, Heifer International convened all 8 Laureate country directors working in Haiti and they developed an online detailed mapping of all programs to improve future collaboration. This is the kind of cooperation that the Hilton Prize Coalition aims to replicate and improve with the new, formalized bonds. Through the Disaster Resiliency and Response program, the laureates are creating a model for NGOs to cooperate in the aftermath of a disaster. In addition, the project will work with disaster-prone communities to build resilience, preparing them for when future disaster strikes. These are just some ways that the Hilton Foundation is helping to bring the combined resources of our Laureates to bear against the greatest humanitarian challenges we face.
TT: Prize philanthropy seems to be more popular today than it was when you started the Humanitarian Prize 20 years ago. What advice do you have for other philanthropists who are considering starting a Prize about how to do it well? And how do you evaluate the effectiveness of Prize philanthropy?
JM: When we started there were only three prizes over $1 million—the Nobel, the Templeton and the Conrad Hilton. Now not only has inflation increased the size of prizes, but the numbers of organizations are recognizing the value of prizes. I have been called by several organizations thinking of starting a prize, and I encourage them. One problem that we at the Hilton Foundation face in prize philanthropy is that of scope. Especially for an international prize, there are so many excellent organizations that positively impact the lives of countless people every day, but for the Hilton Humanitarian Prize to be as effective as possible, we can only award it to one organization each year. To address this, the Foundation tries to be as inclusive as possible in the process of selecting a recipient. Each year we receive hundreds of nominations, and our requirements for nominees are intentionally broad, just as the definition of “humanitarian” is very broad. The only rules are that the nominator must have direct knowledge of the nominee’s work, the nominator cannot receive any payment from the nominee, and the nominator can’t be a family member of someone who works for the nominee.
These simple requirements allows for extremely worthwhile organizations that may not have the highest profiles to be considered for the Prize. We want to make sure that the most worthy organizations receive our Prize, so we cast a wide net. Since the nominations come from throughout the world, the Foundation also learns of organizations that we otherwise would not know; this is important since about half of our grantmaking is international in scope. It is also gratifying to see the growth of our Laureate organizations over time. When we awarded the first ever Humanitarian Prize to Operation Smile in 1996, they were only active in 12 countries and conducted one service mission per year. Now, Operation Smile is active in 60 countries and will conduct close to 180 missions in 2015. Each Laureate organization continues to demonstrate similar growth, validating the jury’s selections.
We evaluate the effectiveness of the Prize through the success of our Laureates, all of whom are constantly expanding and thriving. Many of them credit some of their growth to the Hilton Humanitarian Prize. As long as we are helping our Laureates to make peoples’ lives better, we are fulfilling our purpose.