The annual Women of Concern Awards Luncheon, held this year on June 21st at the Hilton Hotel in New York, recognizes women who are leaders in humanitarianism and fundraising for causes such as AIDS, breast cancer, child poverty and education. This year, Women of Concern honored two women who have devoted much of their time and business to fundraising efforts: Fern Mallis, president of Fern Mallis, LLC and creator of Fashion Week, and Amanda Rose, founder of the social media-based fundraising effort Twestival. The luncheon also highlighted the work being done by Concern in 28 countries, including Haiti where the people continue to live in a state of emergency.
After opening remarks by chairman Tom Moran expressing ongoing thanks for support from the Concern family, Elke Leidel, country director for Haiti, gave a stirring speech about the experience of being in Haiti when the earthquake occurred and the ongoing struggle of its people, specifically the mothers and children. Though Concern has already been in Haiti for 16 years, their efforts have been strengthened immensely in the wake of the disaster – almost immediately, 24 nutrition centers were erected to treat the malnourished and injured, and Concern was able to treat 8,000 children. Leidel also spoke encouragingly of the Tabarre Issa camp in Port-au-Prince, managed and designed by Concern Worldwide. The camp, opened on April 17, offers makeshift housing in the form of tents to 3,000 people, in addition to latrines, clean water, food, health centers and peaceful, safe areas for children where they can play and learn. “What keeps me going is the people of Port-au-Prince – their resilience, their resourcefulness, their will to move on,” said Leidel, who made no secret of the emotional toll of humanitarian work. With one million people still displaced in Haiti, Concern’s relief efforts remain crucial.
Women of Concern, which chooses honorees each year who have made an impact through humanitarian and charitable work, highlights the efforts of Concern Worldwide to support women and their children by providing food, shelter, healthcare and education. According to a UNESCO study from 2009, women make up more than 66 percent of the world’s 776 million adults who lack basic literacy skills. Concern focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty by supplying women with job training and literacy programs as well as small business loans. With hundreds of thousands of mothers dying due to pregnancy-related causes and equal amounts of children dying in infancy due to easily treatable diseases such as diarrhea or malaria, Concern has also made maternal and child health a focus of its work and its education.
This year’s honorees, introduced by NBC Today correspondent Natalie Morales, have both employed their business savvy to fundraise for several causes. Fern Mallis, the recipient of the Woman of the Year Leadership Award, is well known in the fashion industry as the creator of Fashion Week. During her long and varied career in the fashion world, Mallis has used her influence to organize several charity events and organizations, starting with DIFFA, Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. She is the creator of Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, which raised more than $80 million worldwide for hundreds of breast cancer organizations. She has also helped raised over $8 million for AIDS charities through the fundraiser 7th on Sale. Mallis recently launched her own fashion consulting company, Fern Mallis LLC, after working with IMG Fashion for nine years.
Amanda Rose, who was honored with the Woman of the Year Humanitarian Award, is the founder of Twestival, an international, volunteer-driven effort that uses social media like Twitter to raise money for worthy causes. She is also the founder of Connect the Dots Foundation, an organization that works with nonprofits and other startups to integrate causes on and offline. Her innovative use of social media has led to Twestival raising over $1.2 million in just over a year for 137 causes. The funds raised by Twestival Global in 2010 will go towards bringing education to thousands of children through Concern programs. Amanda has a background in event coordination and advertising, but has expanded her interest in non-profit causes by advising a number of organizations including charity: water, Comic Relief, MTV Staying Alive Foundation and Live Earth.
Both honorees were awarded with statues carved by Irish artists out of 4,500-year-old bog oak.
Executive director Siobhan Walsh closed the ceremony with thanks for ongoing support and a reminder that the work is far from over. “This event is about balancing the scales a little bit to the people who are the most vulnerable in the world, the women and children born into lives of poverty,” she said. Concern Worldwide has begun building transitional housing in Haiti to replace the tents, providing mothers the incredible relief of knowing their children have shelter.