"As long as violence against women, sexual or otherwise, remains strictly and exclusively a women’s issue, it will always be an issue. We men must own this and we must recognize it as vital to our own survival. And we must help our brothers see it as such."

- Ben Affleck, 2009 Presenter

"An event like this can really make a difference. I have seen it in the faces of those women who know that they're not laboring in vain. I've seen it in the networks that have been created to support them. And I've seen it in the changed attitudes of governments and leaders."

- U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton

"In honoring me, you are honoring the 700,000 women who are standing behind me. You may not see them, but they are here in spirit — their stories, their struggles and their triumphs echo throughout this hall."

- Jaya Arunachalam, 2005 Honoree

"It is an award to recognize the full human rights of our girls and of our women, but most of all, it is a reminder of the remaining task for equality, development and peace in our respective nations."

- Mu Sochua, 2005 Honoree

"This award, you must know, is going to protect my life...No one can silence me because I have new friends — you are my friends — and you are watching over me."

- Anabella de Leon, 2003 Honoree

Global Leadership Awards

The 15th Annual Global Leadership Awards

March 9, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 1,000 honored guests gathered at the 15th Annual Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards to celebrate four extraordinary women, each taking on the most urgent issues facing their communities and showing exceptional leadership in an insecure world.

The honorees, Hafsat Abiola-Costello of Nigeria, Akanksha Hazari of India, Khanim Latif of Iraq and Yoani Sanchez of Cuba – all offered remarks on how the global community can continue to innovate and build a brighter, inclusive future for all.

This landmark 15th anniversary event was held on the heels of International Women’s Day and included a congratulatory statement from Vital Voices founder, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, read by Vital Voices co-founder Ambassador Melanne Verveer.

“Tonight I celebrate this year’s awardees from afar,” said Clinton. “Khanim’s courage in the face of extremism is an inspiration for women everywhere. Hafsat’s vision for women’s leadership and democracy in Africa has the power to bring people together and make real change. Akanksha is proving that purpose-driven businesses can help us overcome inequality by offering equal opportunity to thousands. And Yoani is using her voice to give voice to countless others who share her dream of a free society. Each woman on her own is a herald of progress and an extraordinary inspiration; together their leadership is forging the way forward for a world in which all people can fulfill their God-given potential.”

The program also featured appearances by designer Diane von Furstenberg, journalist Tina Brown, Theranos Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Holmes, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman and others.

Alyse Nelson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vital Voices, made the following remarks about the honorees:

“It’s never been more critical to support leaders who scale sustainable solutions, who foster resilience and use their platform to uplift others. Vital Voices invests in these leaders, in their proven ability to improve the world around them.”

This year, Procter and Gamble was proud partner of the “Rising Voices” initiative, which engages the next generation of women leaders around the world through mentoring, communications skills and leadership training.

The Honorees


Vital Voices Global Partnership honored Hafsat Abiola-Costello of Nigeria with the Leadership in Public Life Award. Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President of the Children’s Defense Fund presented.

“She believes Nigeria needs more than one or two good leaders, it needs a groundswell. And that groundswell must include women, “ said Edelman. “For 20 years she’s been removing barriers to women’s full participation, fostering a new generation of leaders that’s poised to solve the country’s most urgent issues.” 

Through her nonprofit,  Kudirat Initiative for Democracy (KIND), Abiola-Costello is working to remove barriers to women’s political participation and to eliminate violence against women. Since age 19, she’s been stirring up activism in fellow Nigerians, fueling movements for democracy, gender equality and women’s leadership. Her life’s work is a tribute to her parents, who were assassinated for their pro-democracy activism. 
“I was 19 when my mother was killed for fighting for change in Nigeria. So it was at 19 that I decided to do more than what my society expected, “ said Abiola-Costello. “The journey has not been an easy one.”


Vital Voices Global Partnership honored Akanksha Hazari of India with the Economic Empowerment Award. Theranos Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Holmes presented.

“Akanksha is one of the rare, sole female tech founders in India, “ said Theranos. “She believes, like I do, that technology has an incredible role to play in solving some of the biggest problems we face. 

While working in rural India, Hazari realized even in areas where infrastructure and service delivery were inadequate, there was one tool nearly everyone had access to: a mobile phone. She decided to turn access to phones into access to social goods, including clean water, healthcare, education and energy. Her purpose-driven business, m.Paani offers India’s first loyalty platform for mass-market consumers and micro-businesses, rewarding spending at in-network partners with points that can be redeemed for life changing rewards, such as water filters. 

“While things feel so broken, we are also surrounded by symbols of human achievement and stories of human aspiration constantly endeavoring to do better, and to be better, ‘ said Hazari. “We are powerful. And for the first time in human history, technology has enabled collective action at an unprecedented scale.”


Vital Voices Global Partnership honored Khanim Latif of Iraq with the Human Rights Award. Designer Diane von Furstenberg presented.

“Khanim Latif chooses to be courageous in one of the most dangerous places on Earth. She’s seen life change dramatically for women and girls in Iraqi Kurdistan.” said Furstenberg.

Latif runs the first independent non governmental organization to focus on violence against women in Iraq. She says conditions for women are worse today than when she began this work 15 years ago; honor killings, domestic violence and sex trafficking are on the rise. Last year she offered direct emergency assistance, medical and psychological care, and livelihood support to 5,000 women, including Yazidi survivors of ISIS attacks and abuse.
“If the international community is serious about stopping extremism and taking down terrorist groups like ISIS, you will need more than military power. Because it’s not just about what you tear down, it’s about what you build. It’s not enough to fight against something – we have to fight for something, “ said Latif. “We are fighting for our future.”


Vital Voices Global Partnership honored Yoani Sanchez of Cuba with the Light of Freedom Award. Journalist Tina Brown presented.

“Yoani is revolutionizing journalism in a nation of state-controlled media,” said Brown. “Her journalists report facts; their articles reflect reality. The site was immediately blocked on the island, but Cubans find creative ways to access the news. Yoani believes that change will come to Cuba, and I think history will show that she was a part of it.”

Sánchez’s blog about daily life in Cuba has generated controversy and a global following. Her latest project pushes the boundaries of what’s possible: she launched 14ymedio, the first and only independent digital news outlet in Cuba. Yoani has been kidnapped, arrested and beaten for her work. But she is not deterred; she says the government wouldn’t react if they weren’t fearful that she’s tapped into popular demand for freedom of expression.

“Cuba is much more than the land of sun, great music and excellent cigars, “ said Sanchez. “We are a country that suffers from a lack of freedom, the massive exodus of our sons and daughters, and censorship. But the future can be different.”