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The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative

The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is a foundation that seeks to address on-the-ground humanitarian challenges around the world with the focus on helping the most destitute. Its mission is rooted in the Armenian history as the Initiative was founded on behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors and strives to transform this experience into a global movement. 

All Aurora’s activities are based on the universal concept of Gratitude in Action. It implies that countless people around the world who have received aid in time of crisis can best express their gratitude by offering similar assistance to someone else. By involving Aurora supporters around the world, this will become a global endeavor that will snowball to expand the circle of saviors and most importantly – the number of those saved.

Addressing urgent humanitarian challenges, the Initiative provides a second chance to those who need it the most. True to its vision – “We believe that even in the darkest times, a brighter future is in the hands of those who are committed to giving others help and hope” – Aurora welcomes all who embrace this philosophy.

This commitment aims to promote action-based philanthropy focused on tangible results. This is achieved through the Initiative’s various programs: Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, #AraratChallenge movement, Aurora Dialogues, Aurora Grants, Aurora Community, Aurora Index, and the 100 LIVES Initiative.

The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is the vision of philanthropists Vartan Gregorian, Noubar Afeyan and Ruben Vardanyan who have been joined by thousands of supporters and partners.  

Aurora’s Chair, Dr. Tom Catena, draws on his experience as a surgeon, veteran, humanitarian and the 2017 Aurora Prize laureate to spread the message of Gratitude in Action to a global audience. 

Founder of the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Sudan’s war-ravaged Nuba Mountains, Dr. Catena has dedicated the last decade of his life to providing medical care as the only surgeon permanently based in a region the size of Austria. 

Tom Catena was appointed Aurora’s inaugural Chair in December 2018, a position he maintains in parallel with his ongoing responsibilities as Medical Director of the Mother of Mercy Hospital in Sudan. 

The Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is represented by three organizations – the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Foundation, Inc. (New York, USA), the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Foundation (Geneva, Switzerland) and the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Charitable Foundation (Yerevan, Armenia).

About the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity

The Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity is a global humanitarian award. Its mission is to recognize and support those who risk their own lives, health or freedom to save the lives, health or freedom of others suffering as a result of violent conflict, atrocity crimes or other major human rights violations. The Aurora Prize Laureate is selected based on the nominee’s demonstration of courage, commitment and impact.

On behalf of the survivors of the Armenian Genocide and in gratitude to their saviors, an Aurora Prize Laureate is honored with a US $1,000,000 award, which gives the Laureate a unique opportunity to continue the cycle of giving and to support the organizations that help people in need.

The Aurora Prize Selection Committee is comprised of Nobel Laureates Shirin Ebadi and Leymah Gbowee; former president of Ireland Mary Robinson; human rights activist Hina Jilani; former president of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo; Médecins Sans Frontières Co-founder and former foreign minister of France Bernard Kouchner; journalist, writer, Pulitzer Prize winner Dele Olojede; former CEO of Unilever and Co-founder and Co-chair of IMAGINE Paul Polman; human rights activist and Co-founder of The Sentry John Prendergast and President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York Vartan Gregorian (1934-2021). The Committee is chaired by the Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London Lord Ara Darzi.

World famous peace and human rights activist Benjamin Ferencz and Academy Award-winning actor and humanitarian George Clooney are the Committee’s Honorary Co-Chairs, and its honorary members include two-time President of Costa Rica and Nobel Laureate Oscar Arias; Artistic and General Director of Mariinsky Theatre and Principal Conductor of the Munich Philharmoniker Valery Gergiev and former foreign minister of Australia and President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group Gareth Evans.

We honor the memory of Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), inaugural Selection Committee Co-Chair, President of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity; Nobel Laureate.

THE AURORA PRIZE SELECTION COMMITTEE

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Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016)

First Co-Chair

President of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity; Nobel Laureate

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Lord Ara Darzi

Chair

Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London

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George Clooney

Honorary Co-Chair

Co-founder, The Sentry; Humanitarian, performer and film maker

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Benjamin Ferencz

Honorary Co-Chair

Lawyer, Human Rights Activist

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Shirin Ebadi

Member

Human Rights Lawyer and Iran's first female judge; Nobel Laureate

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Leymah Gbowee

Member

Liberian peace activist and women’s rights advocate; Nobel Laureate

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Vartan Gregorian (1934 - 2021)

Member

Co-founder, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative; President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York

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Hina Jilani

Member

Former United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders

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Bernard Kouchner

Member

Co-founder, Médecins Sans Frontières; Former French Foreign Minister

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Dele Olojede

Member

Journalist, Writer, Pulitzer Prize Winner

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Paul Polman

Member

Co-founder and Co-chair, IMAGINE

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John Prendergast

Member

Human Rights Activist and Co-founder, The Sentry

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Mary Robinson

Member

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Former President of Ireland

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Ernesto Zedillo

Member

Director, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization; Former President of Mexico

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Oscar Arias

Honorary Member

Two-time President of Costa Rica; Nobel Laureate

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Valery Gergiev

Honorary Member

Artistic and General Director, Mariinsky Theatre; Principal Conductor of the Munich Philharmoniker

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Gareth Evans

Honorary Member

President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group; Former Australian Foreign Minister

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Elie Wiesel (1928 – 2016)

First Co-Chair

President of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity; Nobel Laureate

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Lord Ara Darzi

Chair

Director of the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London

About the Aurora for Artsakh

Through the Aurora for Artsakh program, the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative helps the people of Artsakh facing a grave humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of the 2020 Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) war. Since the launch of the humanitarian aid program for Artsakh, Aurora has already allocated $1,740,000 to support 80 projects in Artsakh implemented by both local and international partners and to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to the people of Artsakh through the Hayastan All Armenian Fund. 

The Aurora for Artsakh program also includes bringing the world humanitarian leaders to the region to find new opportunities to help the local people, to support Artsakh’s international standing, and to ensure effective solutions on the ground.

 

About the Aurora Dialogues

The Aurora Dialogues is a platform for the world’s leading humanitarians, academics, philanthropists, business leaders, and civil society to come together for a series of insightful discussions about some of today’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. In keeping with the spirit of the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity, the Aurora Dialogues shine a light on the people who are working to address today’s issues in a real and substantial manner and seek to identify ideas that will deliver tangible change.

In 2020, due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the Aurora Dialogues have gone online, allowing people from around the world to join the discussion and contribute to it.

About the Aurora Grants

Through the Aurora Grants, the descendants of the Armenian Genocide survivors seek to honor the memory of their ancestors’ saviors by supporting educational initiatives and preserving Armenian heritage while promoting humanitarian efforts and Armenian history.

Educational projects include The Vartan Gregorian Scholarship (Research Grants) Program that supports early-career researchers of Armenian history in the 20th century and the Young Aurora Program intended to encourage student-driven projects offering sustainable solutions to humanitarian issues. The scholarships covered by Aurora allowed 62 students, all of them representatives of the at-risk and vulnerable youth, to study at the United World College (UWC) network of schools and the American University of Armenia. Individual scholarships include those named after Lamya Haji Bashar (given to Yazidi students), Amal Clooney (given to a female student from Lebanon with strong interest in human rights) and Charles Aznavour (awarded to students from France and Francophone countries).

Aurora Grants help raise awareness of humanitarian action worldwide by contributing to the initiatives assisting underserved communities. In 2020, $100,000 was allocated to the Elmhurst Hospital in Queens to honor the NYC COVID-19 heroes and a $50,000 grant was transferred to the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa-USA founded by Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee.

In accordance with the Memory Act, the Aurora Grants also support Armenia’s national repository of ancient manuscripts, the Matenadaran, and the Armenian Genocide Museum-institute, contributing to the preservation of Armenian culture and history.

About the Aurora Community

The Aurora Community program brings together selfless individuals from across the globe doing vital work on the local level, allowing them to exchange their knowledge and support each other, as well as use Aurora’s humanitarian network to advance their causes. The project was launched in December 2020 and is still in its early stages. The main goal of the Aurora Community is to serve as a catalyzer for future change, empowering modern-day heroes by creating a unique connection between like-minded people and providing them with a much-needed support system. 

About the #AraratChallenge 

The #AraratChallenge is a global crowdfunding initiative addressing humanitarian needs in Armenia and Armenian communities globally. The crowdfunding campaign is set to increase the impact and reach of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative to combat poverty, improve healthcare and provide education to those in need. Anyone can join this movement and give a second chance to those who need it most. 

As COVID-19 began to spread across the globe, the #AraratChallenge movement made a $120,000 donation to the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Armenia to buy ventilators and to support local health professionals on the front lines. When a huge explosion rocked the capital of Lebanon, Aurora donated $200,000 to help the citizens of Beirut and called on the global Armenian community for funding.

Starting from October 2020, the #AraratChallenge movement has been used to raise funds for humanitarian initiatives helping the people of Artsakh affected by the war.

About the Aurora Humanitarian Index

The Aurora Humanitarian Index is a survey examining public perceptions of major humanitarian issues. It explores the international public’s attitudes toward both responsibility and effectiveness of humanitarian intervention, as well as the factors that urge people to intervene on behalf of others. 

In 2016-2018, the Aurora Humanitarian Index was conducted across multiple countries and its findings presented during the Aurora Dialogues, an international platform for discussions among leading experts in the humanitarian community. 

 

About the 100 LIVES Initiative

100 LIVES, the inaugural project of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, was launched in March 2015 to commemorate the centennial of the Armenian Genocide, in which the overwhelming majority of the Armenian population perished. Those who survived did so thanks to the benevolent intervention of institutions and individuals – often strangers. Inspired by the story of Aurora Mardiganian, together with thousands of other accounts of courage and humanity, 100 LIVES seeks and shares the stories of Armenian Genocide survivors, their saviors and descendants. In keeping with the spirit of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative, each story is a reflection of a unique cycle taking a victim from surviving to thriving and giving back.

Board Members

The Board of Directors of the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative is comprised of Noubar Afeyan, Vartan Gregorian, Ruben Vardanyan, Arman Jilavian and Lilit Nazaryan Portmann. Members of the Board jointly supervise Aurora’s activities carried out in accordance with its vision to maximize its impact.

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Noubar Afeyan

Scientific Innovator, Professional Entrepreneur and Philanthropist; Co-Founder, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative

Anthony Barsamian

Co-Chairman, Armenian Assembly of America

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Vartan Gregorian (1934-2021)

President, Carnegie Corporation of New York; Co-Founder, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative; Aurora Prize Selection Committee Member

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Arman Jilavian

CEO, Armenia 2041 Foundation; Co-Founder and Managing Partner, MEDIACRAT; Chairman, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Board

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Lilit Nazaryan Portmann

Director, International Wealth Management Division, Credit Suisse; Member, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Foundation Board

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Ruben Vardanyan

Social Entrepreneur and Venture Philanthropist; Co-Founder, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative

Creative Council

The Aurora Creative Council assists the Aurora Humanitarian Initiative in defining and developing the creative component of all its main events and activities to promote and preserve Aurora’s spirit and philosophy. The Council is comprised of prominent experts in philanthropy, creativity, and production, who consult and guide Aurora to enhance the global awareness of the Initiative’s mission and vision.

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Marine Ales

Composer; Author; Theater Critic; Chair, Aurora Prize Creative Council

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Deana Arsenian

Vice President, International Program and Program Director, Russia and Eurasia, Carnegie Corporation of New York

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Artur Janibekyan

Entrepreneur, Media Manager, Philanthropist; Founder and General Producer of Comedy Club Production; Head of the sub-holding of entertainment TV channels of Gazprom-Media Holding

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Arman Jilavian

CEO, Armenia 2041 Foundation; Co-Founder and Managing Partner, MEDIACRAT; Chairman, Aurora Humanitarian Initiative Board

Team