Robyn Rihanna Fenty is the recipient of Harvard's 2017 Humanitarian of the Year award. For a global pop star most known for her record-breaking music, outspoken style, and savvy business acumen, this may be surprising to some. But really, Rihanna has been doing this work, often eschewing the media frenzy she normally courts, since her career started at the age of 17.
In the ceremony held at Harvard's Cambridge campus last night, Rihanna's humanitarian efforts were laid bare. She was praised for leveraging her fame to help change the lives of many. Her charitable efforts to develop a cancer diagnosis and research center at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados, have made it possible for patients to get the care they need without having to travel considerable distances, which, in turn, helps save lives. The Clara and Lionel Foundation Scholarship Program, created by Rihanna in 2012, makes it possible to Caribbean students to attend college in America, in addition to aiding the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project that provides education to children in more than 60 developing countries.
In addition to these more by-the-book, you could say, humanitarian efforts, the student speakers at the ceremony heralded her outspokenness on social media, which has led to French President François Hollande to donate $2 million from the French State to the Education Cannot Wait Fund and mobilization of her fanbase, the Rihanna Navy, to call Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office and urge the Canadian government to donate money to an education fund and fight polio. (Her call to action was successful; Canada donated $20 million.) Talk about using your platform for good.
Rihanna, for her part, left the audience with one message: help one person. "People make it seem way too hard, man," she said of humanitarian work. "You don't have to be rich to help somebody." In truth, she said, she doesn't create these foundations or set up charities for the headlines. "All you need to do is help one person and expect nothing in return," she said. "To me, that is a humanitarian."
The full ceremony can be viewed below. Rihanna's speech begins around the 1:16:00 mark.