History of the Hilton Humanitarian Prize

Inspired by Conrad Hilton's humanitarian legacy

As a tribute to Conrad N. Hilton's lifetime of international humanitarian efforts, the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize was established in 1996 by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation. The Prize is awarded not to an individual, but to an organization—to recognize its extraordinary humanitarian contributions and to highlight the need for greater humanitarian aid in the world.

A prize to honor the philanthropic dimension of Conrad Hilton's life was suggested by Hilton Foundation Director James Galbraith. The Board saw an opportunity to mount an important and uplifting initiative. It proceeded down a thoughtful and professional exploratory pathway; it established a Prize Exploratory Committee under the chairmanship of Jim Galbraith, with Dyanne Hayes serving as staff support. The committee scanned the awards field, found that the original concept niche (giving funds to an organization, not an individual) was indeed unique, and formulated a plan of action.

When established, the $1 million Prize was the largest humanitarian award and one of the largest monetary prizes in any category—equal to the Nobel and Templeton Prizes. As the years passed, other new awards were established, some exceeding $1 million. In recent years, prizes have become a popular philanthropic tool to advance innovative and effective methods to address social needs.

In 2005, to recognize the 10th anniversary of the Prize and to factor in inflation, the Board increased the award to $1.5 million. This level maintains the Prize as the world's largest humanitarian award and sustains its rank as one of the world's largest monetary awards in any category. Use of award funds is unrestricted.

The world community of humanitarian organizations is involved in the Prize each year. A worldwide call for nominations has become something of a census of these organizations. "Every year, through the nomination and rigorous review process, we are privileged to learn of the incredible work being done throughout the world by hundreds of extraordinary organizations," comments Foundation Vice President Judy M. Miller, who is director of the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. "It is inspiring to meet some of these people who are dedicating their lives to helping others, often at great personal sacrifice."

Seven jurors, serving one or more four-year terms, select the recipient. Five international jurors are chosen from among persons prominent in the humanitarian field. To help preserve the vision of the Prize program, the remaining two jurors are a Hilton family member and a Hilton Foundation Board member.

"I find the jury duty for this award to be a seriously enlightening experience," observes Juror Amartya Sen.  "The process of selecting the prize winner for the Hilton Humanitarian award is remarkably thorough.  I am always impressed—and often astonished—by the way a balanced assessment eventually emerges from extensive and interactive discussions with great colleagues on the competing achievements of potential prize winners."

Connecting humanitarian leaders

The Hilton Humanitarian Symposia were initiated in 1998 to focus attention on the humanitarian needs of the world. This annual international gathering of leading minds in the fields of humanitarianism and human rights is focused on solving critical global challenges and finding new ways to prevent and alleviate suffering. Since inception, the symposia has welcomed more than 100 eminent speakers and panelists and thousands of attendees, all of whom are specialists in their fields. In 2009, the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize Laureates were featured on a panel exploring collaboration in the field.