2019 Recipient

LeVar Burton

Headshot image of LeVar Burton

The Inamori International Center for Ethics and Excellence at Case Western Reserve University has selected LeVar Burton, a renowned actor and advocate for children's literacy and AIDS research, as the recipient of the 2019 Inamori Ethics Prize. Case Western Reserve has awarded the Inamori Ethics Prize annually since 2008 to individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions as global ethical leaders.

Burton is the first Inamori Ethics Prize recipient to be honored for ethical leadership in the Arts. His work for children's literacy through the long-running PBS children's series Reading Rainbow and his nonprofit RRKIDZ has had a profound impact around the world, as has his support for more funding for AIDS research. As an actor, he is best known for his powerful performance as Kunta Kinte in the mini-series Roots (based on the book by Alex Haley on slavery in America) and his role as engineer Geordi La Forge on the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation and related films, which portray a positive and just future for humanity.

Burton will receive the 2019 Inamori Ethics Prize during a ceremony and academic symposium held on the campus of Case Western Reserve University during September 19-20. He will deliver a public lecture and participate in a panel discussion.

2018: Dr. Farouk El-Baz

Headshot of NASA's Farouk El-Baz

Dr. Farouk El-Baz, a NASA scientist on the Apollo space program’s site-selection committee, was part of the team of NASA scientists responsible for choosing the first lunar landing site. He also created and still directs a NASA-recognized “Center of Excellence,” the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University. The center uses space technology to study the earth and its environment, including finding critically needed groundwater in arid regions around the globe.


2017: Marian Wright Edelman

Photo of Children's Defense Fund's Marian Wright Edelman

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Washington, D.C.-based Children’s Defense Fund, has been an advocate for children’s rights and the disadvantaged for decades. The nonprofit Children's Defense Fund, which Edelman established in 1973, has become the nation’s leading advocacy organization for children and families, championing policies and programs to lift children from poverty, protect them from abuse and neglect and ensure their access to health care and quality education.

Edelman, a graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, began her career in the mid-1960s when, as the first black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson, Mississippi. 

Edelman has received more than 100 honorary degrees and many awards, including the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Prize, the Heinz Award and a MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship. In 2000, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and the Robert F. Kennedy Lifetime Achievement Award for her writings.

2016: Peter Eigen

Headshot of Transparency International's Peter Eigen

Peter Eigen, founder of Transparency International and pioneer of the global fight against corruption, received the 2016 Inamori Ethics Prize.

Eigen has developed and led groundbreaking initiatives to improve governance and raise awareness of the devastating effects of corruption on economic growth, social welfare and justice.

Eigen, a lawyer by training, has worked in economic development for several decades. He has seen how abuses of power can undermine the public’s trust and cost people their freedom, health, money and, sometimes, their lives.

Following positions with the World Bank in Latin America and Africa, Eigen founded Transparency International (TI) in 1993. With chapters in more than 100 nations, TI has become the leading non-governmental organization promoting transparency and accountability in development. TI collaborates with governments, businesses and citizens to stop the abuse of power, bribery and secret deals. The organization’s impact spans the public sector and industries ranging from finance to oil to sport.

2015: Martha C. Nussbaum 

Headshot of University of Chicago philosopher Martha C. Nussbaum

Nussbaum is an American philosopher and one of the world’s leading intellectuals, particularly on issues of moral and political theory, education, social equality, emotions, feminism, and ancient Greek and Roman philosophy. She is the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago, with appointments in the philosophy department and the law school.

Professor Nussbaum's work has been at the forefront of the principal contemporary ethical issues. Along with economist Amartya Sen, Professor Nussbaum reoriented conversations of international welfare efforts away from exclusive focus on GDP and toward the capabilities of a nation’s individuals. She is a Founding President of the Human Development and Capability Association, and has received prizes and 51 honorary degrees from institutions across the globe.

Among many other works, Professor Nussbaum is the author of Sex and Social Justice (1999), Women and Human Development (2000), Hiding from Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004), Frontiers of Justice (2006), Creating Capabilities (2011), and Political Emotions (2013).

2014: Denis Mukwege

Photo of physician and human rights activist Denis Mukwege

When Denis Mukwege was growing up in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), he would accompany his father, a Pentecostal minister, on visits to comfort sick people in his community.

The desire to heal those for whom his father prayed inspired a life’s devotion to do the same through medicine.

Mukwege, 59, a deeply committed physician and human rights activist, has worked tirelessly with and for women who have suffered excruciatingly traumatic and violent attacks in the name of war.

The Panzi Hospital, which he founded in Bukavu, Congo (the war-torn region of the DRC), and where he serves as manager and chief surgeon, is known worldwide for its treatment of women with severe gynecological problems, mostly from sexual violence. Panzi has become a beacon of hope for thousands of women. Patients who can’t afford care are treated for free.

He has persisted in his mission, despite attacks on his life. As a result, he and his colleagues have treated more than 40,000 rape survivors.

Mukwege, who has long been an outspoken international advocate for gender equality and women’s rights, has been recognized by many organizations and institutions for both his medical knowledge and commitment to ending sexual violence in the DRC, including twice being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (in 2009 and 2013).

2013: Yvon Chouinard

Photo of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard with a surfboard on the beach

As the founder of Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard is one of the most successful and ethical outdoor industry businessmen alive today. Business journalist Kristall Lutz recently described Chouinard as “THE pioneer in corporate social responsibility.”

Through his innovative designs and grassroots efforts, Chouinard’s company, Chouinard Equipment, became the largest supplier of climbing hardware. However, he realized that the use of his products by climbers was much to the detriment of the environment. Determined to end this negative impact, and building on his core belief to “climb clean,” in 1972 Chouinard introduced and patented new aluminum chocks that would not harm the rock. Whereas his best selling pitons had caused harm to the cracks in the rocks in Yosemite, his new product line did not damage the surfaces where they were used. This was the first major business decision he made on behalf of the environment. It revolutionized rock climbing and led to the further success of the company, despite destroying the sales of pitons (formerly his most important and lucrative product).

Chouinard is most noted for creating the clothing and gear company, Patagonia, Inc. With Chouinard at the helm, Patagonia has been innovative in the quest to protect the environment, even if it hurt the company’s bottom line. Chouinard has consistently shut off his business’s most profitable enterprises for the sake of the environment in his goal to, “create the best quality with the least impact.” Recognizing that the financial success of the company provided the opportunity for his employees to achieve personal goals, Chouinard committed the company to fostering employee wellness and being an outstanding place to work. Patagonia has a cafeteria offering mostly healthy, vegetarian fare. The company also provides on-site daycare and flexible work schedules for employees. Chouinard’s 2005 book, Let My People Go Surfing, explores the unique corporate climate at Patagonia.

Chouinard's primary goal is protecting the environment. He gives financial incentives for employees to work on local environmental projects. In 1985 he instituted the Earth Tax, through which Patagonia has committed one percent of sales to grassroots environmental organizations, totaling millions of dollars. 

2012: David Suzuki

Headshot of environmentalist David Suzuki

Passionate environmentalist David Suzuki is a global leader on issues of sustainable ecology and climate justice. Esteemed around the world for his radio and television programs, documentaries, and publications, Suzuki is a powerful voice for biodiversity, future generations, and the planet.

A celebrated academic, Suzuki earned his PhD in zoology from the University of Chicago. He worked for over 40 years as a professor in genetics and at the University of British Columbia’s Sustainable Research Development Institute, where he is now professor emeritus.

In 1990, Suzuki co-founded the David Suzuki Foundation whose main missions are transforming the economy, protecting the climate, reconnecting with nature, and building communities of individuals who live healthier, more fulfilled and just lives. He currently lives in Vancouver, Canada, with his wife, Tara Cullis. He is the father of five children.

2011: Beatrice Mtetwa

Photo of Beatrice Mtetwa

Human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has spent the last 20 years defending journalists and resisting government corruption in her home country of Zimbabwe. She has been physically attacked and faced threats against her life, and yet despite such adversity, she continues to fight for freedom and the ideals of democracy. In addition to journalists' rights, Mtetwa champions a variety of other social causes, including eradicating AIDS and poverty, protecting the rights of women and children, preserving the essential freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and speech, and helping poor farmers wrongfully evicted from their land by the government.

2010: Stan Brock

Photo of TV host Stan Brock

Stan Brock's Remote Area Medical (RAM) delivers free health care services to communities in the United States and isolated regions around the world. A humanitarian, conservationist and former co-host of the TV show "Wild Kingdom," Brock founded RAM in 1985.

Staffed by volunteer doctors, dentists, nurses and veterinarians, RAM has served hundreds of thousands of patients at its free clinics. RAM conducts these medical missions wherever they are needed, regardless of danger or difficult conditions—from the hills of Appalachia near its home base in Tennessee to the mountains of Nepal. Brock himself makes no salary and lives without luxury, devoting his time and energy exclusively to RAM's mission.

2009: Mary Robinson

Headshot of former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson

Former U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson was the second honoree of the international ethics award. Noted for her work as an advocate for global human rights, health care, sustainability and corporate responsibility, Robinson was instrumental in changing the face of Anglo-Irish relations when she was Ireland's first woman president. She is one of 12 world leaders who make up The Elders—an organization formed by Nelson Mandela to contribute wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Most recently, Robinson founded the nonprofit organization Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative, which promotes equitable trade, humane practices in the work environment, corporate responsibility and women's leadership.

A professor of practice in international affairs at Columbia University, Robinson chairs the GAVI Alliance Board to improve children’s health around the world, is the honorary president of Oxfam International and recently served as honorary chair of the LIVESTRONG Global Cancer Summit.

2008: Dr. Francis S. Collins

Headshot of Francis S. Collins in a medical lab

The inaugural Inamori Ethics Prize was awarded in 2008 to physician-geneticist Francis S. Collins, who was recognized for his principled leadership of the Human Genome Project and understanding of the project’s potential for improvement of humankind. Noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes, Collins serves as the National Human Genome Research Institute Director at the National Institutes for Health, where his laboratory is dedicated to researching rare and common gene-related diseases. His laboratory has discovered genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibrosis, Huntington’s Disease, adult-onset diabetes and Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome.