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2020 Distinguished Alumni Award: Adotei Akwei ’84

Deputy director for advocacy and government relations at Amnesty International, the largest grass roots human rights organization in the world.

Akwei’s ten plus year career there also included prior roles as senior advocacy director for Africa and as the director of campaigns. He also worked at CARE USA in Bangkok and Washington DC.

Akwei was born in Ghana where his father worked as a diplomat in the Foreign Service and later for the United Nations, which brought his family to New York.

In 1980 he enrolled at Purchase to study economics, at his father’s request. However his interest in economics waned the more he was exposed to classes in international relations, African literature, and political science. Professors Connie Lobur, John Gitlitz, and Jean Herskovitz were all influential, but it was Professor Peter Schwab who significantly impacted Akwei’s life’s work.

He viewed the 1974 Vietnam War award-winning documentary film, Hearts and Minds, in Professor Schwab’s class, which inspired him to dedicate himself to fighting abuse.

Akwei earned a Master of Arts in Government and International Relations from William and Mary College. During his 30-plus year career in advocacy work, he testified before Congress, participated in human rights missions to Nigeria, Benin, and Ethiopia, and pursued advocacy work in Zimbabwe and Malawi. He helped develop and implement campaigns that address issues affecting Africa and Asia such as poverty, child soldiers, the conflict diamonds trade, HIV/AIDS, climate change, and the empowerment of women to name just a few.

In 2000, he received the Washington Peacemaker Award from American University for work promoting human rights values to university students; in 2003 he earned fellowships at the National Endowment for Democracy and the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University.

He returned to Purchase in 2017 to deliver the Mary Edwards Lecture, “Breaking the Glass Ceiling and Human Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa: The Critical Challenge of Women’s Rights.”