|| Jeffrey Tarrant, Protégé
Activists are filming human rights abuses in Brazil,
reporting on violence in Western Sahara and uncovering elder
mistreatment in the U.S. International nonprofit WITNESS showed
Jeffrey Tarrant, 60, CEO and CIO of New York–based
Protégé Partners, a $1.6 billion fund-of-funds
firm, learned about WITNESS’s work several years
ago when an acquaintance, mogul and philanthropist Richard
Branson, suggested he’d be a good fit for the
nonprofit human rights organization. WITNESS was started in
1992 by musician Peter Gabriel, in partnership with the Lawyers
Committee for Human Rights and with financial support from the
Reebok Human Rights Foundation. It became a separate entity in
Gabriel’s early human rights work with Amnesty
International, during which he took along an
early-generation consumer video recorder, helped him
realize the power of video to document and illuminate human
rights abuses around the world.
"When WITNESS started, it was about getting cameras into
people’s hands so they could film human rights
issues," Tarrant says. "Peter’s message was the
power of seeing is more powerful than just reading about human
Tarrant, who’s also a co-founder of
London-based charity Absolute Return for Kids, joined the board
of WITNESS in 2011, impressed by the
organization’s potential; he knew he could help
the group grow.
WITNESS provides training that covers recording techniques,
safety and privacy, and new technologies, as well as how to
create videos that can be used as evidence in court.
Consumer technology has changed immensely since
WITNESS’s beginnings, and the organization has had
to adapt to the now-ubiquitous presence of inexpensive mobile
devices with sophisticated photo and video capabilities.
"Everyone’s got the ability to film in their
hands, but do they know how to be a witness?" Tarrant asks.
"That’s what WITNESS does; it trains people how to
Tarrant was attracted to WITNESS in part by its
specialization. He draws a parallel to how he manages
Protégé Partners. "I like to find highly
specialized money managers who have an edge and know their area
better than others, and what I saw in WITNESS is something
similar to that. They really are the experts in this area of
Gabriel and Tarrant are heading a new project, WITNESS
Innovation Initiatives, which will launch this fall. Its goal
is to partner with technology companies, schools, developers
and activists to collaborate in creating technology and human
rights documenting skills for a new generation of witnessing.
Tarrant and Gabriel want to get Facebook, Google and YouTube
involved; Tarrant went to his alma mater Harvard Business
School and got its Innovation Lab on board. He also made
introductions to some of his Silicon Valley contacts, including
former YouTube CEO Salar Kamangar.
The new project has big goals: 1,500 activists trained in
WITNESS’s "Video for Change" methodology, an
audience of 2.25 million and new technology and tools. "The
idea is to significantly extend the reach of WITNESS tools and
education through technology and partnerships," says
WITNESS executive director Yvette Alberdingk Thijm says
Tarrant is a forward-thinking philanthropist and
networker. "He’s my thought partner in many ways.
He’s buddied up with Peter Gabriel to push us to
constantly think big."
Tarrant is thinking about the long-term effects of
witnessing, and the potential of using technology to address
human rights issues. "People will act and treat each other
differently," he says. "And that’s all modified by
training and technology."