Good Guys: Protégé's Jeff Tarrant Partners with Witness to Document Injustice

September 19, 2016   Stephen Taub

   Jeffrey Tarrant, Protégé Partners

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 them how.

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 2001.

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 rights issues."

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 do that."

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 video."

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 Tarrant.

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."

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