Siobhan Walsh, Toni Collette
Honored at Annual Women of Concern Awards
By Adam Farley, Assistant Editor
June 25, 2014
The Irish-founded humanitarian organization Concern Worldwide U.S. celebrated its annual Women of Concern Awards June 24th in Manhattan. Actress Toni Collette, who recently became Concern’s first formal Global Ambassador, received the Women of Concern Humanitarian Award and co-founder and former Executive Director of Concern Siobhan Walsh was recognized for her pioneering 18-year direction with the Leadership Award.
The event, this year hosted by New York’s Channel One New anchor Shelby Holliday, aims to celebrate the lives of women around the world, both those in need and those who provide much-needed humanitarian aid. In the last year, Concern reached more than 14.3 vulnerable women and girls in poverty throughout the world. Disproportionately affected by disaster, access to education, and malnutrition, women are a key focus of Concern’s efforts in 21 of the world’s most impoverished countries.
In her acceptance speech, Collette said, “I am especially honored to be here today as a woman and as a mother and as part of the global community of women. And as we’ve seen here today women are the drivers of lasting change.”
“As a mother of two children, I cannot imagine what it must feel like to have to listen to your children cry for something to eat and just have nothing to give them. And yet this happens all around the world millions of families over,” she continued. “So I very much look forward to getting out there this year and seeing the good work that Concern does first hand and meeting the people they work with so I can help shine whatever spotlight I can on their needs.”
Collette, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in “The Sixth Sense” and won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Comedy Series for her performance in Showtime’s “The United States of Tara,” first united with Concern in 2012. She was recognized for her continued commitment to Concern’s global campaign to fight malnutrition and hunger and later to a holiday appeal to make a difference to families across the world through gifts such as livestock, clean water, and health care.
Walsh, a native of Limerick who co-founder Father Angus Finucane jokingly, referring to her persuasive acumen, would call “She who must be obeyed,” marveled at how far the organization had come since 1996 when she and Father Finucane “got a work permit and went into Grand Central station with buckets and collected money from total strangers.”
As Executive Director, Walsh established and expanded Concern’s community and funding base in the United States, helping to make it a $29 million a year organization that, in partnership with the wider Concern Worldwide network, touched the lives of 6.5 million people in 2013.
Touching on her departure from the company that year, Walsh acknowledged that non-profits like Concern must continue to adapt. “I never wanted to feel like I was holding Concern back because I want Concern to grow and I want Concern to change… Healthy organizations have to keep changing if they want to remain vibrant and they have to bring in new talent.”
Chairman of Concern’s board Tom Moran praised Walsh’s ever-deepening dedication to the organization. “Siobhan, along with Fr. Angus, built the concern that can now fill this room today,” he said. “She knew how to identify help that was needed in order to progress Concern further. But more importantly, she had this incredible contact list – that I think she only made up in her own head somehow – and whether it be an individual or a corporation, a friend or family member, she was never afraid to ask for the help.”
Though more than a year after her departure, the impact of Walsh’s ability to diversify Concern’s reach was readily on display at the luncheon. In addition to attendees from nearly a dozen U.S. states, the event drew people from Ireland, and Mexico, raising over $400,000, more than 40 percent more than any previous Women of Concern event.
Fitting that Walsh herself began Concern’s growth process when she sought out Joe Cahalan to become the non-profit’s first full-time CEO in 2012. That same year she also successfully petitioned the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for investment in Concern’s newly established research and development project, Innovations for Maternal Newborn and Child Health.
“Concern has to continue to put a spotlight on the issues,” Walsh concluded, calling the crowd to action. “Concern has to continue pushing the message. And Concern must never ever give up hope, because it’s hope that keeps these mothers and children going.”