Celebrating the Diamond Empowerment Fund

While attending our industry’s annual Jewelry Week trade shows in Las Vegas, I was happy to attend a gala dinner to raise funds for the Diamond Empowerment Fund (D.E.F.), a global non-profit based in New York City, which empowers youth from diamond communities around the world through access to higher education.

Russell Simmons with students from the African Leadership Academy, one of the educational institutions supported by donations from the Diamond Empowerment Fund.

Russell Simmons with students from the African Leadership Academy, one of the educational institutions supported by donations from the Diamond Empowerment Fund.

The event marked the 10th anniversary of D.E.F., which was co-founded by hip-hop entrepreneur and philanthropist Russell Simmons, after he received inspiration and encouragement from the late Nelson Mandela. The South African president encouraged Simmons, running a diamond jewelry brand at the time, to spread the word about the good that diamonds do for Africa – and to do more to support Africa’s youth.

D.E.F. supports various beneficiary organizations in Africa and India, including the African Leadership Academy in South Africa; the Botswana Top Achievers Program; The Diamond Development Initiative in the Democratic Republic of Congo; the Flaviana Matata Foundation in Tanzania; and the Veerayatan Colleges of Pharmacy, Engineering, and Business Administration in India.

The students honored at this year's Diamond Empowerment Fund Gala.

The students honored at this year’s Diamond Empowerment Fund Gala.

At the gala, we had a chance to hear from some of the students who’ve received scholarships and other assistance to complete their educations. “Without the help of the Botswana Top Achievers program and the Diamond Empowerment Fund, I would not have been able to be pursuing my Ph.D.in geodetic science, which involves using satellite positions to find gravity over the earth,” said student scholar Nlingi Habana.

I was honored to be among 450 diamond and jewelry industry leaders in attendance, who hailed from China, India, Russia, Botswana, South Africa, Coté D’Ivoire, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. Altogether, the event raised almost $1.1 million. “This event symbolizes the collective good the diamond and jewelry industry continues to do in communities around the world where they do business. Not enough consumers are aware of this positive fact,” said Anna Martin, D.E.F. board president and vice president of Global Development and Beneficiation at the Gemological Institute of America.

Esther Fortunoff, chatting with Susan Jacques, president and CEO of the Gemological Institute of America, at the Diamond Empowerment Fund gala.

Esther Fortunoff, chatting with Susan Jacques, president and CEO of the Gemological Institute of America, at the Diamond Empowerment Fund gala.

At the dinner, award winning actor and global philanthropist David Oyelowo was awarded the Diamonds Do Good International Vanguard Award for his dedication to empowering communities in Africa. “Enabling girls to be educated will change the dynamics of persistent poverty in countries like Nigeria where out of a staggering 10.5 million out-of-school children, the majority are girls,’ said Oyelowo. The British actor, who is of Nigerian descent, recently started the David Oyelowo Leadership Scholarship for Girls, which aims to provide leadership opportunities for Nigerian girls. The actor also works with the GEANCO Foundation, which runs surgical missions and provides maternal and infant healthcare in Nigeria.

Graca Machel, former first Lady of Mozambique and South Africa and the widow of Nelson Mandela, was awarded the Diamonds Do Good Global Humanitarian Award for her international leadership to transform the lives of women and girls throughout the world. Machel has served as the Minister of Education and Culture in her home country of Mozambique, and is an expert on protecting children in armed conflict for the United Nations Secretary General. She is the founder of the Graca Machel Trust, which aims to improve visibility for African women and children.

To learn more about the Diamond Empowerment Fund, click here: http://www.diamondempowerment.org/.

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