Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

You have to read Rihanna’s powerful speech about humanitarianism


“So I made it to Harvard. Never thought I’d be able to say that in my life, but it feels good.”

With those words, Rihanna kicked off her acceptance of Harvard University’s Humanitarian of the Year award. The pop star was given the prestigious honour on Tuesday in recognition of her extensive charity work – and, ever the consummate performer, her speech didn’t disappoint.

When she was a child growing up in Barbados, Rihanna said, she would see charity appeals on TV and think to herself: “I wonder how many 25 cents I could save up to save all the kids in Africa?”

“I would say to myself, ‘When I grow up, when I can get rich, I’mma save kids all over the world’,” she continued. “I just didn’t know I would be in the position to do that by the time I was a teenager.”


Rihanna set up her first charity, the Believe Foundation, in 2006 at the age of just 18.

Rihanna was signed by Jay-Z to Def Jam Recordings in 2005, at the age of just 17, and started her first charitable organisation – the Believe Foundation, helping terminally ill children – a year later.

Read more: “Women are powerful in numbers”: Taraji P. Henson tells Stylist why togetherness is key

Since then, she has founded the Clara Lionel Foundation Global Scholarship Program (named after her grandparents), aimed at helping students from the Caribbean attend college in the US, and thrown her support behind the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project, which gives children in developing countries access to education.


"So I made it to Harvard": Rihanna accepting her Humanitarian of the Year award at the prestigious US university.

After Rihanna’s beloved grandmother Clara Brathwaite died from cancer, she also built a state-of-the-art medical centre in Barbados to diagnose and treat the disease.

However, the 29-year-old singer told the crowd at Harvard that it doesn’t take being a multimillionaire to help others.

Read more: Danish aid worker tops list of world’s most inspiring people

“People make it seem way too hard, man,” she said. “The truth is, and what I want the little girl watching those commercials to know, is you don’t have to be rich to be a humanitarian. You don’t have to be rich to help somebody. You don’t gotta be famous. You don’t even have to be college-educated.”

Being a real humanitarian, she said, only takes helping “one person, expecting nothing in return. To me, that is a humanitarian.”

Rihanna continued: “It starts with your neighbour, the person right next to you, the person sitting next to you in class, the kid down the block in your neighbourhood. You just do whatever you can to help in any way that you can.

“And today I want to challenge each of you to make a commitment to help one person: one organization, one situation that touches your heart.”

“My grandmother always used to say if you've got a dollar, there's plenty to share.”

In receiving the Harvard University Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award, Rihanna is in esteemed company. Past honourees include Malala Yousafzai, Aung San Suu Kyi, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – as well as Sharon Stone and Lionel Richie.

Now that’s what we call a dream dinner party.

Images: Rex Features



The most generous countries in the world have been revealed


Alicia Keys on the importance of activism and self-love


Revealed: The surprising sexual benefits of kindness and charity


The best A-list Instagrams from the weekend

From Ella Eyre’s autumnal spirit to Serena Williams’ mother-daughter selfie

by Nicola Colyer
16 Oct 2017

Nigella Lawson reveals why red is the ultimate foodie colour

As she tracks her gastronomic love affair with all things crimson

by Kayleigh Dray
16 Oct 2017

Big Bang Theory star faces fierce criticism for Harvey Weinstein op-ed

“I have almost no personal experience with men asking me to meetings in their hotel rooms”

by Moya Crockett
16 Oct 2017

Kate Hudson’s brilliant comment in response to seeking male approval

She might even bring back the Mullet

by Susan Devaney
16 Oct 2017

Kate Winslet defied boss when she left Weinstein out of Oscars speech

“I remember being told, ‘Make sure you thank Harvey if you win’”

by Kayleigh Dray
16 Oct 2017

Evan Rachel Wood wants you to know why she hasn’t named her rapists

Everyone needs to watch this powerful and emotional video message

by Kayleigh Dray
16 Oct 2017

James Corden apologises for those “offensive” Harvey Weinstein jokes

After Rose McGowan furiously dubbed him a “f**king piglet” for making light of the scandal

by Kayleigh Dray
16 Oct 2017

Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas confirm engagement with in-sync posts

But don’t worry, GoT fans: Maisie Williams is still the big love of Turner’s life!

by Kayleigh Dray
16 Oct 2017

The best A-list Instagrams from the week so far

From Kristen Bell’s magical find to Ariana Grande’s touching tribute

by Nicola Colyer
13 Oct 2017

JK Rowling nails the huge problem with this viral sexual assault tweet

Twitter has applauded the Harry Potter author for this expert takedown

by Kayleigh Dray
13 Oct 2017