Shaheen Kassim-Lakha, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation

TITLE: Director, International Programs

FUNDING AREAS: Charitible work by Catholic sisters, children affected by HIV/AIDS, water, blindness and trachoma, disaster response

CONTACT: shaheen@hiltonfoundation.org, 818-851-3700

IP TAKE: Kassim-Lakha oversees all the international programs at the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and sets strategies and goals for her employer's global giving. Hilton is a proactive grant maker, and with tens of millions of dollars to spend on international work every year, there are opportunities here for NGOs whose missions align closely with the foundation's stated funding priorities.

PROFILE: Heading up the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation's international portfolio, which spends about $30 million each year on five program areas related to global development, is Shaheen Kassim-Lakha. She comes to the foundation with a long career in global health, and guides strategy, planning, and execution for all the work that Hilton does abroad.

Hilton has plenty of money to spend, but it's relatively specific about how it spends it. So for prospective Hilton grantees who are reading this, we offer the following summary of the foundation's primary program areas, with attention to how much support goes to each one on an annual basis, and what Hilton's issue-specific priorities are.

  • Sisters. Around the world, Catholic nuns work to improve the circumstances of the poor and downtrodden, and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation wants to support them. Currently, the foundation prioritizes nunly work in the United States and Africa, but it is expanding its scope to include other geographic regions. Primarily, the foundation is interested in funding nuns working on education, the environment, health care, and social services. Hilton's nun-related grants average about $10,000 each. Grants to the Sisters programs total around $7 million a year.
  • Children affected by HIV/AIDS. Here, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation has several funding strategies. It likes projects that focus on assisting parents and caregivers of HIV/AIDS-affected children, helping community-based organizations to deliver services to affected communities, and encouraging policymakers to focus investments and resources on curing and treating HIV/AIDS. The foundation's work in HIV/AIDS has a pretty specific geographic focus. Hilton funds projects in five countries: Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Zambia. The foundation devotes about $8 million a year to treating and fighting HIV/AIDS in children.
  • Water. People around the world lack access to clean water, and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation wants to put a sizable dent in the problem. Its goal is to provide sustainable, safe water access for at least one million people over five years. Hilton is investing about $11 million on a yearly basis to get potable water to rural and impoverished regions of Africa, India, and Mexico.
  • Blindness. When people don't have access to sanitation, they can get trachoma, a bacterial infection of the eye that is easy to treat with antibiotics or prevent with basic hygiene. It's a simple enough infection for most people to avoid or treat, but those who lack the resources for treatment can go blind. To combat preventable blindness, Hilton devotes about $3 million a year to trachoma treatment, prevention, and education.
  • Disaster relief and recovery. Disasters happen, in the United States and everywhere. No one is immune from it, or the suffering it inflicts. So the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation places very few restrictions on the kind of disaster relief it is willing to fund. Emergency, medium-term, long-term, foreign, domestic—all such projects are eligible for Hilton support. The foundation spends approximately $2 million on disaster relief projects annually.

Kassim-Lakha comes to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation with a career focus in, as she describes it, "international development and environmental epidemiology." But Kassim-Lakha has also done a lot of work in global health policy. She completed a doctoral program at UCLA's School of Public Health, where her research centered on measurement techniques and evaluation of surrounding healthcare philanthropy and its effectiveness. She's done her time in international consulting, hospital administration, and urban evironmental health policy formulation. Most recently, Kassim-Shina was in the health philanthropy field, working as a senior program officer at California's UniHealth Foundation.

Getting Kassim-Lakha's attention can be tough for grantees, since the foundation is explicitly "proactive" in its giving. So don't bother sending Hilton an application for funding. However, Hilton is large enough that it does have resources to share, so if your work aligns closely with Hilton's mission priorities, don't be shy about approaching staff to ask about potential partnerships. And to give you a slightly better sense of the kinds of projects the Hilton Foundation funds, here's a list of recent grants in the area of global development:

  • $3.5 million to Catholic Relief Services in support of nuns working with children affected by HIV/AIDS in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia.
  • $4.8 million to New York's Helen Keller International for trachoma elimination efforts in Mali, Niger, and Tanzania.
  • $750,000 to the International Medical Corps, based in Santa Monica, California, for refugees of the Syrianan crisis now living in Turkey.