The Charles Bronfman Prize Names Rebecca Heller as 2015 Recipient

The Charles Bronfman Prize today announced that Rebecca (Becca) Heller is the 2015 award recipient for her visionary work creating and enforcing a system of legal and human rights on behalf of refugees who are at risk. As the Director and Co-founder of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at the Urban Justice Center, Heller, 33, merges her legal background and her advocacy work with her humanitarian commitment, impacting hundreds of thousands across the globe. The Charles Bronfman Prize – and an accompanying $100,000 award – is presented annually to an innovative and dynamic humanitarian under the age of 50 whose work is informed by Jewish values and has global impact that changes lives and inspires future generations. The Prize will be presented to Heller by the Bronfman family in the fall of 2015.

Charles Bronfman, the namesake of the Prize, said, “I am delighted to announce this year’s award recipient, Becca Heller, our youngest ever recipient. Countless people have been helped by her tireless efforts, and I’m thrilled to recognize someone with such vision, aptitude and a proven track record of success. My hope is that this Prize will allow her to impact the lives of many more people on a global scale.”

While living in Israel during her Kirby Simon Fellowship from Yale Law School, Heller traveled to Amman, Jordan, and met with Iraqi refugees suffering from hunger, poverty, and lack of access to health care and seeking resettlement and protection in order to save their lives. Yet none understood how to navigate the legal processes involved. Upon returning to Yale, Heller and four peers created IRAP to address this problem. They worked with the limited resources they had – pairing passionate students with volunteer attorneys to provide legal representation to Iraqi refugees.

IRAP is the first organization to provide comprehensive legal representation to individual refugees seeking resettlement. Under Heller’s leadership, IRAP has helped the most vulnerable refugees in countries including Afghanistan, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Somalia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Turkey, Syria and the United States, providing more than $10 million in legal aid each year.

To date, IRAP has successfully enabled the resettlement of more than 2,500 at-risk refugees to nine countries – including Iraqis and Afghans at risk for their work as interpreters with the U.S. military, children with medical emergencies, women who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence, survivors of torture, and men and women whose lives are threatened simply because they are part of the LGBTI community.

As a global leader for legal issues in refugee resettlement, Heller and IRAP have won broad systemic reforms of U.S. and international laws and protocols that include enactment of five separate pieces of U.S. Congressional legislation that are affording rights protection to over 120,000 displaced persons worldwide.

“I am honored to be the 2015 recipient of The Charles Bronfman Prize, an award that is a credit to the Bronfman family’s commitment to Jewish values, innovation and service,” Heller said upon news of her award. “Of course, the award is a source of great personal pride, but more importantly, it provides an opportunity to shed light on one of the great moral and humanitarian crises facing our society—the plight of millions of refugees who live in despair, fear and poverty, often without help and without hope. The Charles Bronfman Prize inspires me and everyone associated with IRAP to intensify our efforts to ensure that refugees around the world are treated with fairness, accountability and respect for their basic human dignity.”

IRAP’s innovative model for providing legal services has remained in place since it was created: organizing law students and pairing them with experienced pro bono lawyers from more than 50 top-tier global firms and five multinational corporations. To date, over 3,000 students from 26 IRAP law school chapters have worked with the Project. Most importantly, IRAP’s model is sustainable and flexible, with the ability to expand in order to accommodate a growing caseload and new partners including UNHCR as one of IRAP’s main referring partners. The model leverages every $1 spent into $10 in legal aid, while simultaneously creating a bar of international human rights and refugee lawyers.

“Becca Heller’s leadership, commitment to justice and courageous loyalty embody all that the Prize stands for,” said the Honorable Madam Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada, speaking on behalf of the international panel of judges that selected Heller as the 2015 Prize recipient.  “She is a truly extraordinary young lawyer, achieving legislative victories and setting legal precedents on a global level for the world’s most vulnerable refugees, while providing a luminous example to everyone who cares about human rights in the legal field and beyond.”

See photos of Becca Heller

Heller’s nominating team for The Charles Bronfman Prize included Mary Ann Stein, President of The Moriah Fund.

“Heller is a game-changing leader in efforts to address one of the world’s most serious humanitarian crises. Today, as the global number of refugees and displaced persons reaches the highest level since the Second World War, Heller is using new strategies and technologies to create a body of law and field of legal practice around refugee rights,” Stein said.

Heller’s dedication to serving the most vulnerable among us demonstrates an unwavering commitment to the Jewish principle of tikkun olam (repairing the world). Her human rights efforts began when she was an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, where she was awarded the Campus Compact Howard Swearer National Student Humanitarian Award for her work on community food security and affordable housing. Later, Heller received a fellowship to conduct research on community-based solutions to AIDS-related malnutrition in Zimbabwe. She continued to pursue this work after graduation as a Fulbright Scholar, focusing on direct outreach around Malawi’s National Nutrition Policy for the Minister of Nutrition, HIV, and AIDS.

Charles Bronfman Prize Co-Founder Ellen Bronfman Hauptman, speaking on behalf of the Prize founders, summed up the selection of Heller saying, “When we founded the Prize as a gift to our father, we wanted to award recipients who, like him, have a vision for change and the innovation to better our world. Becca’s dedication to humanitarian service, catalyzing a crucial shift in refugee policy on a global scale, personifies Prize ideals.  We are excited to share Becca’s story and have her as part of the growing fellowship of Charles Bronfman Prize laureates.”


More About Becca Heller
Heller is the Director and Co-founder of IRAP and a visiting clinical lecturer at Yale Law School. She has received numerous awards in recognition of her work with IRAP, including a Skadden Fellowship, an Echoing Green Fellowship, a Gruber Human Rights Fellowship, a Cordes Fellowship, a Truman National Security Fellowship and a Dartmouth College Martin Luther King Jr. Emerging Leader in Social Justice Award. She was also named one of the Christian Science Monitor’s “30 under 30″ change makers, and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Heller received her J.D. from Yale Law School in May 2010. While in law school, she participated in the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, the Immigration Legal Services Clinic, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic. She served as an Articles Editor for the Yale Journal of International Law, and received a Coker Fellowship to teach legal writing to first year law students. She also received the Charles G. Albom Prize for excellence in the area of judicial and administrative appellate advocacy in connection with a Law School clinical program.

Prior to law school, Heller lived and worked in Sub-Saharan Africa for two years, including one year as a US Student Fulbright Scholar in Malawi. She graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College in 2005.


About The Charles Bronfman Prize


Ellen Bronfman Hauptman and Stephen Bronfman, together with their spouses, Andrew Hauptman and Claudine Blondin Bronfman, established The Charles Bronfman Prize to honor their father and his commitment to applying Jewish values to better the world and to inspire the next generations.

Previous recipients include Jay Feinberg, Founder and Executive Director of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation; Dr. Alon Tal, Founder of Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies; Dr. Amitai Ziv, Founder and Director of the Israel Center for Medical Simulation; Rachel Andres, Founder and Director of Jewish World Watch’s Solar Cooker Project; Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin, Co-Founders of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP); Sasha Chanoff, Founder and Executive Director, RefugePoint; Jared Genser, Founder and President of Freedom Now; Karen Tal, Former Principal of The Bialik-Rogozin School and Co-Founder of Education Insights; Eric Rosenthal, Founder and Executive Director of Disability Rights International; and Sam Goldman, Founder of d. light.


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