Kumi Naidoo

Kumi Naidoo

Kumi Naidoo

  • Payne Distinguished Lecturer, 2023-25


Kumi Naidoo is a prominent South African human rights and environmental justice activist. At the age of fifteen, he organized school boycotts against the apartheid educational system in South Africa. His courageous actions made him a target for the Security Police, leading to his exile in the United Kingdom, where he remained until 1990. Upon his return to South Africa, Kumi played a pivotal role in the legalization of the African National Congress in his home province of KwaZulu Natal.

Kumi also served as the official spokesperson for the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), responsible for overseeing the country's first democratic elections in April 1994. His dedication to democracy and justice led to notable international roles, including being the first person from the global South to lead Greenpeace International as Executive Director from 2009 to 2016. He later served as the Secretary General of Amnesty International from 2018 to 2020.

In the realm of education, Kumi has shared his expertise, lecturing at Fossil Free University and holding a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellowship at the Robert Bosch Academy until early 2022.

Currently, Kumi serves as a Senior Advisor for the Community Arts Network (CAN). He holds the position of Distinguished visiting lecturer at Stanford University’s Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, and is a Professor of Practice at the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. Additionally, he continues to represent global interests as a Global Ambassador for Africans Rising for Justice, Peace, and Dignity. He also holds positions as a Visiting Fellow at Oxford University and an Honorary Fellow at Magdalen College.

In a testament to his family's commitment to positive change, they have established the Riky Rick Foundation for the Promotion of Artivism, honoring the legacy of their son and brother, the now late South African rapper Rikhado “Riky Rick” Makhado through a commitment to supporting artivism and mental health in South Africa.

Kumi has authored and co-authored numerous books, the most recent being Letters To My Mother (2022), a personal and professional memoir that won the HSS 2023 non-fiction award by the National Institute Humanities and Social Sciences.

In The News

Kumi Naidoo presents the 2024 Payne Distinguished Lecture Series

Confronting the Climate Crisis: Kumi Naidoo's Call to Action

During the 2024 Payne Distinguished Lecture Series presentation, Kumi Naidoo highlighted how creative storytelling blended with scientific evidence can inspire profound human change and move societies toward longer-term solutions for climate change, economic deprivation, social injustice, and war.
cover link Confronting the Climate Crisis: Kumi Naidoo's Call to Action
Kumi Naidoo joins the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies as the 2023-24 Payne Distinguished Lecturer

Social Justice and Environmental Activist Kumi Naidoo Named Payne Distinguished Lecturer

Naidoo brings a multi-disciplinary perspective from his experiences as a leader at Greenpeace International, Amnesty International, and other causes to the students and scholars at FSI and beyond.
cover link Social Justice and Environmental Activist Kumi Naidoo Named Payne Distinguished Lecturer