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Christopher (Kit) Dobyns '12

Our 2012 JFK Awardee advocates for social change and promotes peace

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January 2017 Update

I finished up at Oxford last year, where I wrote my dissertation on the impact of the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief on healthcare delivery in Kenya. I also became very involved with vaccine research at Kenya and I am currently working on the operations-side of a number of clinical trials as part of startup called Trialspark.

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The 2012 winner of the JFK Memorial Fellowship is Africana Studies major Christopher (Kit) Dobyns of Highland, MD. Kit’s goal and vision is to become a lifelong advocate of social change, promoting peace through entrepreneurship, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, a mission that grows out of his Christian commitment to social justice.

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See Cornell-produced video on Kit
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He takes his inspiration from President Kennedy’s cautionary charge, “There are risks and costs to a program of action, but they are far less than the long range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.” Kit came to his professional goal after spending a year in Tanzania working with marginalized populations at a poultry farm and an orphanage, and later working to engage disabled citizens in South Africa in the emerging green economy.

At Cornell, Dobyns minors in inequality studies and in law and society, and is a Meinig Family National Scholar and a Public Service Center scholar. He is serving this summer (2012) as a youth delegate to the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. Because of his leaves of absence in Africa, he has postponed graduation until December, 2012.

Kit Dobyns 12

Kit, center, receiving the award certificate from Mike Newman and Carolyn Neuman on campus in May, 2012

In addition to the JFK award, Kit has been widely recognized and honored for scholarship and service. He is a recipient of 2012 Morris K. Udall Scholarship, a national award providing tuition support for students in environmental studies. In 2011, he received Cornell's Freeman Fellowship to fund a summer internship related to peace studies and conflict resolution, and worked with the QuadPara Association of South Africa, which advocates for individuals with disabilities. He also received the Hatfield Award for ethics in business, sponsored by Cornell's Program on Ethics and Public Life, for his research on economic development in Cambodia.

Kit was a founder and executive director of the Social Business Consulting Group, a student-run nonprofit group providing consulting services to social ventures such as clean water initiatives and an indigenous artisan cooperative. His overseas work has included service with a microfinance institution in Nairobi, an anti-poverty organization in Cameroon, and as an English teacher in Rwanda. He also is a volunteer firefighter with the Cayuga Heights Fire Department.

Kit anticipates using his JFK Award to support his work with a social business in East Africa and other field experience that will lead to his working with USAID in sustainable development.

One of Kit’s referees described him this way: “The value structure that informs his life, whether in Ithaca or Rwanda, may have a religious origin, but as expressed it is not creedal. Rather, his commitment to social justice is religious in that he is guided by a belief in the brotherhood of all humanity…. His ability to listen, to recognize that his is but one voice among others in a particular context, in part supports this. But what strikes me even more is that he is also genuinely interested in other people because, I think, he understands the extent to which his life is enriched by a commitment beyond himself….he possesses already a vocation, in the sense that Max Weber would understand. The form will grow, change, and develop; but the fundamental moral vision and work ethic are already in place.”

The class of 1964 is proud to count Kit Dobyns among its JFK fellows.