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Ackmans Pledge $10 Million to Support Human Rights Watch

Friends of the High Line
Karen Ackman, a landscape architect on the board of Friends of the High Line, and Bill Ackman, founder and CEO, Pershing Square Capital Management. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Bill Ackman, chief executive officer of Pershing Square Capital Management LP, and his wife, Karen, have pledged $10 million to the New York-based Human Rights Watch Inc.

The Ackmans’ Pershing Square Foundation will give $2 million a year during the next five years to the nonprofit. The money will be used to expand its advocacy to countries including Brazil, India and South Africa and increase its research capabilities in the 90 nations it currently monitors, said Executive Director Ken Roth in a phone interview.

“I’m extremely supportive of Human Rights Watch’s expansion of its global mandate,” Bill Ackman, 46, said in a phone interview. “Independence and free speech are issues that are very important to me.”

The hedge-fund manager said he is impressed with Roth’s leadership of the organization and the commitment of his staff.

“Bill sees parallels in the methodology of Human Rights Watch and his own methodology,” Roth said. “Each of us uses public pressure to improve the target organization’s performance.”

The Ackmans began giving to HRW in 2003 after a friend invited him to one of its dinners, he said. Karen Ackman joined the board in 2009 and now serves on its Africa and Women’s Rights advisory committees. They are among the top five donors to the nonprofit.

(Philanthropist George Soros became the largest donor to Human Rights Watch when he pledged $100 million in 2010.)

Donations Top $140 Million

Since starting their Pershing Square Foundation in December 2006, the Ackmans have given more than $140 million in grants to education, human rights, health care, economic empowerment and the arts. In January, they gave $25 million to New York’s nonprofit Signature Theatre Co.

About two years ago, they pledged $25 million to the Newark, New Jersey, school system. Karen Ackman, a landscape architect, serves on the board of Friends of the High Line, a nonprofit that helps maintain the public park built on an elevated freight rail line on Manhattan’s West Side.

Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Lance Esplund on art.

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