The James A. Baker III Prize for Excellence in Leadership recognizes nationally and internationally renowned individuals for outstanding achievements in government, business, science, education or philanthropy. We award this prize to those who exemplify the vision of building “a bridge between the world of ideas and the world of action,” conceived by the Honorable James A. Baker, III, when he established the Baker Institute. Recipients embody the institute’s mission to nurture the ties between academia, government and the private sector.
Recipients are awarded the Baker Prize gold medal, which is custom designed and produced by the historic Monnaie de Paris, the national mint of France. The sovereign mission of the mint is to strike circulating French coinage, but it also makes coins for other foreign currencies, and manufactures medals and trophies for countries around the world. Founded in 864 AD, the mint is France's longest-standing institution.
Marguerite (Maggy) Barankitse is an internationally acclaimed humanitarian devoted to improving the welfare of children and challenging ethnic discrimination. She is the founder of Maison Shalom, a complex of schools and hospitals, and a network of care across Burundi and Rwanda. Maison Shalom began in 1993, during the worst days of Burundi’s civil war, after Ms. Barankitse, a Tutsi, tried to hide 72 of her Hutu neighbors to keep them safe from persecution. In the weeks that followed, she set up a shelter to aid children in need.
In 24 years, Maison Shalom has grown into a large nongovernmental organization with the purpose of improving the lives of Burundi’s children through integrated and sustainable development that aims to foster a lasting peace in Burundi. Maison Shalom has served tens of thousands of Burundians in the spirit of overcoming ethnic hatred and violence.
Ms. Barankitse is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity (2016), the Opus Prize (2008), the Prize for Conflict Prevention (2011), UNESCO (2008), the Nansen Refugee Award (2006), the Four Freedoms Award from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (2004), the Voices of Courage Award of the Women’s Commission for Women and Refugee Children (2004), the World Children’s prize (2003), the Juan Maria Bandres Prize for Asylum Rights (1998), and the French Government’s Human Rights Prize (1998).
Previous Baker Prize Recipients
L.E. and Virginia Simmons
L.E. Simmons’ approach to business has emphasized integrity and perseverance, values he learned growing up in Kaysville, Utah. The son of a successful banker, Simmons studied at the University of Utah and the London School of Economics and earned an MBA from Harvard Business School. He moved to Houston in 1974 to establish Simmons and Company, which became the leading investment ban‹king firm for oilfield service companies. In 1989, he founded SCF Partners and has since guided the investment of more than $2.5 billion to build thriving energy service and equipment companies.
Simmons brings to the world of philanthropy the same vision and entrepreneurial spirit that has ensured his success in business. He and his wife, Ginny, sponsor the Virginia and L.E. Simmons Family Foundation Collaborative Research Fund, a program to find novel solutions to difficult medical problems through the combined expertise of scientists at Rice University, Texas Children’s Hospital and The Methodist Research Hospital. Virginia Simmons is a graduate of Louisiana State University who gives her time freely to causes such as Reasoning Mind, Trees for Houston, the Rice University Shepherd School of Music’s Shepherd Society Board and the Bayou Bend Endowment.
The Honorable Hushang Ansary
Hushang Ansary holds a distinguished record of service in private enterprise and the public domain. In his native Iran, he held important cabinet positions, including Minister of Economy and Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, and was Iran's ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ansary is one of Houston's most prominent philanthropists. His lifelong commitment to education, health care and the alleviation of human suffering has been honored internationally. He has been decorated by the governments of Japan, South Korea, Norway and Pakistan. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Ellis Island Medal of Honor.
Mr. Ansary is a founding member of the Baker Institute for Public Policy and has served on its Advisory Board since its inception.
Robert C. McNair
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Houston Texans owner Robert McNair’s generosity and leadership at the Baker Institute. A supporter of the institute from its earliest days, McNair, along with his wife Janice, endowed the Janice and Robert McNair Chair in Public Policy, which today is held by our founding director, The Honorable Edward P. Djerejian. The McNairs are also benefactors of Rice University athletics, arts and academics. Janice and Robert McNair Hall houses the Jones Graduate School of Business. They have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to public service and civic life in Houston and the broader community, supporting numerous charities including the Houston Zoo, fine arts initiatives, education and medical philanthropy.
General Colin L. Powell, USA (Retired)
The 65th U.S. secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, The Honorable Colin L. Powell, received the award for his ongoing support of and commitment to the Baker Institute, including his service as a member of the Baker Institute Board of Advisors. Powell’s distinguished record of accomplishment and service includes two Presidential Medals of Freedom, the President’s Citizens Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal, the Secretary of State Distinguished Service Medal and the Secretary of Energy Distinguished Service Medal. Several schools and other institutions have been named in his honor, and he holds honorary degrees from universities and colleges across the country.
The Honorable Charles W. Duncan, Jr.
Generously committing his resources, energy and guiding wisdom, The Honorable Charles W. Duncan, Jr. exemplifies the institute’s mission, which is to nurture and enhance the ties between the worlds of academic research, public policy and private enterprise. Duncan, who served as deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Defense and as secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy in the Carter administration, is also a trustee emeritus and past chairman of the board of governors of Rice University. A Rice graduate, he previously was president of Coca-Cola Co. and is currently chairman of Duncan Interests and serves on the Baker Institute Board of Advisors.