A. Kayum Ahmed

A. Kayum Ahmed, PhD, MSt, MA, LLM, LLB

Visiting Scientist

A. Kayum Ahmed is a South African activist-scholar who teaches health and human rights advocacy at Columbia University’s School of Public Health and serves as Special Advisor on the Right to Health at Human Rights Watch. In addition, he is a Visiting Scientist at Harvard University’s FXB Center for Health & Human Rights, and serves as faculty co-lead on racial equity at New York City’s Pandemic Response Institute. Previously, he held the role of Division Director at the Open Society Foundations, Public Health Program where he worked on ensuring equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines.

Before relocating to New York, Kayum served as Chief Executive Officer of the South African Human Rights Commission from 2010 to 2015. During this period, he led a team of 178 colleagues to monitor, protect and promote human rights in South Africa, and oversaw the management of nearly 45,000 human rights cases. These cases included access to socio-economic rights such as water, healthcare and education, as well as cases pertaining to discrimination based on race, sexual orientation and disability among others.

Kayum is the recipient of various awards, fellowships and scholarships including the Nelson Mandela Scholarship (Leiden University), Commonwealth Scholarship (University of Oxford), the Hubert Humphrey Fellowship, the Aspen Institute Africa Leadership Initiative Fellowship, and the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans Award. He has taught several classes and delivered guest lectures at institutions across the world including Princeton, Yale, Duke, Oxford, the University of Cape Town, and the University of the Witwatersrand.

He holds a Ph.D. in education from Columbia University as well as various degrees in law from the universities of Oxford (MS.t), Cape Town (LL.B.), and Leiden (LL.M.). In addition, he has degrees in anthropology (M.A.) and theology (B.A. Hons). Kayum has several interdisciplinary research interests and has published various papers on human rights, radical student movements, human rights education, and decoloniality.

He serves on the boards of the Initiative for Medicines, Access and Knowledge (I-MAK), The LAB (San Francisco), and the GC Bond Center for African Education. You can learn more about his work at akayumahmed.com.