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Payne Distinguished Lecture Series: Creative Maladjustment and the Climate Crisis

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The Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University are pleased to welcome social justice and environmental activist Kumi Naidoo to deliver the 2024 Payne Distinguished Lecture Series in International Relations Theory and Practice.

As we veer ever closer to a global climate catastrophe, it has become clear that incremental tinkering with our systems — including political, environmental, social, and economic systems — will not be an adequate solution. Drawing on Martin Luther King’s idea of Creative Maladjustment, this lecture will argue that rather than responding to the polycrisis with an approach of system recovery, maintenance, and protection, what is urgently needed now is system innovation, redesign, and transformation.

It is imperative that we change the trajectory we are on as a species. Yet activism is failing to win at the scale and speed necessary to do so. The communications deficit that must be addressed by those seeking transformative change will likely need to be multilayered and imbued with intersectionality. This lecture posits the power of artivism — a fusion of art and activism — as a vital force capable of resonating with diverse audiences, instilling a sense of urgency, and fostering various pathways for participation. At this critical juncture, pessimism is a luxury we simply cannot afford. The pessimism that flows from our analysis, observations, and lived realities can best be overcome by the optimism of our thoughts, actions, and creative responses.

The Payne Lectureship is named for Frank E. Payne and Arthur W. Payne, brothers who gained an appreciation for global problems through their international business operations. Their descendants endowed the annual lecture series at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies in order to raise public understanding of the complex policy issues facing the global community today and to increase support for informed international cooperation.

The Payne Distinguished Lecturer is chosen for his or her international reputation as a leader, with an emphasis on visionary thinking; a broad, practical grasp of a given field; and the capacity to clearly articulate an important perspective on the global community and its challenges.


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 on 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.


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