As a child living in an abandoned tenement in New York’s East Village, Rosario Dawson saw goodness in the midst of extreme poverty. “People are really compassionate and really loving and really giving and show up,” she says. “I grew up with poor people helping poor people.”
Throughout Dawson’s Hollywood career, she has melded this charitable spirit into all aspects of her life. Her latest endeavor, the newly formed Rio Dawn Foundation Inc. — which she is discussing for the first time, exclusively with THR — aims to support and raise the profiles of many of the nonprofits she has worked with over the years.
This is far from Dawson’s first step into the world of philanthropy. She’s a co-founder of Voto Latino, which encourages Latinx youth to vote and become politically involved. She is a board member of V-Day, a global activist organization fighting to end violence against women and girls. In 2013, she co-launched Studio 189, a Ghana-based fashion and media company that provides work opportunities for women and promotes African fashion. Dawson’s activism extends to her creative life, as well. She narrated and executive produced The Need to Grow, a 2019 documentary examining Earth’s dwindling farmable topsoil.
Dawson says people are often surprised by the number of causes she supports. “They ask, ‘Why are you working on all these different issues?’ ” she says. “And I’m like, ‘Because I understand the intersectionality of them all.’ “
But Dawson’s years of activism and her service on numerous nonprofit boards have opened her eyes to the toll fundraising takes on the employees and volunteers of charitable organizations. “The problem that I keep seeing — and why I wanted to do the foundation — is because they’re constantly fundraising, and it’s really hard to do that,” she says. “They’re taking it into their bodies and into their lives and sacrificing so much.”
At Rio Dawn, which engaged Social Impact Fund as its fiscal sponsor, Dawson hopes to help alleviate that burden. “The organizers need to just be doing the organizing and the activists need to be active. Why make them jump through all these hoops in order to get done what you want them to get done?” she says.
The foundation aims to raise funds and promote organizations furthering causes she holds dear. These include projects aimed at transforming lives through the creative arts and holistic living, economically empowering underprivileged global citizens, fighting for environmental justice, investing in young people, championing the rights of women and girls, promoting equity, and making education available for all. Rio Dawn will initially focus on nonprofits with which Dawson has a longtime relationship, including Shine On Sierra Leone, which has supported health clinics and schools in the African country, and the Lower Eastside Girls Club of New York.
Dawson hopes that Rio Dawn can attract supporters who may not have found their space thus far in the activist movement. “Not all of us can volunteer, but some of us can fundraise, some of us can amplify, some of us can share,” she says. “It’s just beautiful to show people all those different ways that they can engage.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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