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Posts Tagged ‘NoVo Foundation’

“Liberia is not a poor country. It is a country that has been managed poorly,” according Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president and Africa’s first female head of state.

Poverty is both a cause and a consequence of violent conflict, which decimates economies, destroys infrastructure, and undermines a state’s capacity to meet basic needs. Yet Sierra Leone and Rwanda have each demonstrated that with the right policies and the right partners, countries can emerge from conflict and achieve positive economic results for their publics. Liberia can be a third example—and wealthy countries, far-sighted investors, and strategic philanthropists alike are betting on the policies of its reform-minded leader.

Undaunted by the problems inherited from 14 years of civil war, Sirleaf’s government undertook a highly inclusive public process to develop its Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). It encompasses policies aimed at integrating former combatants, promoting reconciliation, combating corruption, welcoming investment, and encouraging the growth of civil society. It is a blueprint that has persuaded wealthy countries to provide much-needed debt relief and both private philanthropists and investors to work in close coordination with one another—and with a government they feel they can trust.

I write from Liberia, where I am traveling with 19 philanthropists committed to Liberia’s success. The origins of this trip lie in a 2008 Clinton Global Initiative “commitment” undertaken by Pam Omidyar’s Humanity United, the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF), the Open Society Institute, the Daphne Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the McCall-MacBain Foundation, TrustAfrica, and the government of Liberia.

As part of the commitment, the grant-making foundations stepped forward to finance the establishment of a Philanthropy Secretariat within President Sirleaf’s offices, with the mandate to coordinate their investments so as to best support Liberia’s reform agenda. For our part, at the GPF, we agreed to expand the number of “new philanthropists” alert to Liberia’s potential and to test and refine this extraordinary model of partnership between a post-crisis government and a consortium of private donors and investors.

Ultimately, our hope is to be able to demonstrate—to our satisfaction and to other donors seeking to engage—that this model of highly disciplined and collaborative philanthropic engagement can be adapted and made portable to other post-crisis situations. Many of the GPF members who joined the trip are also leaders of The Philanthropy Workshop West or members of the Aspen Institute Society of Fellows. They are strategic philanthropists, discerning, intent on impact—and deeply respectful of local voices.

They recognize that many of the prescriptions contained in Liberia’s poverty reduction strategy would apply to most post-crisis states. At the same time, they are cognizant that Liberia’s history is unique.  Founded by freed American slaves in 1847, it became the first independent republic in Africa. It established a constitution that met the needs of those settlers, but excluded indigenous peoples. The inequities inherent in that formula helped lead to political instability and ultimately a brutal civil war, during which the GDP of the country dropped 90%, poverty rates rose 64%, the physical infrastructure was decimated, the management class was dispersed, 270,000 died, and many hundreds of thousands were displaced. Its young population, 75% of whom are under age 25, has spent more time in battle than in school.

As a group, we will explore whether and how private actors can contribute to the public goals that are designed not only to reverse the damage done, but to build a new Liberia that can be a model for others emerging from crisis.

In particular, we will report to you—and gain your views—on four hurdles ahead: improving security, promoting public health, rehabilitating infrastructure, and strengthening government capacity.

As we report out to you on the status of each of these areas, we will be eager to hear your views on the role that private actors can play and how they can best work in partnership with each other and with Liberia’s government. Barack Obama has often said that government alone cannot solve all of our country’s problems. If this is true for us, it can be no less true for Liberia, where philanthropy and investment have a significant role to play.

– Jane Wales

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“I fear my own conscience on Africa. I fear the judgment of future generations,” former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is quoted as saying.  “I fear their asking how can wealthy people, so aware of such suffering, so capable of acting, simply turn away?”

While in office, that sentiment led Blair to commit British troops to quelling Sierra Leone’s civil war and to later establish the Commission on Africa to advance the continent’s growth and development. Now, as former Prime Minister, it has inspired him to create the African Governance Initiative (AGI), a non-profit foundation that offers African reformers Blair’s personal help and that of teams of up to 15 UK or US-trained technocrats who are embedded in their ministries. Neither Blair nor these teams comes with policy prescriptions, but rather their task is to help far-sighted leaders achieve their own goals—goals that have been vetted by the process of democratic elections.

Arguing that good governance “is not simply the absence of corruption, but the presence of capacity,” Blair and his AGI have worked with President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone and President Paul Kagame of Rwanda on matters as mundane as how to manage the president’s schedule to the harder political question of how to manage public expectations at a time of transition. Each country has made great strides in rebuilding its society and economy. While they are not without problems, they are both expanding their economies and broadening participation in the gains. Blair argues that as a result the citizens have a growing stake in their country’s future and an increasing reason to believe that hard work and merit—rather than political connections and favors—will provide the ticket to a better life.

Blair has now taken his model of philanthropy to Liberia, which its president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, says “is not a poor country” with its rich natural resources, “but is a country that has been managed poorly.” Fourteen years of civil war have decimated its infrastructure and impoverished its young population, 75% of whom are under age 25 and all of whom have spent more time in battle than in school.

But, soon after the country chose peace it also chose a remarkable leader in Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. A former Assistant Minister of Finance (in the William Tolbert government), Sirleaf now leads a government committed to transparency and an ambitious Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Blair is not the first to invest in the capacity of Sirleaf’s reform government. Soon after Sirleaf’s election, philanthropist Ed Scott created the Scott Fellowship program, which places young professionals in Liberia’s ministries for one-year stints to work along side mid-level officials in carrying out the day to day tasks of governance.  While Scott fellows were initially Americans without familial ties to Liberia, they are now predominately Liberian-Americans returning to the country from which they, their parents or their grandparents came. Many are hoping to stay.

Philanthropist George Soros has similarly helped to strengthen governmental capacity. And, Pam Omidyar’s Humanity United joined forces with the Open Society Institute, the NoVo Foundation, the Daphne Foundation, TrustAfrica and McCall-MacBain Foundation in creating the Philanthropy Secretariat within the office of President Sirleaf. They did so as part of a 2008 Clinton Global Initiative “commitment” of which the Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF) was also a part.

The grant-makers agreed to finance the creation of the Secretariat. The GPF agreed to expand the number of new philanthropists alert to Liberia’s cause. As part of that effort, I am now traveling with 19 GPF members, many of whom are also alumni and leaders of our close collaborators, The Philanthropy Workshop-West. We will be learning what we can and reporting to you along the way.

We’ll be cognizant that Liberia has a special history—having been settled by former American slaves—which may give us a special responsibility. But beyond that sentiment lies the practical recognition that if Sirleaf—a tough leader with integrity, vision and smart policies—does not succeed, that failure may stand as a discouraging lesson to all states struggling to emerge from crisis. Some might argue that it will tell them whether the outside world will be there for them, or whether we, despite being “so aware of such suffering, so capable of acting, simply turn away.”

– Jane Wales

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A post from Lynn Sherr this weekend highlights the recent rise in women’s philanthropy, even while overall charitable giving seems to be on the decline.  She highlights the recent success of the Women Moving Millions challenge campaign that raised $176 million for programs to improve the lives of girls and women around the world.  The article quotes Jennifer Buffet, co-chair of the NoVo Foundation, as saying,

“Women define wealth differently from men.  For women, it’s about the health of community, the health of the family, the quality of life. […] And men? “For men it’s more of a competitive game.”

Over and over again, we’ve seen evidence that investing in women and girls has enormously positive dividends for communities as a whole, not just the individuals directly targeted.  One donor from Women Moving Millions said, “Instead of safety nets, we need trampolines.” She’s right – let’s give women the means to launch themselves forward, not just catch them when they fall.

Watch Jennifer Buffet and her husband Peter at last month’s Global Philanthropy Forum in DC here.

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Associated Press writer Josh Funk reports on Peter and Jennifer Buffett’s NoVo Foundation, detailing their commitment to empowering women, collaborating with other groups to achieve their goal and the incorporation of Warren Buffett’s business ideas to philanthropy.

Peter Buffett will be a speaker at the upcoming Global Philanthropy Forum 2009 Conference in Washington, DC, April 22-24.

Full article: Peter Buffett’s foundation gives millions to girls

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The Chronicle of Philanthropy published a nice profile of Pam Omidyar yesterday. Pam, co-founder of the Omidyar Network, created Humanity United in 2005 as a foundation to end slavery and mass atrocities, based just down the road in Redwood City. Noticing the disconnect between activists, policy experts, and scholars on these issues, Pam chose to work with all of them, and to encourage them to work together.

Here at the World Affairs Council and Global Philanthropy Forum (GPF), we’ve been thrilled to work with several of Pam’s investee organizations mentioned in the article, including Mark Hanis of the Genocide Intervention Network – one of her first projects, and Kevin Bales of Free the Slaves, who credits Pam and Humanity United for their approach. “They didn’t leap in and just say, ‘There’s a slave child. Let’s help them.’ They said, ‘This is a big problem, and let’s spend time thinking it through,'” says Mr. Bales. “You can’t solve a problem unless you understand it.” Pam has been a stand-out member of the GPF’s Advisory Council, and has helped us better understand issues of slavery and genocide.

Pam also worked with Jane Wales, our CEO & President and co-founder of the GPF, this fall to put together a joint commitment for the Clinton Global Initiative on Liberia. Humanity United, together with the Global Philanthropy Forum, the NoVo Foundation, Daphne Foundation, McCallMacBain Foundation, and Trust Africa committed 15 million dollars to collaborate with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to bring a group of foundations together to comprehensively coordinate their efforts to support Liberia’s reconstruction and development.

And, given that Pam is an avid surfer from Hawaii, she might be interested in a new film, Sliding Liberia, just out by Woodshed Films. It tells the story of Liberia’s first surfer, set against the backdrop of the civil war and the country’s struggle for reconstruction in its wake. Created by local Stanford alums, look for the film to be screened at an upcoming IF event at the Council.

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more about “Sliding Liberia Trailer“, posted with vodpod

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