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Posts Tagged ‘The Philanthropy Workshop West’

“Women are part of the development agenda for the first time—and we are making use of our time. Traditional culture has made us reticent. But, no more. Our eyes are now open and there is no way they will close again.” These are the words of Liberia’s Vabah Gayflor, Minister of Gender and Development. Soft-spoken and patient, when her moment comes to speak, her voice drops to a whisper that commands the attention of all in the room. The 19 philanthropists with whom I am traveling in Liberia are focused; we have met a truly powerful person.

Gayflor, who is not a member of any political party, is an unmistakable champion of the person and policies of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Her colleagues speak of two revolutions led by Liberian women, and the one to come. The first was their struggle for peace in 2003. The second came in 2005 when they registered to vote and stood for election. Now, the third revolution is a more sustainable approach to economic development, one that provides benefits for all.

Quiet power characterizes the women of Liberia with whom we have met. They and their daughters have been the victims of extraordinary gender-based violence throughout the country’s 14-year civil war and still to this day, for the culture of impunity lingers on. However, in Minister Gayflor’s words, “women believe their time has come.” Meeting them persuades us that is so.

Throughout our day today, we met with women and girls who were being given economic opportunity, albeit modest, for the first time. Job creation has not come near to keeping up with the need, and remains an urgent necessity for President Sirleaf, who met with us over dinner last night. While some of those jobs will come from large corporations in search of coffee, rubber and cocoa, Sirleaf notes that the extractive industries are “capital intensive, and will not provide all the jobs we need.” And so the prospect of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) attracts the donors with whom I am now traveling, leaders of the Global Philanthropy Forum and The Philanthropy Workshop West.

In a large building on Monrovia’s main thoroughfare, we met with the exuberant members of the Liberian Women’s Sewing Project, a pilot enterprise of Chid Liberty’s Made In: Liberia, a promising new business to manufacture apparel that would be fair trade certified and a source of employment. Elsewhere in Monrovia, each woman who opens a stall at the Nancy B. Doe Market, funded by the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund, is required to open a savings account at the ECO Bank branch located within the market. And she is given access to daily literacy classes within the market walls. In a country where 60 percent of agricultural output and 80 percent of trading activities are carried out by women, ensuring that they have training and access to credit is essential.

Liberian women have found ways to advance other aspects of the Sirleaf government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS). Members of the West Africa Network for Peace Building (WANEP) told us of their efforts to increase women’s participation in peace-building at all levels in the country, through advocacy, capacity-building, radio outreach and rural initiatives.

And the truly extraordinary women of West Point—the largest slum within Liberia—have formed their own West Point Women for Health and Development. Forty eight percent of West Point’s population is comprised of children, 35% women (mostly single parents) and 15% men. In this area not yet reached by government services, these remarkable women concluded that “enough is enough” after seeing too many children raped and killed. They self-organized and took responsibility for their impoverished community, with each paying weekly dues of 30 Liberian Liberty Dollars (roughly 40 cents US). With this money, they fund grassroots efforts to improve health and sanitation, reduce gender-based violence, provide literacy classes, reduce prostitution— and see to it that the police do their jobs. And if the police fail them, as is so often the case, they take matters to higher authorities until perpetrators of violence are prosecuted and some form of order is achieved. Their annual budget is $10,000. With funding, they would like to expand their skills training to teaching a woman to drive a car. Newly empowered with that skill, she could be a taxi driver and make a living for her family.

So what is the role for private actors—philanthropists and social investors? Is the right entry point a community based organization, an NGO that provides skills training and meets basic needs? Or is it to create the conditions for small enterprises to take seed, so that the economy can expand more than its current 5% per year. With funding and technical assistance, increased access to education, skills development, credit and inputs, women will be able to lift their families from poverty.

Women did not get the vote in Liberia until 1948. Their country did not get peace until the women demanded it in 2003. Now a woman holds the presidency, powerful women are heading ministries, holding Senate seats and women with no education and no obvious reason for hope have transformed West Point from being a daily, deadly danger to their sisters and their children. Their eyes are now open to the power they wield. Will they turn back? And how can the rest of us ease their path forward?

– Jane Wales

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“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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