Actor, director and advocate Ben Affleck today announced the launch of the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), an advocacy and grant-making initiative with the mission of helping the Congolese people support local community-based approaches that create a sustainable and successful society in the long-troubled region. ECI is the first U.S. based advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo.
In founding ECI, Affleck brings together a unique coalition of partners from across the public and private sectors who are interested in helping the people of eastern Congo create abundant opportunities for economic and social development, so that civil society can flourish. Additional founding members include Howard G. Buffett, Humanity United, the Bridgeway Foundation, Jewish World Watch and others.
ECI will support community-based organizations (CBOs) that are applying local solutions in the
· Support for survivors of rape and sexual violence · Returning and reintegrating child soldiers into their communities · Community-level peace and reconciliation programs · Increasing access to health care and education · Promoting economic opportunity
ECI will support the development of CBOs through grants and capacity-building support. ECI will also work to raise awareness among policymakers and the media in the U.S. and Europe about the ongoing challenges in the region, and share the stories of hope found there through www.easterncongo.org and the use of multimedia.
“The situation in eastern Congo has been neglected for far too long – it is one of the worst humanitarian tragedies in the world,” said Affleck, who returned today from a five-day trip to the region. “I brought together this unique collection of partners in order to bring their experience in humanitarian relief and sustainable development to bear as we focus like never before on local solutions to challenges in this region. Right now, the attention paid to this crisis doesn’t match the needs of those affected by it. We will raise that attention level, and work with the extraordinary Congolese people who are making a positive difference in their own communities.”
Ambassador Faida Mitifu, the Ambassador of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to the United States and a member of ECI’s Advisory Committee, congratulated ECI on its launch today, saying, “The Eastern Congo Initiative will help to bring much-needed attention to a region that has suffered for too long. An approach that focuses on community-based solutions and highlights the vision of local organizations that serve those affected by conflict is essential. We applaud Ben and the founding members for their foresight and commitment and look forward to working closely with the Eastern Congo Initiative.“
ECI has developed an advocacy and grant-making framework that focuses on maximizing impact. ECI has a team in the region whose primary objective is conducting extensive research to evaluate and support CBOs and prioritize advocacy efforts for long-term sustainability. “I joined Ben in this effort because I believe strongly in investing in sustainable solutions to humanitarian challenges,” said Howard Buffett, ECI Founding Member, businessman and philanthropist. “My experience is that when you support locally initiated efforts, you lay a foundation for change that lasts long after relief agencies have left. I’m confident in Ben’s ability to bring a coalition of partners together who will influence a broader diplomatic strategy, increase philanthropic investment and foster coordination among the many organizations already doing great work in the region.”
More than a decade of conflict, political instability and poverty have left eastern Congo, its infrastructure, productive land and institutions decimated to the point that the government cannot provide for the basic food, health, education and security needs of its population. The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 179th out of 182 on the UN’s Human Development Index.
Interethnic violence, since the 1994 Rwandan genocide spilled over into eastern Congo, has claimed the lives of more than five million people. It has forced millions more Congolese from their homes, villages and farms, resulting in widespread poverty and insecurity. Despite a 2008 peace agreement between 22 militias – many best-known for their practices of forcedrecruitment of child soldiers and employing sexual violence as a weapon – sporadic violence continues to terrorize people in the region and hamper relief and development efforts. The UN reported in January that an estimated 160 women are raped each week in the Kivu provinces of eastern Congo, and that 30 percent of those in need of assistance in the region are inaccessible to international NGOs because of poor roads and insecurity.
In 2006, the country held its first democratic elections in 40 years. It has a new constitution that dramatically increases local representation and the rule of law, and will hold its next election in 2011. The UN and several international NGOs are on the ground providing security and humanitarian support. The Congolese people have formed community-based organizations to offer locally developed solutions to some of the most challenging legacies of conflict and human rights abuse in the region.
ECI takes the position that increasing attention to what is working in Congo – which investments are creating economic opportunities and, how communities are healing, shining a light on human rights abuses, and supporting public/private partnerships will have a positive and lasting impact. More information including images and videos about ECI, and background on the crisis and the people and organizations making a difference in the region can be found at www.easterncongo.org.
About the Eastern Congo Initiative:
Founded in 2010 by Ben Affleck, the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) is a project of the New Venture Fund, a 501(c)(3) charity registered in the United States. Additional founding members include: Howard G. Buffett, Humanity United, the Bridgeway Foundation, Jewish World Watch and others.
The Eastern Congo Initiative is an advocacy and grant-making initiative wholly focused on working with and for the people of eastern Congo. ECI provides support for Congolese organizations working to develop community-based approaches that create a sustainable and successful society in eastern Congo.