Making a Difference in Africa

New York, NY -- President Bill Clinton delivered the keynote address at the Segal Family Foundation's Annual Meeting of grantees at Lighthouse Executive Conference Center in New York City last Thursday, May 30th.

President Bill Clinton is the man who really put Africa on the map for me. Most people who hear the word 'Africa' don't know that the continent is home to 57 distinct countries, including six out of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world. Most people also probably don't fully appreciate how much Africa still needs our attention.

Like the former president (one of the finest presidents the United States has ever seen), when I quit my day job as head of Bradco in 2008, I too decided Africa is where I wanted my legacy to be. And, like me, Bill Clinton is a man who can't sit still. He had barely left his day job in 2001 when he founded the Clinton Foundation.

When I sold my company, I began searching for a meaningful way to spend time and money. His Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) was the one of major reasons that I got started in philanthropy. My wife, Dolly, and I first attended a CGI in 2006. As the world knows by now, President Clinton has really put his heart and soul into making an enormous impact on the African continent. I can see why. Africa is inspiring, hopeful and ripe with opportunities. Some people follow the Yankees or the Mets, but for me it's about empowering people in countries like Rwanda, Uganda and Liberia that I can't get enough of. So it's Africa where I'm devoting my time, money and vision by way of the Segal Family Foundation.

The Segal Family Foundation is led by a small team with a proactive, informed approach to development. We strive to improve the lives of people in Sub-Saharan Africa by seeking out and supporting grassroots solutions that might otherwise be overlooked. The Segal Family Foundation finds and funds the rising stars creating these solutions. Our rising stars are folks like Jacques Sebisaho of Amani Global Works, who built a hospital on the remote Idjwi Island in DRC and our 2013 Rising Star awardees Raj Panjabi and Peter Luckow of Tiyatien Health in Liberia. Tiyatien is pushing quality healthcare into some of the most remote, underserved communities in the world.

We are most interested in reproductive health, food security and building the capacity of youth in the transition from formal education to productive adulthood. There is a tendency of foundations to throw large amounts of money at problems without assuring that these investments deliver meaningful results. We don't subscribe to this philosophy and approach. We believe that it is often not the amount of dollars, but the focus and effectiveness of the dollars invested that is most important. Therefore, we focus on getting more directly involved with foundation investments to try to assure a "bang for the buck."

Since I first visited Rwanda many years back, I've challenged our foundation to make a dent in the access to family planning for women. We've got awesome partnerships across Africa which empower women and girls to make choices about their future. We haven't forgotten about the men and boys either. After all, it's not enough to help girls to say 'No,' you also have to teach the boys not to ask.

I have always been someone that likes to stand up for the little guy, which is why the work we do is so rewarding. Let's not forget, The Clinton Foundation was responsible for convincing big drug companies to either lower the cost of HIV treatments or let generic drugs be produced so that millions of infected people in the developing world can lead long, productive lives. Thank goodness for that vision and the lives that have been saved.

Take this story too, which I often tell. Deo Niyizonkiza, a refugee from the war-torn African country of Burundi, left his homeland in 1993 with little beyond the clothes on his back. When he arrived in New York City, he didn't know a soul there, nor did he speak English. But a series of charitable deeds by complete strangers helped Deo transform himself from a homeless immigrant to an Ivy League student and eventually set up a health clinic back home to help those he left behind. His organization, Village Health Works is now treating tens of thousands patients per year.

It's been so rewarding to support dozens of grassroots organizations with small budgets and small teams but great passion and talent. These types of organizations are rooted in communities and understand the challenges faced by their people better than anyone. They are the heart of our portfolio and we will support them as best we can for generations to come. Africa is about opportunity, but there's still a long way to go. We're not there yet. We'll never be all the way there. But we'll never, never, never give up. As Nelson Mandela famously said, 'A good head, and a good heart are a formidable combination.'

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