Written by Sydney Johnson
The Democratic Republic of Congo is known to be one of the poorest, most violent and unstable regions of the world. With a recent history of civil wars and governmental corruption, this nation now faces a daunting mountain that they must climb in order to bring peace and prosperity to the people living within its borders.
Fortunately, actor and director Ben Affleck saw the atrocities occurring within the DRC and took it upon himself to utilize his success in a way that could change the current condition of the Congolese people for the better. To do this, Affleck started the non-profit organization known as the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) in 2010. Since its foundation, ECI has set high standards for the reconstruction of eastern Congo, with goals focusing in on two main areas of support: grants and advocacy.
In order to achieve these goals and perpetuate progress, ECI believes “local, community-based approaches are the key to creating a successful society in eastern Congo. [They] also believe that public and private partnerships, combined with advocacy that drives public policy change and increased attention, will create new opportunities for the people of eastern Congo.” The range of distribution for these grants covers many of the immediate and long term needs of the Congolese people, including counseling, health, education, legal support, and income generation projects for vulnerable youth and survivors of sexual violence. They also place importance on reintegrating former child soldiers into their communities, and fostering a generation that will not repeat what it has been tragically exposed to. According to the ECI website, this organization has already granted more than 2 million dollars to 23 Congolese organizations working in North Kivu, South Kivu and Orientale provinces.
ECI also heavily relies on advocacy to encourage reform and transparent political rule for the Congolese people. Like many other non-profits working to shed light on the central African crisis, ECI seeks to spread awareness of the current conditions endured by those living in eastern Congo, as well as what must be done to change those conditions and how that can be accomplished. In their advocacy goals and strategies, ECI claims they “will collaborate with targeted individuals and governing bodies in the US, Europe and DRC, as well as NGOs, corporations and private investors to develop Congolese-specific solutions and advocate for their advancement.” ECI utilizes social media, journalistic writing, scholarly research, and radio as means for sharing their message and reaching out to others who may wish to help.
Three fundamental facets the ECI turns to in establishing a better future for the people of eastern Congo include increasing investments from private and public funding sources to strategically support established Congolese-led programs that build safe and sustainable communities, raising public awareness about the tremendous need in the region through targeted media and advocacy activities, and driving policy change in order to increase United States government engagement in Congo.
ECI has also made collaboration and partnership a fundamental part of their work. After teaming up with popular charitable shoe brand TOMS, each pair of shoe purchased will not only result in a pair donated to a child in need, but a portion of the proceeds will also go towards helping fund ECI grants that go toward programs in the Congo. In addition, ECI also joined forces with Theo Chocolate, and together the two are working to improve the quality of rural famers’ cocoa crops, as well as help them access and contribute to international markets.
ECI claims to “envision an eastern Congo vibrant with abundant opportunities for economic and social development, where a robust civil society can flourish.” After much compassionate and careful strategizing by Affleck and the hundreds of others involved, this organization is now making headway in facilitating financial prosperity, health, and happiness to the people of the DRC. Children are going back to school, women are being incorporated into the judicial system, and local organizations are gaining the skills and resources necessary to fulfill their goals at attaining a more peaceful home in the eastern Congo.
Affleck is using his influence to make a difference on the other side of the world. He states that the meaning of life is getting involved with something and helping others. We here at Barnabas Clothing Co. couldn’t agree more. We love the work Ben Affleck and ECI are doing to make a difference.
You can learn more about the great work of Eastern Congo Initiative at: http://www.easterncongo.org/