Following a coup in 1980, Liberia experienced a long civil war. When the war eventually ended, everything was destroyed and there was no infrastructure, which included the loss of government revenues, educational and financial systems, and industrialization. To help with the assessment of need, the Office of the President started the Liberia Philanthropy Secretariat. Now, the Secretariat Office connects philanthropists to local nonprofits and needs, giving important legitimacy to donors and philanthropists around the world while helping to rebuild the infrastructure of Liberia.
Local Santa Barbara collective giving group, the Global Neighborhood Fund, has taken a keen interest in Liberia, granting over $120,000 to organizations such as Last Mile Health; Face Africa; Made in Liberia; YAI; and Think Rehabilitation Home. Small grants of $5,000 are transformative, with funding this size impacting the lives of hundreds of individuals. In addition to financial support, GNF provides educational convenings where members and friends have opportunities to learn about the global south. Recently, GNF invited the secretariat’s Program Manager, Jennah Scott, to speak about the philanthropic work taking place throughout Liberia at a luncheon hosted by Mission Wealth at the Santa Barbara Club. “When I first met Connie, Sandra, and Nancy, through a philanthropists' visit organized by our office, I did not know how impactful GNF’s work and grantmaking was going to be, or how long-term it was going to be,” said Jennah. “It is heartwarming to see their commitment to the people of Liberia.”
Through the course of the convening, Jennah discussed how the Secretariat Office is focused on facilitating the coordination and collaboration between governments, foundations, and philanthropists. A neutral office within the Office of the President, the secretariat advises the government on how to approach foundations with projects and ideas that could use support while also ensuring that philanthropic work is done successfully in Liberia. The office also brings clarity on how to maneuver through private donor systems, and the demands for filling out proposals or requests for funding. “Our aim is to expand philanthropic support within Liberia, giving foundations and philanthropists more impactful opportunities to give,” said Jennah. “It has been very interesting to see how the Secretariat Office has worked with donors so that little, strategic donations could be very impactful.
Jennah Scott and Connie Smith discussed issues related to Liberia.
To illustrate how impactful a project can be in Liberia, Jennah discussed a grant made by the Gates Foundation, providing $5 million over five years to remove solid waste from the capital city of Monrovia. Everyday, an individual goes door-to-door collecting waste, which is put into a wheel barrow. The same individual takes the wheel barrow to a major stopping point, where it is picked up by a big truck, and then taken to a landfill. The Liberian removing the waste is seen as a proud, community-based entrepreneur. In addition, in some communities, minor health issues that were killing people dropped down quickly due to the removal of the waste from the city. “It was a simple grant to remove trash, but it created jobs and had an effect on health care,” said Jennah. “With over 80 percent of the population in Liberia under the age of 35, the government is very concerned with putting its young people to work. Entrepreneurship is not a buzz word. Instead it is the source of peace and hope for the country.”
The oldest republic in Africa, Liberia was founded in 1847 by free slaves through the American Colonization Society. Its capital city, Monrovia, was named after James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States and a major American Colonization Society supporter. Originally, Monrovia was not laid out to accommodate its current population that is now over a million people, according to the official 2009 census. With increased population has come large slum communities and congestion. What was once a beautifully laid out city is now a mix of make shift homes and businesses. Less than 5 percent of people have access to electricity in Monrovia as Liberia has the most expensive electrical services in the world. In 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the first female democratically elected president. She continues her work today rebuilding the country and restoring hope to its people.
GNF will continue to focus its philanthropy toward the most disenfranchised in Liberia, namely women and children, growing this work as GNF grows. “Liberia is a tiny country in the world, but here we are willing to invest time, energy, and money into people we will never meet,” said Nancy Koppelman, co-founder of the Global Neighborhood Fund. “As a donor and supporter of GNF, your name will never be on a building, you will never see any great acknowledgement, but you are changing lives in the smallest, most profound way.”
For more information on the Global Neighborhood Fund, or to become a member, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the work of the Liberia Philanthropy Secretariat, please visit
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