PORTLAND, Oregon — The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country located in sub-Saharan Africa. Ben Affleck’s Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) was founded with the goal of helping the eastern region of the country develop and become successful and self-sustainable. The year 2020 marks 10 years of the organization’s existence.
The Eastern Congo Initiative
In 2006, actor and director, Ben Affleck, visited eastern Congo for the very first time. Not only was the country struggling with poverty but violent conflicts in Congo had also cost the lives of approximately 3.5 million people. Despite the suffering around him, however, Affleck was met with mostly optimism from the Congolese. He witnessed a lot of effort being put into the community to give people access to services like education and healthcare. In 2010, a few years after his first visit to eastern Congo, he co-founded the Eastern Congo Initiative together with social entrepreneur Whitney Williams.
ECI’s Collaborative Work
Affleck and Williams founded ECI based on the belief that community-based approaches work best. This meant supporting Congolese organizations that were already familiar with the region and its problems as the best way to contribute to positive development. Thus, ECI works closely with local community leaders and organizations to encourage self-sustainable solutions to address problems directly in the area. ECI’s contribution to improving the living conditions in eastern Congo comes mostly in the form of advocacy and grant-making. Affleck and Williams have been advocating for policy change so that the U.S. Government gets more involved in eastern Congo.
ECI’s 10 Years of Success
Over the last decade, Ben Affleck’s Eastern Congo Initiative has provided $10.5 million worth of grants to support organizations in the region. One of its main focuses in grant-making is to encourage the empowerment of Congolese women and youth. For example, ECI partnered to develop a program that allowed approximately 150 female cocoa farmers to learn important economic and literary skills. These efforts enabled the women to learn financial planning and understand economic processes better in order to help them sell their products.
Furthermore, ECI’s advocacy attempts within the United States have been rather successful. For example, the organization managed to get important politicians like Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA-9) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to co-sponsor bills and legislation to support eastern Congo.
The Asili Social Business Platform
Another more recent success of Ben Affleck’s Eastern Congo Initiative is that it became an autonomous part of the organization Alight in 2020. ECI now runs Asili, a social business platform that Alight co-designed with Congolese locals.
Similar to ECI, Asili works very closely with organizations in eastern Congo and has been providing capital for the establishment of independent and successful Congolese businesses since 2013. A total of 120,000 people benefit from Asili services like access to health clinics and clean affordable water. For ECI, the Asili model will help it to help more people, more efficiently.
The Congolese Coffee Industry
Before the war destroyed most of Congo’s crops, the country was among the world’s most successful suppliers of coffee. Regardless, the weather conditions, the natural resources and the knowledge of the Congo’s farmers still make coffee the country’s best chance for development and economic growth. Several famous companies like Starbucks and Theor Chocolate have already started using cocoa grown in Congo for their products and the market for coffee is constantly expanding all over the world. Both ECI and Asili have recognized the huge potential for Congo’s coffee industry and have been supporting the Congolese farmer and coffee cooperatives with financial means, knowledge and global political outreach.
For example, in 2019, Ben Affleck’s Eastern Congo Initiative gave an $18,000 grant to three Congolese coffee cooperatives. More than 7,000 member farmers benefited from supplies and training that the grant allowed for. This enabled them to supply the coffee giant, Starbucks. The cooperatives are now self-sustainable and can now easily receive credits from banks without relying on aid.
Furthermore, after ECI took over Asili, the business platform instantly partnered up with Nespresso to sponsor the production and release of a single-origin coffee, Kahawa ya Congo. The coffee comes from USDA-certified organic beans grown by Congolese farmers in the Minova region.
Ben Affleck’s Eastern Congo Initiative has made strides that clearly show the organization’s commitment and dedication to helping the people of Congo. The ECI’s efforts provide hope to Congolese people for a better and brighter future.
– Bianca Adelman