Want to help Congolese? Give them money – directly, says Ben Affleck

The actor is creating a database of Congolese NGOs to allow people to donate money from abroad directly to local anti-poverty efforts.

Susan Walsh/AP/File
Ben Affleck, actor and founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, listens to testimony during the House Armed Services Committee hearing on the evolving security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Capitol Hill in Washington, Dec. 19, 2012. Mr. Affleck's involvement in advocacy efforts in the eastern Congo has now extended to a new project connecting local NGOs to potential international donors.

•A version of this post originally appeared on the blog A View from the Cave. The views expressed are the author's own.

Actor and activist Ben Affleck believes that community-based organizations are the best option for enabling lasting change in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

That is why his organization, the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), teamed up with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to create an easy-to-use database of Congolese community-based organizations.

“There are big NGOs that I think do very good work, but when I did research around Congo and other countries what I saw, what I found, was that the people doing the best work, with the real expertise, who understood what was needed intuitively, just like they would in my neighborhood, who knew who the guy was to talk to, were community-based organizations,” said Affleck.

Rather than seek funding for his pet project, as other celebrities might do, Affleck and ECI wanted to create a place where the organizations that are going to make the greatest difference will receive direct funding. It puts into action the much talked about idea of supporting community leaders to create change for themselves.

The information comes from a landscape analysis of community-based organizations (CBOs) carried out by ECI in 2011. Information from Congo’s Maniema, North Kivu, Orientale, and South Kivu provinces provide an avenue for providing direct support in the troubled region.
The Congolese army continues to fight with the M23 rebel group that managed to seize control of the major eastern Congolese city of Goma at one point last year. A United Nations peacekeeping mission meant to provide support has come under criticism for its inability to deter fighting. Sexual violence and abuses at the hand of rebels and the Congolese military have further complicated the situation.

Attention has focused on the region the past few years thanks to advocacy efforts from the likes of the Enough Project and stories they and other groups have told of atrocities committed by armed groups. A report linking Rwanda and Congolese rebels late last year led the UN to appoint former Irish president Mary Robinson as the new Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa. She is now working with neighboring countries, including Rwanda, to implement the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

While support in the region has often come through international individuals and organizations, the ECI wanted to assess the ability and capacity of grassroots organizations in the eastern DRC. Their research determined that many community based organizations already existed, operated effectively, and had the ability to take on more funding. Supported will be necessary for the management of finances, projects, and administrative work, it added.

Some CBOs are doing work through money that trickles down from multiple donors and NGOs. The report argues that enabling a way to directly fund CBOs will both help stabilize their work and turn into a better investment for donors. International attention on the significant problem of sexual and gender-based violence has led to small justice improvement. It is an important issue, but donors must make investments in other areas. The report affirms rising calls to fund programs that address issues like poor governance and the marginalization of women in order to address the structural problems of the country.

CBOs documented in the original report now appear on a new database on the ECI website. A series of videos accompany the release of information to explain the motivations for the project, how the database works, and what ECI and USAID hope comes of the collaboration.

“Through the database and the landscape analysis, USAID and ECI have laid the groundwork for augmenting foreign assistance in Eastern Congo,” said USAID’s Global Partnerships Division Director Christopher Jurgens. “Serving as a model of strategic investment in the region, the partnership’s assessment will shape future engagement and elevate awareness and commitment to the region within international development and donor communities.”

The database details the organizations by listing contact information, program outlines, financials, and their strengths and weaknesses. Potential donors and partners can now see where it can work directly with CBOs to enhance and improve their work.

“Data-driven insights are critical to creating effective and efficient partnerships,” said Ricardo Michel, USAID’s acting director for the office of innovation and development alliances.

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