Efficacy of AdvocacyDescribed by a coffee specialist as “light and lively with a nice orange citrus acidity that comes in with a cocoa nuance in the mouthfeel and a little bit of a sweet spice note, ” last year’s Starbucks Reserve® Eastern Congo Lake Kivu coffee represents the remarkable – and delectable – success that the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) has achieved through advocacy efforts for coffee farmers in the Eastern Congo.

Founded in 2010 by Ben Affleck, the ECI works with and for the Congolese people towards rebuilding their lives and livelihoods in the aftermath of civil war, through advocacy and grant-making. ECI’s successes and partnerships illustrate the incredible efficacy of advocacy in the Congo. The initiative’s efforts to “raise public awareness about the tremendous need and opportunity in the region through highly targeted media and advocacy activities” caught the eye of the coffee industry giant Starbucks, which developed a partnership with ECI and began purchasing coffee from growers in the Eastern Congo in 2014.

Prior to the Rwandan Genocide and the subsequent Congolese Civil war, the Lake Kivu region in the Congo was a hotspot for the production of some of the highest quality coffees in the world. Decades of violence, however, decimated the industry. Unable to reach the international market upon which they had once thrived, it is estimated that about one 1,000 Congolese coffee farmers drowned per year while attempting to smuggle their crop across the rough waters of Lake Kivu and into Rwanda during the height of the violence.

The coffee purchased from the Congo by Starbucks has helped transform lives for more than 4,500 smallholder farmers and their families along Lake Kivu. These farmers’ incomes have more than tripled, which has enabled them to send their children to school and access healthcare.

Starbucks’ partnership with ECI has focused on helping Congolese coffee farmers develop sustainable agricultural production and restore the Congo as a key source of high-quality coffee, which is the key to the farmers’ improved profits. The mountainous topography and moist climate of the Lake Kivu region are ideal for growing high-quality coffee. The crop is almost entirely comprised of well-established local variants of the great heirloom Bourbon variety of Coffea arabica, which is known for its complex and engaging aromatics and flavor.

Starbucks provides Congolese farmers with the knowledge and resources to capitalize on these inherently excellent coffee-growing conditions. The endeavor has proven extremely successful, as is evidenced by Starbucks’ use of the crop as a Reserve roast and the wider coffee community’s increased interest in coffees originating from the Congo.

Starbucks has committed to continuing to purchase Congolese coffee, with the goal of working with the ECI to expand its reach to more than 10,000 coffee farmers and their communities in the coming few years. To the Congolese coffee farmers whose lives that this partnership has transformed, that had to be news with lively and sweet notes indeed.

Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr

eastern congo initiative The Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) has been fighting poverty in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) since 2010. Founded by Ben Affleck, ECI combines advocacy and research with financial and logistical support for Congolese organizations striving to create sustainable change.

Conflict in the region has resulted in the displacement of a nearly 3 million and a death toll of around 5.4 million. In addition, the prolonged fight for power between competing militias has perpetuated a cycle of violence, poverty and disease for more than 20 years.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, despite a promising growth rate of nine percent between 2014 and 2015, political and social instability has led to Congolese citizens surviving on “less than $200 a year—barely half of what they did in 1970.”

In order to help improve living conditions, ECI has invested in the Eastern Congo’s potential for redevelopment, gaining the attention of influential voices within eastern Congo and around the world. The organization uses “targeted methods to communicate directly to select individuals who can help shape policies and action in the government, academic and private sectors”.

Field research and direct polling conducted by ECI addresses the lack of verifiable information that previously discouraged many lawmakers and members of the private sector in the U.S. and Europe from becoming Congo advocates.

The United States, in particular, has stepped up its efforts to provide assistance in the DRC, actively working with the African and European Unions to broker regional peace agreements and becoming the largest financial contributor to the U.N. Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO).

In 2011, in partnership with USAID, the Eastern Congo Initiative provided an in-depth analysis of community-based organizations throughout the DRC. This report allowed policy makers and investors to gain insight into the potential of sustainable growth in the DRC, opening the possibilities of increased funding and investment.

In addition, ECI has given grants to 23 Congolese organizations to support their efforts in improving economic development, education, access to justice and family health.

One organization, Children’s Voice, serves the needs of “young people living in extreme poverty, including orphans, former child soldiers and sex slaves”.

By providing primary schooling, vocational training and mental health assistance to approximately 600 children per year in the cities of Goma and Magunga, Children’s Voice is taking a critical step to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness at an early stage.

Another organization, Dynamique de Femmes Juriste (DFJ) provides legal services to women who have faced rights abuses, from sexual violence to inheritance violations. In addition to advocating for laws that strengthen women’s participation in politics, DFJ trains paralegals in rural areas to process complaints in their respective communities.

The group also encourages female community leaders to run for office in local elections to encourage better female representation in the government.

According to the Eastern Congo Initiative’s website, in 2014, “DFJ prosecuted more than 200 cases in court, with a 37 percent success rate.” For a country whose justice system is incredibly weak, this is nothing short of a promising and remarkable achievement.

Taylor Resteghini

Photo: Flickr

Ben Affleck may be famous for his role in movies such as Argo, The Town and Good Will Hunting, but nowadays he’s making an impact in a new role. Because of his philanthropic involvement in eastern Congo, Affleck went before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to testify about the Congolese people and the need for U.S. involvement in the region. The hearing provided an opportunity for Affleck to draw increased media attention to the precarious human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and pressure lawmakers to do more to help.

Affleck first became involved in the Congo through his grant-making and advocacy organization, the East Congo Initiative (ECI). This organization seeks to increase investments in Congolese-led programs that create safe and sustainable communities. Additionally, ECI advocates for increased U.S. involvement in Congo while working against key problems such as rape and sexual violence as well as inadequate education and health resources for children. The East Congo Initiative also seeks to reintegrate former child soldiers back into their homes while leading community-level peace and reconciliation programs.

During his testimony, Affleck highlighted many of the struggles the Congolese people are enduring every day. For instance, Affleck cited UN reports that not only indicate that 2.9 million Congolese had been displaced internally, but also that 428,000 others have become refugees in neighboring countries. These people are being scattered throughout the region by the armed militia known as M23 that had previously taken over the capital of a northern Congolese province. A UN peacekeeping force recently coerced the M23 to surrender and sign a peace agreement. Affleck cited the UN group as evidence that “when the international community acts, and the Congolese government rises to the moment, these challenges are in fact solvable.”

Affleck finished his testimony by sharing a story about one of ECI’s partners, Theo Chocolate. An organic, fair-trade chocolate company, Theo imports more than 50% of its Chocolate from the DRC. Theo Chocolate’s business was connected to small folder farmers in the DRC by ECI and has helped support many of these small Congolese business operations. Through professionally directed investments, ECI was able to help spur economic development in the Congo and improve the lives of several Congolese people.

Through his charitable initiatives with ECI, Affleck is an example of how ordinary Americans can make a difference in influencing Congress and bring attention to the issues they care about. Affleck acknowledged, “I am, to state the obvious, not a Congo expert. I am an American working to do my part for a country and a people I believe in and care deeply about.” Through his actions, Affleck not only successfully drew the attention of the United States Senate to the plight of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but he also gives hope for a better life to many impoverished people.

– Martin Levy

US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, East Congo Initiative
Photo: Heritage

Ben Affleck
Ben Affleck, co-star of the upcoming film Superman vs. Batman, spent time in Washington, D.C. on February 26 discussing the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Using his celebrity and networking super powers,  Affleck has previously launched the Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI) in 2010 and has since helped raise awareness and generate public action against violence in the DRC.

While in D.C. Affleck testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Committee Chairman  Sen. Robert Menéndez (D-N.J.). He began his testimony by acknowledging the significant progress made in the last three months. He also thanked Congress, U.S. President Obama and the State Department for their roles in achieving the surrender of M23, the Congolese Revolutionary Army, which has been violently rebelling against the DRC government.

Affleck emphasized that though progress has been made, it is important to stay on track, and that deviating could risk losing the fruit of their hard diplomatic labor.  The ECI created five key points for Congress to ensure sustainable peace in the country:

  1. Urge U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to ensure DRC special envoy Russell Feingold has the support needed to successfully achieve his mission
  2. Call on U.S. Embassador to the U.N. Samantha Power to support extending the intervention brigade past its March 31 expiration
  3. Foreign Relations committee hold an oversight hearing to consider a sunset to MONUSCO that compels the DRC to follow through and fully reform its security sector
  4. Have Obama directly engage with DRC President Joseph Kabila to encourage him to make good on his critical commitment to long-overdue security sector reforms by establishing a clearly defined road map
  5. Have the U.S. play a pivotal role and robustly participate in multilateral efforts to ensure that the Congolese holds free, fair and timely local and national elections that respect the Congolese constitution including strict observance of term limits
  6. Call upon USAID to scale up its economic development initiatives in Eastern Congo

Ultimately, the ECI believes the DRC can be revived through enhanced security on one side and injecting small amount of development aid throughout pockets of the community. This will allow the Congolese people to stand on their own and create a market economy, eventually joining the global market.

– Sunny Bhatt

Sources: YouTube, Eastern Congo Initiative

Live Below the Poverty Line

Recently, students at the University of Melbourne in Australia spent five days on less than two Australian dollars a day in order to raise awareness for those living in extreme poverty.

Students participated in this as part of the Live Below the Line challenge, a program of the Global Poverty Project.  The Global Poverty Project is in organization designed to advocate for the world’s poor and get citizens effectively engaged in the fight to end extreme poverty.  Their Live Below the Line Challenge, which spans three continents, asks participants to spend five days living below the poverty line in an effort to show solidarity with the world’s poor and to raise money and awareness for their cause.

The challenge of the Live Below the Line campaign is effectively budgeting resources so that participants have the food to last themselves 5 days.  Participants are not allowed to take snacks from their pantries or consume anything that had been bought before the challenge unless it was factored into their five day budget.  Their diet consisted mainly of pasta, lentils, fruit, and rice for the duration of the challenge, and they were only allowed to drink tap water.

The students at the University of Melbourne raised over $24,000, which is more than any other Australian university.  The closest American university to raising this amount was the University of Notre Dame, raising only $3,239.  Some celebrities are also involved in the Live Below the Line challenge, ranging from Ben Affleck to Hugh Jackman.

This was an impressive achievement for these Australian students.  However, as hard as it seems to buy food on such a low budget, participants still had it better off than the world’s poor.  They had access to shelter, sanitation, and healthcare—things that most of those living below the poverty line do not have.   It is hard for us in the developed world to imagine the amount of hardship faced by the world’s poor, but the Live Below the Line challenge gives a small peek into the lives of the least fortunate.

Citizens interested in the program should go to where there are further descriptions of the program, recipes and other helpful resources.  The website also contains leaderboards so that participants can see what individuals or groups have achieved the most fundraising so far.  The question that the challenge poses to all of us in the developing world is obvious:  Can YOU Live Below the Line?

– Martin Drake

Source: Live Below the Line, The Age
Photo: VSO

Academy Award winner actor Ben Affleck is taking part in the Living Below the Line challenge. Next week, he will be living on just 1 dollar and 50 cents a day. The challenge requires participants to bid farewell to their comfortable and stable lives for 5 days to experience poverty on a personal scale. Living Below the Line was “cofounded in 2009 by Rich Fleming from the Global Poverty Project and Nick Allardice from the Oaktree Foundation in Australia.”

The U.S. Country Director of the Global Poverty Project, Michael Trainer, said that last year approximately 15,000 people were part of this Living Below the Line challenge and more than 3 million dollars were raised. According to the Yahoo report, Ben Affleck’s participation will build awareness and raise funds for the Global Poverty Project. The Project’s main emphasis is to get people to recognize their potential effectiveness by coming together and fighting to end global poverty. Next week anyone can be, and everyone should be, in solidarity with the poor with this humbling poverty experience.

Leen Abdallah
Source: Examiner