The Soros Economic Development Fund, Open Society Initiative for West Africa, Omidyar Network, and Humanity United have announced a $15 million initiative designed to help rebuild war-torn communities in West Africa.
BRAC, one of the world's largest anti-poverty groups, will lead a two-year pilot program to provide microfinance, health, and agricultural support in Liberia and Sierra Leone in order to aid families and prevent renewed conflict in the two countries. Since March, the 2008 Hilton Humanitarian Prize winner has opened twenty new microfinance branches in Liberia and Sierra Leone and expects to add twenty more by the end of the year. An estimated 500,000 people will benefit from the program.
BRAC's work is being funded through a combination of grants and equity, and the organization is currently negotiating additional debt capital to finance its loan portfolio. The program also will help BRAC build a long-term sustainable strategy for integrated development in the two countries.
The project made its first loans in June and is expected to provide financial services to tens of thousands of women as well as agricultural supplies and training to small crop and livestock farmers. In addition, BRAC will train four hundred community-based health volunteers to provide essential health care in rural communities on an ongoing basis and help fight deadly diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and cholera.
"Despite the many challenges these countries face, Liberia and Sierra Leone are uniquely positioned to become models for successful development in West Africa," said BRAC founder and chair Fazle Hasan Abed. "We are committed to providing training and resources so that the poor, especially women, can unleash their capabilities as entrepreneurs and improve their livelihoods."