The Inquirer (Monrovia)

10 June 2013

Liberia: America's Billionaires Discuss Liberia's Future

Liberia and its President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, were centerpiece on Wednesday, June 5, at the 2nd Forbes 400 Philanthropy Summit, a gathering of 150 of the world's richest men and women who have committed to finding solutions to extreme poverty.

According to a dispatch from New York, among those in attendance were: Bill Gates, Founder of Microsoft and Co-Chair, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway; John Chambers, Co-Founder Wesray Capital and Special Envoy for Malaria UN; Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief, Forbes Media; Jeff Skoll, former President of EBay and founder of the Skoll Foundation; UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; and Bono, Co-Founder of One and Red and lead singer of U2.

The program also included philanthropists from Africa, including Dikembe Mutombo, former basketball superstar from the DRC, and Tony Elumelu, Chairman of Heirs Holdings of Nigeria. Also in attendance were some of the world's greatest innovators, including Muhammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

In opening remarks setting out the purpose of the day-long program, Randall Lane, the Editor of Forbes Magazine, said that with the theme of "Solutions to Extreme Poverty" - looking at applications for market-based permanent solutions, the summit would "turn today's talk into real action by concentrating our collective influence and problem-solving skills on Liberia."

President Sirleaf participated fully in the day's program, learning about the many innovations and programs that have succeeded around the world and could represent new models of thinking for Liberia. During the luncheon hour, the President got her opportunity to address the distinguished audience.

Over the course of an hour, President Sirleaf responded to questions posed by Moira Forbes, President and Publisher of Forbes Woman, about the history of Liberia and her own story of struggle. She embraced Liberia's potential, underscoring the resilience of the Liberian people. When she mentioned that this year, Liberia will celebrate 10 years of uninterrupted peace," the audience broke out in sustained applause.

The President said she hoped that her legacy would be to return hope and opportunity to the Liberian people - by restoring basic services, and giving every Liberian, particularly the youth, an opportunity for a quality education and a job to be able to provide for themselves and their family.

Following the President's remarks, the participants examined real opportunities and challenges by brainstorming on how to bring to scale three social entrepreneurial projects which had been presented by Dr. Rajesh Panjabi, CEO of Tiratien Health; Scott Gilmore, Founder and CEO of Building Markets; and Chid Liberty, CEO, Liberty & Justice.

The day's program concluded with a photo session of the top 12 philanthropists, with President Sirleaf positioned next to Bill Gates and Bono. The photograph will grace the cover of the annual Forbes 400 edition of the wealthiest Americans, which will also include an in-depth look at Liberia.

The results of Liberia being featured at this special event of global givers will become evident in the coming months, as Forbes is expected to organize a mission to Liberia of the philanthropists to look at concrete ways to co-invest in Liberia's economy and development.

More immediately, there were concrete commitments to help the social entrepreneurs of Liberia grow to scale by expanding capital and markets. There was also a silent auction for Liberia at the end of the evening.

Summing up sentiment towards Liberia, Bono, on stage with Bill Gates, applauded President Sirleaf for taking a country, "literally from the rubble," and bringing development, investment and hope. Moira Forbes called President Sirleaf "an inspiration for Liberia and leadership around the world," and gave assurances that Forbes was committed to following through and forging partnerships with Liberia for the benefit of its development.

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