Meet the Unlikely Funder Who Actually Cares About Congo

Some five million people are said to have perished in Congo since 1996, and the bloodshed continues today. So you'd think that any number of big foundations would be all over this issue, doing whatever they can to end one of the deadliest conflicts since World War II. 

Alas, you'd be wrong. The foundation world may be good at funding peace and security organizations in Washington and academia, or dialogue in places like the Middle East, but it isn't so great at dealing with large-scale humanitarian catastrophes in conflict zones. Quick: Name the big foundation that poured millions into saving Darfur. Exactly. I can't think of one either. Stopping mass extermination, it turns out, tends to fall outside most funding guidelines. 

Nor can I think of any top foundations that have focused big resources on the disaster in eastern Congo. The actor Ben Affleck may have done more to address this profound challenge to the global conscience than any one foundation, which is pretty pathetic. 

But there are a few exceptions to this generalizing, and the most notable is the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, which has put tens of millions of dollars into work to reduce conflict in the Great Lakes region of Africa, with over half this money focused on the eastern DRC. 

Howard Buffett is not your typical funder in the security space, to say the least. He's a farmer, and his foundation mainly focuses on food and agriculture. But after hanging around these issues long enough, especially in Africa, Buffett and the foundation (which is financed with his dad's fortune) came up with a basic insight: "Conflict breeds hunger and hunger breeds conflict." More broadly, Buffett has said: "Conflict undermines and prevents every imaginable form of human and economic progress. Without peace, anything we try to achieve in development will fail." And so we have Buffett's efforts to reduce warfare in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

Related: Howard G. Buffett Foundation: Grants for Global Security

What does the foundation's fund under its Africa Great Lakes Peace Initiative to stop the agony in the DRC? A whole range of things, some of it well outside the usual box. For instance, in 2012, the foundation gave $500,000 to the Ugandan government to help it engage properly in the eastern Congo peace process. It's also given a number of grants to the UN World Food Programme for its work in and around the DRC, including a $1 million grant. 

That's something we don't see a lot of from foundations: grants to governments and UN agencies. 

Or grants to celebrities. The Buffett Foundation has also given money to the group founded by Ben Affleck, the Eastern Congo Initiative. Other funders of ECI have included Humanity United (Omidyar), Laurene Powell Jobs, Google, and Cindy Hensley McCain.  

One of the Buffett Foundation's big recent grants was $10 million to Peace One Day, a UK group that will work with the foundation over the next three years to bring greater attention to the conflict in the DRC and pressure for a peaceful resolution. That's one of the biggest grants that the foundation has ever made, and shows just how focused Howard Buffett is on resolving the war. Indeed, Buffett has been quite hands-on, including meeting with leaders in the region to try to push forward peace talks and address other issues. 

Peace One Day will use the Buffett money to engage in documentary filmmaking and other media work, as well as activities on the ground in eastern DRC. 

It's no wonder that the Buffett Foundation is putting so many resources into a media push, since most mainstream media have, like most foundations, never been much interested in one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent decades.

Maybe if Peace One Day can bring even half the heat to the DRC that surrounded Darfur, a resolution to the conflict will happen sooner rather than later. Or at least more big funders will follow Howard Buffett into the depths of hell.