In addition to a successful career as a two-time Academy Award winning actor, writer and director, Ben Affleck is also a passionate advocate and philanthropist.
In 2009, Ben founded Eastern Congo Initiative (ECI), a grant-making and advocacy organization focused on investing in and working with the people of eastern Congo. ECI believes that local, community-based approaches are essential to creating a sustainable and successful society in eastern Congo, and works to increase the quality and quantity of investments in the region.
Since 2007, Ben has made ten trips to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with a focus on the eastern provinces. He has focused on understanding the causes and consequences of the region’s decade’s long conflict, and learning about local, African-led solutions to the problems affecting the DRC. In May 2008, a film crew from ABC’s Nightline joined Ben on a trip to the DRC, meeting with a diverse set of individuals – including President Joseph Kabila; former armed group leader Laurent Nkunda; refugees and internally displaced people; former child soldiers; and leaders from local and international NGOs, among others – to gather a range of viewpoints on the issues in the region. Nightline produced a full episode about the trip narrated by Ben; it aired in June 2008.
In late 2008, he directed a short film and public service announcement, “Gimme Shelter,” about the humanitarian crisis in the DRC. The film was utilized as part of the UNHCR’s international campaign to aid those displaced by violence.
Ben has testified before Congress four times to advocate for U.S. and international engagement in Congo, most recently before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Projects in March 2015. In addition to extensive travel throughout the DRC, Ben’s learning and advocacy trips have taken him to Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Republic of Congo, Sudan and Zanzibar. He is a longtime political activist and strong supporter of many charitable organizations, such as Feeding America, A-T Children’s Project, and the Jimmy Fund.
Ward was the first businessman to be asked by Congress to give the Keynote address at the 2008 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. He was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, the 2nd highest civilian award, for his many years of work in and advocacy for Africa by President George W. Bush.
Ward is the author of four books including “Bigger Than Me: Just When I thought I Had all the Answers, God Changed the Questions.”
He and his wife of 39 years, Kris, live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Mvemba Phezo Dizolele
Mvemba Phezo Dizolele is a writer, foreign policy analyst, and independent journalist. He is a senior strategy and advocacy adviser at Eastern Congo Initiative.
Mr. Dizolele is a professorial lecturer in African Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, the Peter J. Duignan Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and the author of the forthcoming biography, “Mobutu: the Rise and Fall of the Leopard King” (Random House UK).
In 2006, he covered the conflict and the elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a grantee of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and was embedded with United Nations peacekeepers in Ituri district and South Kivu province as a reporter.
His analyses have been published in the Journal of Democracy, New York Times, Newsweek International, International Herald Tribune, Foreign Policy, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic, Forbes and other outlets. A frequent commentator on African affairs, he has been a guest analyst on several radio and television programs, including PBS, NPR, BBC, Al Jazeera, and Voice of America.
Dizolele has testified before various subcommittees of the two chambers of the United States Congress. He has also testified before the United Nations Security Council.
He holds an International Master of Business Administration and a Master of Public Policy from the University of Chicago. He graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and French from Southern Utah University.
Dizolele speaks several languages and is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps.
Abraham has spent his whole career promoting health, dignity and joy in the world’s most difficult places — starting in Guinea, where he and his family were refugees themselves for eleven years.
As a humanitarian leader, Abraham has led relief and development efforts in Liberia, South Sudan, Darfur, Ethiopia, Balochistan in Pakistan, and now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In DRC, Abraham helped co-create and implement the revolutionary Asili business model.
Abraham is grateful to have lived beyond survival, and now has a family and a home of his own and other people who look up to him. His relief and development work are inspired by memories of the kindness and the generosity of many others. He travels widely throughout the DRC and United States, but he is based in ECI’s headquarters in Bukavu.
Muadi Mukenge provides strategic direction for fundraising, partnership development and global communications at Ipas. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ms. Mukenge has 21 years of leadership experience in international philanthropy, communications and development.
Before joining Ipas in 2018, Ms. Mukenge worked at Emory University and Karna, overseeing CDC initiatives focused on the role of nurses in HIV/AIDS clinical care in Africa, and holistic support for orphans. Previously, she oversaw grantmaking, special initiatives, and resource mobilization for Sub-Saharan Africa for the Global Fund for Women from 2004 to 2016, growing its work most significantly in rural communities, conflict regions, and Francophone Africa. She contributes expertise in the fields of maternal and adolescent health, economic empowerment, political development, and ending violence against women.
Ms. Mukenge has partnered with organizations in Congo since 2006, making frequent site visits and also organizing workshops and conferences. From 2014-2016, she managed a partnership between Global Fund for Women and the Office of the United Nations Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, to include women in peace processes in the region. She has also been an active member of Congolese diaspora groups that implement development projects in rural Congo.
Ms. Mukenge is a current Board member of Priority Africa Network and the Congolese Studies Association, and a former Board member of the African Studies Association and New Field Foundation. She has a master’s degree in African Studies from the University of California at Los Angeles and a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Davidson College.
Through her work in the public, private and academic sectors, Maura O’Neill has created entrepreneurial and public-private solutions for some of the toughest domestic and global problems.
Maura has founded four companies (energy efficiency and curbside recycling, electricity customer info systems and billing, e-commerce and digital textbook platform), served as Chief of Staff in the U.S. Senate, appointed President Obama’s first Chief Innovation Officer, US Agency for International Development ($22 billion Agency budget). Maura co-led USAID Forward, the Agency’s major reform initiative as well as oversaw over 600 global public-private partnerships including mobile money; supply chain elimination of ingredients/packaging from virgin forests; water and health interventions; gender equity and entrepreneurship. Maura is most well known for adapting venture capital and drug discovery methods to development by co-creating the Development Innovation Venture Fund. Maura served on the White House Innovation Cohort assisting the Administration in innovation across the federal government and an official USG representative to many international meetings including COP 15 (climate), G8 Impact Investment Forum, RIO+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.
In addition to advising early stage companies, Maura is Distinguished Teaching Fellow at the Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley and serves as a Faculty Director at UC Berkeley Executive Education. New Venture Finance, Blockchain Strategy, DC Immersion and Executive Leadership are among her most popular courses. Examples of her awards include three-time winner of the Cheit Award for Excellence in Teaching at UC Berkeley as well as the Greater Seattle Businessperson of the Year.
Maura has a Ph.D. from the University of Washington, where her research focused on narrow-mindedness and the errors it leads to in science, medicine, business and political decision-making. Maura also has M.B.A.s from UC Berkeley and Columbia University. She also is the founding Vice Chair of the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, the public charter school featured in the award-winning film, STEP. More information: www.mauraoneill.com
Dave, having retired in February of 2013 after 27 years at Starbucks, is still identified by many in the company as the champion for coffee quality and for the values and principles underlying everything the company does.
Dave is a 1968 graduate of Montana State University and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology. After graduating, he served in the United States Army where he earned a commission as Second Lieutenant at the Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and was honorably discharged as a First Lieutenant in 1972.
In 1975 Dave opened a pioneering espresso coffee bar, Café Allegro, near the University of Washington in Seattle, serving espresso beverages several years earlier than Starbucks. Then in 1986 he joined a small team assembled by Howard Schultz, current CEO of Starbucks, in an effort to build Italian-style espresso coffee bars in busy downtown locations. The company, Il Giornale, then acquired Starbucks in 1987, and Starbucks has expanded rapidly ever since, with thousands of locations in dozens of countries around the world, as well as a robust consumer products division.
Dave’s first role was as Director of Operations and Training. Then in 1987 he was given complete responsibility for the coffee program at Starbucks, a role which included everything from traveling the world to source green coffee for roasting, to supervising the roasting, blending and quality of the coffee, to all coffee-related training and communication materials. As a co-founder and co-leader of the Starbucks R&D program, Dave contributed to efforts which led to the bottled Frappuccino beverages, the VIA soluble coffee product, and many innovations in coffee brewing equipment.
In 1999 Olsen asked for and was given the authority to create the Corporate Social Responsibility Department, knitting together a cohesive, strategic and integrated set of efforts aligned with Starbucks’ aspirational values. These efforts included coffee sourcing guidelines focusing on quality of coffee, quality of the environment in which coffee grows, and quality of the lives of those who produce the coffee. Dave developed an early relationship with the relief and development organization CARE, leading to Starbucks being its largest corporate contributor in 1991, the first year of the relationship. He also initiated a very robust and continuing relationship with Conservation International. Also included in CSR were the Starbucks Foundation focusing on children’s literacy and leadership development; corporate donations; partner (employee) volunteering; environmental programs in the retail operation; and many other values-driven programs. Dave retired from Starbucks in February 2013.
Olsen’s past board service includes The Pike Place Market Foundation, a human services non-profit organization focusing on the needs of the downtown Seattle neighborhood; and CARE, one of the largest global humanitarian organizations in the US. Currently he serves on the system board of Providence Health and Services, a non-profit multi-state fully-integrated health care system. He serves on the advisory board of the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. Dave is also a member of the board of Atigeo, which has developed a robust ‘big data’ platform with applications in health care, retailing, and security, among many others. Lastly, Dave has joined the board of Eastern Congo Initiative.
David serves as the founder and chairman of The Mako Group, one of Europe’s most prominent providers of liquidity in exchange-traded financial instruments. Based in London, Mako acts as a principal trading house while also offering investment opportunities through strategic, structured solutions.
David’s other work includes acting as Founder and Chairman of Mpower Pictures, a Santa Monica-based independent motion picture production company, which recently produced “Man Down,” starring Shia LaBeouf, Gary Oldman and Kate Mara. David also acts as the strategic investor for The Video Genome Project, the world’s largest and most granular database of video metadata.
With his wife, David has been active in supporting not-for-profit initiatives, including We See Hope, The Alpha Course, Water.Org, and Eastern Congo Initiative, alongside philanthropic investments in several university programs.
In addition to his work, David is an avid adventurer, a competitive sailor, a private pilot and an outdoorsman. In 2010 he navigated his Rigid Inflatable Boat (Zodiac) in partnership with Bear Grylls and a crew of three others through the famed Northwest Passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific –from Greenland to Alaska – over the top of North America.
Nima Taghavi is the Founder & CEO of Group 206, a private investment firm created in 2013.
Taghavi’s entrepreneurial journey began at a young age. Taghavi immigrated to the US from Iran when he was 9 years old, and by his early teen years, was selling video games at the Swap Meet to supplement his family’s income. This early start helped Taghavi develop a passion for business.
Taghavi turned his early entrepreneurial experience into successfully founding and exiting several enterprises throughout his career, including video game distributor SVG Distribution and video game publisher Crave Entertainment. Both SVG and Crave became market leaders and, under Crave Entertainment Group (CEG) and were sold to The Handleman Company (NYSE: HDL) in 2005. With revenues nearing $300M, CEG was the largest privately held company in the video game industry at the time. Nima was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist in 1998, 2000 and 2004.
Taghavi was an original investor and co-founder of Solutions 2 GO (Canada), which grew from its inception in 2004 to become the largest video game distributor in North America by 2008. To optimize his investment in Solutions 2 GO (Canada), Taghavi founded its sister company Solutions 2 GO LLC (U.S.) in 2009, a video game distribution company specializing in both the brick and mortar and e-commerce retail channels. After reaching well over $1B in combined revenue, Taghavi sold his collective interests in 2017.
As a longtime owner-user and investor in industrial real estate, Taghavi co-founded investment management firm BKM Capital Partners in 2013. Soon after, Taghavi was joined by John Mack (former CEO & Chairman at Morgan Stanley) as an investor, business partner, and board advisor. Throughout Taghavi’s tenure as Chairman, BKM grew to nearly $2 billion in assets under management with more than 20 institutional investor partners. In 2020, Taghavi and Mack sold their collective ownership in BKM.
In 2018, Taghavi co-founded VoltEdge, a consumer brand company specializing in the design, development, and manufacturing of high-performance video game accessories sold through national brick & mortar and e-commerce retailers. In 2020, VoltEdge was acquired by Mexico-based GameXpress.
Taghavi established The Nima Taghavi Foundation in 2005 to support a variety of disadvantaged children’s charities and other causes. Additionally, Taghavi has been a member of the Board of Directors for Eastern Congo Initiative (founded by Ben Affleck) since 2015 and a member of the Board of Directors for The Clinton Foundation since 2018.
After a more than forty-year legal career, Rich Voelbel is now devoted full time to his philanthropic passion for the world’s poor and most vulnerable.
He graduated from Macalester College Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. He was also an International Rotary Graduate Fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge University. He is also a strong supporter of his alma mater, the University of Minnesota Law School, where he received his juris doctor cum laude.
In his legal career Rich was a litigator dealing with complex disputes in multiple venues in the US and around the world.
He helped lead the 9/11 World Trade Center litigation and reinsurance arbitration in New York. He also spearheaded the Bridgestone/Firestone Liberian Civil War litigation, TX and Liberia and the BankAmerica Securities litigation and reinsurance arbitration, CA and NY.
In addition to Eastern Congo Initiative, Rich also serves on the board of directors for Alight, formerly known as the American Refugee Committee; ORAM, the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration; and Beneficial Returns (Credit Committee).
Rich is a “big tent” follower of Jesus and a member of the Colonial Church of Edina where he served on church council, missions board and as Moderator.
He has been married to the love of his life, Lynn, for 48 years. They are the proud parents of three and delighted grandparents of five, and currently reside in Minneapolis and San Francisco.
Whitney serves as co-founder and Vice Chair of the Board for Eastern Congo Initiative, the first U.S.-based advocacy and grantmaking organization focused solely on working with and for the people of eastern Congo. In this role Whitney oversees millions of dollars in grants to dozens of local Congolese community-based organizations, as well as a broad U.S. and international advocacy agenda to drive good public policies relative to the DRC.
She is the Founder + CEO of williamsworks, a consultancy based in Montana. As a pioneer of strategic advocacy, Whitney is dedicated to defining and maximizing the impact of individuals, foundations, and advocacy organizations. Leveraging her experience in strategic planning, government relations, and grassroots advocacy. Whitney provides executive leadership, ensuring that the williamsworks approach results in solutions that are creative, unique, and customized.
Whitney is personally involved in developing philanthropy strategies, positioning clients, and conceiving and implementing international and domestic learning engagements. Her in-depth understanding of the complexity of working across the globe and her knowledge of complex political environments help clients make their grant making and advocacy efforts as effective as possible.
Dedication to the common good and public service runs in Whitney’s family. Her mother, Carol Williams, was the first woman elected both Majority and Minority Leader of the Montana Senate, and her father, Pat Williams, served as Montana’s distinguished Congressman for nine terms.
Whitney is a graduate of the University of Montana in Political Science and Wilderness and Native American studies. She lives in Missoula, Montana, where she serves on the Boards of Montana Conservation Voters and Carol’s List, and is a guest lecturer at the University of Montana.