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Summit Focuses on Private Enterprise for Africa

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Summit Focuses on Private Enterprise for Africa

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Summit Focuses on Private Enterprise for Africa

Summit Focuses on Private Enterprise for Africa

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This July, the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation — a group that works to boost business and political power among people of African origin — will hold its annual economic summit. This year's focus is on the role private enterprise can play in developing the continent of Africa. Ed Gordon talks with foundation leader Hope Masters.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon, and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

Next month, the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation convenes its Seventh Annual Africa summit. The Summit, which happens bi-annually, will explore the role of private enterprise in developing the continent.

Sullivan, a famed African-American civil rights leader, died in 2001. His daughter, Hope Masters, took on the job of leading the foundation. Masters says part of her goal has been to maintain the passion and energy that her father brought to his work for Africans.

Ms. HOPE MASTERS (President and CEO, Leon H. Sullivan Foundation): You know, he was minister, so he really believed that his work was the work of God. He believed that that was his purpose here, to sort of rebuild those relationships and rebuild the ties that were broken through slavery and through so many other horrific events that affected our history, our collective history.

And so, for him, it wasn't a matter of really getting support from others or whether people really understood what he was doing. For him, it was a mission that he undertook that he really didn't believe that he had a choice about; it was just something - he was driven, completely driven, about the continent of Africa.

GORDON: Let's talk a little bit about the summit and what you'll be looking at this year. But we should note that the summits are bi-annual.

Ms. MASTERS: Yes, every other year. And it really takes a full year to plan, at least, for these summits because, as you know, they're huge undertakings. Last summit we had over 40 nations were represented, 5,000 delegates. It was opened by President Bush. President Obasanjo invited all the heads of state.

And it really takes an intense amount of planning, a lot of planning. We talk about best practices when we come to our summit; we don't talk about how many people are dying from AIDS, or how many people are dying from malaria, or how many people are dying in genocide. We try to stay positive and keep the discussion and the dialog focused on how we can bring the nations and people of Africa forward rather than always focusing on the negative.

GORDON: I can recall talking to your father many, many times about this. And one of the things that he talked about so passionately - it's really what you're focusing on this year, and that is a continent of opportunities, building partnerships for success.

Ms. MASTERS: Yes.

GORDON: And this is really the opportunity of business on the continent.

Ms. MASTERS: Yes, yes. One of our main focuses is we're trying to marshal resources to expand the private sector on the continent. We're trying to leverage those resources. And then we're also promoting - and in so doing, we're promoting corporate social responsibility. So it's really about bringing investment and opportunities to the continent.

You know, for so long, the history of Africa, the history of the nations of Africa have been a history of people taking, of companies taking, of other nations taking. And now, we really believe this is the time to give back to Africa. So we're trying to marshal resources in support of her, in the support of her countries, in the support of her people, and give them opportunities that have been denied for so many years.

GORDON: You have some heavy hitters in terms of business coming to be involved in the summit. I know that Chevron...

Ms. MASTERS: Yes.

GORDON: ...General Motors, OPEC, on and on. Talk to us about what will be talked about, specifically.

Ms. MASTERS: You know, we're talking about how we can bring opportunities to the continent. We're talking about creating, or facilitating, conditions for the growth of the private sector. We're talking about having companies establish plants so that people can be trained and fill those jobs. And as we know, and like the Bible says, you teach a person - you give a person a fish, they eat for a day, you teach them how to fish, they can feed themselves for a lifetime.

And that's really, you know, we believe that the time for handouts is in the past; that's yesterday. We're trying to build a base of a strong labor resource on the continent. Everybody talks about the national - natural resource of the continent, but what they don't normally talk about is the vast human resources in Africa, and that's what we're focusing on.

GORDON: Let me ask you about walking in your dad's footsteps, so to speak. Was there every any hesitation on your end, because as I said, he cast such a huge shadow for many African-Americans here...

Ms. MASTERS: Mm-hmm.

GORDON: ...in terms of really teaching us early on about the importance of this tie between African-Americans and the continent?

Ms. MASTERS: Anytime you have a second generation, especially when that second generation is a female, people are going to look at you and say, okay, well let's see what you got, you know, bring us what you have. But you have to willing to sort of look beyond those comments, those expectations, and implement your style of doing things, and not necessarily trying to emulate your parent.

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. MASTERS: And that has been the challenge, to have people accept you for who you are and not always look at you in terms of that memory of the parent.

GORDON: Let me ask you this as an exit question, and that is what will constitute for you a successful summit?

Ms. MASTERS: You know, that's an interesting question, because I used to think of it in terms of how many people were there, how many delegates showed up. But this time - I think that as the summit movement grows, we become more concrete in terms of our outcomes. It's about really doing the work and making sure that we can come out of the summit with some solid initiatives.

And then in two years, the next summit, we can look back and say okay, we achieved everything we set out to do. So, you know, the days of just, you know, out-preaching each other at the summit are over. Right now, we're focusing on really getting the work done and being about the business.

GORDON: Hope Masters, President and CEO of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, we thank you so much.

Ms. MASTERS: Thank you, Ed.

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