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Forest Whitaker Discusses Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship with the IKEA Foundation

Recently, Forest Whitaker was in Leiden, the Netherlands, to discuss the work of his foundation - the Whitaker Peace & Development (WPDI) - in South Sudan at the headquarters of the IKEA Foundation, an important supporter of our initiatives in that war-torn country. There, Forest presented in-depth account of WPDI’s work, its impact, and accomplishments. He was accompanied by Mary, a South Sudanese representative from WPDI’s Youth Peacemaker Network (YPN) program at the Kiryandongo Refugee Settlement in northern Uganda, who supported Forest’s presentation with a personal testimonial.

In his presentation, Forest stressed the many ongoing challenges faced by South Sudan and its people. He noted how important it is to adopt an approach to peacebuilding that both mobilizes local grassroots forces and addresses peace and sustainable development holistically, rather than sequentially. This is the aim of WPDI’s flagship program, the YPN, which aims to empower young people from fragile and conflict-afflicted communities through a year of intensive training in topics including conflict resolution, business skills and entrepreneurship, and information and communications technology (ICT). After they successfully complete training, the young people return to their communities and train local young women and men with whom they develop initiatives of their own, such as conducting community dialogues on peace and human rights issues or establishing small businesses that aim to provide services to communities and income to local vulnerable youths.

Forest also highlighted the other core pillar of the YPN: the network of Community Learning Centers (CLCs) that WPDI maintains in remote places. These are proving to be remarkably effective. In the past five years, about 110,000 local community members attended trainings, peacebuilding activities, and other initiatives that the CLCs conducted. And that is even though, in the summer 2016, our programs had to weather a surge of armed violence across the country that displaced 1,5 million people. Despite those events, WPDI staff still managed to train 20,000 people in 2017 in ICT, conflict resolution, and entrepreneurship. Tellingly, 90 percent of those who successfully completed our courses in ICT reported in surveys that they had experienced a positive career outcome within six months of course completion.

Mary amplified these accomplishments by providing the IKEA Foundation with her first-hand account of WPDI’s impact on the ground in South Sudan. She stressed to the audience the transformative impact of our programs and provided a moving account about how empowered she felt to be able to train more than 100 local youths to become future agents for peace in their communities.

Forest concluded his presentation by highlighting the significant results of the WPDI-IKEA Foundation partnership in South Sudan. He also discussed just how impactful an ally the IKEA Foundation has been for over five years now. Indeed, when WPDI started implementing Forest’s vision of empowering young people as leaders and partners for peacebuilding and sustainable development in their communities, the notion was innovative. The leadership of IKEA Foundation – in particular Per Heggenes, its CEO – helped make Forest’s vision a reality, the results of which are clearly evident today in South Sudan.