Our investments in West Africa began in 1958 with a grant to train government workers in Nigeria’s western region. We went on to support microfinance and agricultural programs and the development of key human rights and women’s rights movements in the region. In 1967, our agricultural program supported the establishment of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Located in Ibadan, Southwest Nigeria, the institute today is one of the world’s leading research institutions in finding solutions for hunger, malnutrition, and poverty and in addressing the development needs of tropical countries.
Early on, we funded higher education in an effort to prepare young West Africans to lead their newly independent nations. When the young democracies faltered and were replaced by military and autocratic governments, we stayed and our support for human rights came to the fore. We funded emerging civil society groups that carved out space for dialogue. The foundation also supported efforts to control the spread of HIV/AIDS, largely through education, at a time when a growing proportion of West Africans were becoming infected with the AIDS virus.
We responded to widespread civil strife beginning in the late 1990s by strengthening institutions working to promote peace and security and also by supporting diverse voices in the media. As the conflicts ended and the region began to return to democratic rule, we focused on partnerships between government and civil society to promote the kind of good governance required to sustain the peace and to significantly reduce poverty and social exclusion.
In recent years, our grant making has focused on projects that promote democratic values and engage citizens in advocating for their social and economic rights. We have also funded improvements in government, with a focus on openness, and invested in efforts to address the root causes of poverty.