Success Stories from Africa: Judith Rodin’s Books

By Heidi G. Frontani

This week I am reviewing two books published in 2014 that were written or co-authored by entrepreneur-philanthropist, Dr. Judith Rodin, the current President of the Rockefeller Foundation (RF). The RF has a long history in Africa. It funded hookworm disease studies in Egypt in the 1910s, yellow fever control efforts in West Africa in the 1920s and 1930s, and yellow fever vaccine distribution across the continent in the 1940s. Since World War II the charitable foundation has continued to support the health sector, but also has taken on issues such as food security and women’s education.

Dr. Rodin’s latest book, The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong in a World Where Things Go Wrong (Public Affairs, November 2014) describes the global community’s need for resilience building or the ability to bounce back more quickly and effectively from sudden and dramatic shocks such as a new strain of virus, a cyber-attack, severe storm, civil conflict, economic blow, or other stresses. Dr. Rodin emphasizes that governments and businesses should prepare for, not just react to, disruptions. She views urban areas as in need of especially innovative solutions, but notes that progress is being made in many areas and offers multiple uplifting stories as evidence.

In Kenya’s Mau Forest, bottom-up solutions are being created to address environmental degradation and the displacement of local people. The city of New Orleans in the USA recently announced hiring its first Chief Resilience Officer (CRO) to coordinate and integrate challenges such as extreme weather, sea-level rise, crime, and public health threats. Medellin, Colombia, which was once the drug and murder capital of South America, is now an emerging vacation destination as well as host to international conferences. The Resilience Dividend has received positive reviews from several prominent politician-philanthropists including former Secretary-General of the United Nations (1997–2006) Kofi A. Annan, former US President Bill Clinton, and Michael R. Bloomberg, the 108th Mayor of New York City.

The Rockefeller Foundation is putting funds into urban resilience initiatives in 100 cities. African cities that have received or will receive funds include:

  • Accra, Ghana;
  • Dakar, Senegal;
  • Enugu, Nigeria (if you are wondering why Enugu was selected, click here);
  • Durban, South Africa;
  • Arusha, Tanzania and
  • Kigali, Rwanda

Dr. Rodin also co-authored a book, with Margot Brandenburg, earlier this year (Wharton Digital Press, May 2014). The Power of Impact Investing: Putting Markets to Work for Profit and Global Good is a relatively short and practical book that offers moving interviews and compelling stories to those interested in understanding the potential of targeted investments to make an impact and address global challenges from climate change and water scarcity to the lack of access to health care, education and affordable housing. It builds on the concepts of patient capital and impact investing that Dr. Rodin has discussed in interviews for years.

Dr. Rodin and her co-author see a promising future for Africa based on its large and growing population of innovative youths which is responding positively to the information and communications technology boom taking place across the continent. They offer examples such as mPesa, which allows people without access to traditional banking services to perform financial transactions on their cell phones and Nestle’s CocoaLink, which has empowered cocoa farmers by enabling them to access new markets and gain data on their crops. The authors note that Africa, more than any other world region, has been the focus of impact investors from Europe and the USA. Beyond being a destination for capital from investors seeking profits, Africans abroad send substantial funds to family members on the continent and increasingly are accumulating pools of capital to be used strategically for environmental and social goals.

Dr. Rodin served as the Provost of Yale University and President of the University of Pennsylvania prior to joining the RF in 2005. She was the first permanent female President of an Ivy League university and is the RF’s first female President. Dr. Rodin is the author of more than 200 academic articles and has written or co-written 14 books, including The Resilience Dividend and The Power of Impact Investing.

She serves on the African Development Bank’s High Level Panel and the Board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Forbes Magazine recognized Dr. Rodin as one of the World’s 100 Most Powerful Women for three consecutive years. In October 2014, Dr. Rodin was honored with the Urban Land Institute’s J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development.

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