New York, 10 December 2013
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am particularly pleased to be here tonight to introduce a remarkable man, Howard Graham Buffett.
This is also a week in Africa’s time when we are saddened by the passing on of Nelson Mandela, one of Africa’s greatest sons. As we celebrate his life and legacy, this provides the right context to continue recognizing those who are committed to improving the lives of others.
(In fact, right after this event I will be travelling to South Africa to pay my last respect to Nelson Mandela)
The award we are celebrating tonight is described as a recognition of “people and partnerships who have made significant and lasting contributions to individual, family and community well-being locally and around the world.”
Howard has been a friend to many, including the people of Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa for more than fifteen years. He has made significant contributions to the improvement of the quality of life that should be recognized and respected.
In particular for Rwanda, he has sought to understand the country and brought in support and perspective that have helped address our particular challenges and bridge our country with our neighbors.
From that perspective, Howard has been a unique partner. In fact, during one of his recent visits in Rwanda, I jokingly remarked to him that people like him were either “rare” or “strange” in our region.
And I went on to explain why I said so.
Over the years we have welcomed many visitors from foreign governments, academic institutions, international organizations and NGOs.We have formed mutually beneficial partnerships with many of them, which have added value to our pursuit of development and opportunity for our people.
But some of those who come to the region seeking to partner with us, often with good intentions, arrive with preconceived ideas based upon where they come from, what they have heard or read. They tend to believe that they understand the situation better than those they seek to help; thereby making the mistake of being overly prescriptive.
However, Howard has been different. He came to our region with an open mind, ready to listen, learn and share; and not to dictate – and he genuinely used what he learned to inform his actions and investments.
Those of you who have followed the history of my country, know that we have often had to swim against the tide. Challenging conventional wisdom has enabled us to overcome adversity as we work towards our national vision. This situation has taught us to value and appreciate people of conviction who have the courage to do the right thing even when it is considered controversial by others. Howard is one of those people.
I also know Howard as a man of action. When he has decided to do something, he makes sure it happens. For example: when we met in August this year, he committed to two things:
Partnering to modernize and develop DRC-Rwanda border post; and supporting Rwanda’s Strategic Capacity Building Initiative to strengthen our government institutions. When Howard returns to Rwanda next week, both these initiatives will be well underway.
Another example is Howard’s Africa Great Lakes Peace Initiative that I have come to be aware of. This project which funds specific development projects in eastern DRC will play a significant part in lasting peace and stability that is sought in the DRC and beyond.
As we, in Rwanda, look back on our journey of recovery and nation building and as we reflect on the core values of dignity and self-determination that guide our efforts; there are organizations and individuals whose partnership and support stand out. Howard’s is one of them.
By committing his foundation to work itself out of business by 2045, Howard is contributing to a game changing approach in the field of philanthropy. We believe this is an example that can and should be followed by those who want to create sustainable change.
As it is said: “At the heart of an IQLA Laureate success lies a true concern for the human condition — an inspiration to all, but particularly to our young people throughout the world.”
Auburn University and their partners could not have selected a more fitting Laureate for the 20th Anniversary of the award. Howard’s work should serve as an example to those who want to build meaningful partnerships that make an actual difference in the lives of those who need it the most.