Friday, October 2, 2009

A Friend to African Economic Development


At the closing gala dinner for this year’s Corporate Council on Africa Summit, a genuine friend of Africa’s economic development was honored: Ambassador Andrew Young, Co-Chairman of GoodWorks International. (In the interest of full disclosure, Ambassador Young also is Chairman of the Board of the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation, for whom I work.)

Ambassador Young is considered a civil right icon for his collaboration with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was a force behind the scenes during Dr. King’s civil rights heyday. It was said that Dr. King led people in the streets, while Young was negotiating with white businesses in the suites. The value of engagement with these businesses must not be understated, since they would one day not only allow African-Americans to sit at lunch counters and ride on buses without restrictions, but would also employ them. The seeds of those developments were laid during the discussions Young had with these businessmen. Ambassador Young was involved in street actions as well, but his experience as a mediator and a figure with whom white businesses could discuss uncomfortable issues served him well in his subsequent roles as Congressman from Atlanta, Mayor of Atlanta and Co-Chairman of the committee that successfully brought the 1996 Summer Olympic Games to Atlanta.

Ambassador Young’s international credentials include a significant role in convincing the U.S. House of Representatives to end what was increasingly considered a rogue Central Intelligence Agency operation in support of Angolan rebels in 1977. He also helped to successfully negotiate Rhodesia’s transition to majority-rule Zimbabwe in 1980. Consequently, his American civil rights credentials have been burnished by the vital role he played in working to resolve two major conflicts on the African continent.

Young’s credentials continue to allow him entrée to foreign governments, the U.S. government, the highest levels of the global corporate world, while he still maintains respect among the African-American community. He remains a unique figure who can move between governments, the business sector and civil society on both sides of the Atlantic.

GoodWorks represents or has represented clients such as Barrick Gold, ChevronTexaco, Coca-Cola, Delta, General Electric, Guiness, Monsanto, Motorola, South African Airways, Nike and Walmart. He has managed to help companies improve their images in the face of criticism or create business linkages for corporate clients with difficult governments through a few phone calls, whereas others could not do so despite all their efforts. It must be noted that much of the criticism of Ambassador Young and GoodWorks is by those unwilling to accept that the corporate world has anything good to offer developing countries. Young is the first and only civil rights hero to become truly successful as a business consultant because he has long understood the value of business as a driver of economic development.

It is important that by honoring Ambassador Young, CCA is acknowledging that a noted figure from civil society can transcend the artificial divide that has prevented the private sector and civil society from working together as partners on trade and investment as the situation now demands. Given the challenges faced by Africa in more rapidly integrating into the global economy, it is imperative now more than ever that more civil society representatives enter the business suites in partnership rather than keep to the streets in protest.

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