Three decades of enhanced livelihoods
These poetically inspirational words came from a student; a young woman whose apparent turn-around in life were down to an intense, but meaningful experience as one of many – in fact very many – trainees in agriculture, agro-farming and forestry. The central organisation that connects her with an estimated 25,000 other students is the AG Leventis Foundation, the powerhouse philanthropic organisation, with headquarters in Nigeria, Cyprus, Greece and Switzerland. These four locations provide an insight into the foundation’s geographical reach as part of its mission to elevate the lives of its beneficiaries.
Nigeria’s Abuja-based HQ is responsible for six agricultural colleges across the country, with the organisation’s core vision to attract youths into agricultural development, to expose them to eco-friendly farming practices and to explore all avenues of tech and innovation in line with new world economies and demands on the environment.
However, let’s take a momentary step back from these outputs, and consider the history behind the current rallying cry ‘three decades of enhanced livelihoods,’ which honours the profound level of beneficence that has been impacting lives in and beyond Africa since the end of the 1970s.
The deep level of commitment that the foundation has shown towards Nigeria in particular, started way back in 1920, when Greek Cypriot businessman AnastasiosGeorge Leventis – then only 18 – took up a trading post job in Cross River. Years later, having worked in Nigeria’s textile industry, moved into construction, owned and run department stores (while keeping a strong nationally-motivated interest in his adopted home), Leventis created a bridge of humanity between Nigeria and Cyprus in ways that earned him respect from his social and business peers. It seems almost inevitable that by the time of his death, in 1978, the AG Leventis Foundation would have a strong mission to continue his energy when it was founded a year later.
The core philanthropic activity of the charity organisation comes from a mission to help the federal government’s education department to inspire self-sufficiency in food production across the nation. Therefore, over the 30 years of the foundation’s existence, it’s notable that the organisation’s agricultural training schools have had the widest public reach.
In a recent celebratory interview, key educational players, including Principal Agnes O Yusuf at the foundation’s Abuja-based HQ, have been vocal about the importance of encouraging young people to seek careers in agriculture – from agro-forestry production to livestock production – and to ultimately change the ongoing perception of this area of development being ‘a dirty profession’.“We make agriculture attractive to youths,” Yusuf has said. “You can still look good (as a farmer) and enjoy the basic things in life,” she has stated.
Agriculture – while very much a powerful foundation focus – does sit within an exceptionally broad, cross-representation of sectors, with fine-tuned support from the organisation being demonstrated in nuanced, specific, unique and undeniably humanistic ways in their approach to life enrichment. From conservation and heritage to education, humanitarian work as well as the field of medical science, you could pick any year at random since the foundation launched, to find hundreds of highly impressive examples of supportive actions that, when analyzed, uncover delightful examples of internationally focused social, educational and environmental incentives, all of which have been geared towards long-term and sustainable impacts on the individuals, communities, heritage venues and collectives who have been or continue to be the foundation’s recipients.
Over three decades, examples of the foundation’s altruism has included a “Monuments under Threat” programme at Elliniki Etaireia (Hellenic Society of Environment and Culture), a Xeropolisexcavation project at Merton College, Oxford, as well as an addition of a digital library of ancient inscriptions at King’s College, London. Then, amongst many other examples of scholarships there were two that were provided for Ghanaian students at Cyprus Forestry College, while a duo of students from the Balkans headed off to an American Farm School in Thessaloniki for a BSc education programme.
In the world of traditional and contemporary art, AG Leventis Foundation has provided funding for operational activities at the Centre Culturel Hellénique in Paris, support for the Hellenic International Academy in Harare, educational and public programmes in contemporary African art at the TiwaniContemporary Gallery in London and the establishment of an AG Leventis Senior Lecturer post at Trinity College, Dublin.
With culture, education and preservation all deeply embedded in the foundation’s activities – it shows that its finely-tuned philanthropic antennae is in sync with a world in which shared knowledge, eclectic ideas and an appreciation of conservation and heritage are at the root of the organisation’s mission to create a comprehensive network of high-value support that will ultimately impact on the social, economic, and cultural wellbeing of local, national, international and potentially the global community.
To be able to inspire a level of goodwill that criss-crosses African, Greek and a diversity of other cultures is no doubt testament to the ethos and ethics of the foundation’s namesake. With philanthropy being closely aligned with notions and ideals of corporate social responsibility (CSR), there’s perhaps a question about whether there’s a dividing line between the two when it comes to the foundation’s output?
That’s perhaps a question for the foundation itself, although in the context and timeframe of the AG Leventis Foundation’s thirty-year existence, the context and “brand” of goodwill that emanates from this particular organisation undoubtedly matches the character and cultural back story of Anastasios George himself. Starting with his journey from Europe to Africa, his open and enterprising spirit has been honoured a thousand-fold over the last three decades.Here’s to the next 30 years – and to a world in which the philanthropic actions of the AG Leventis Foundation continue to add more and more inspirational wellbeing, entrepreneurial, educational and cultural health, wealth and capital both inside and outside Nigeria.