To live in one of the poorest countries in the world and yet still greet visitors with gifts of sugar cane or a live chicken shows the true spirit of human generosity. This is how visitors from Santa Barbara — representing The Eleos Foundation and The Global Neighborhood Fund — were greeted on a recent trip to Liberia. After 20 years of civil conflict, the West Africa nation’s intellectual elite had fled, and the country’s schools, roads, hospitals and libraries were all destroyed.

The purpose of the trip was to learn about opportunities for strategic philanthropy to spur the country’s development. The group — Catherine Brozowski, Andy Lower, Carrie Randolph, Karol Schulkin, Connie Smith, Kelly Smith and Sandra Tyler — visited grassroots projects and talked with government officials and civil leaders in meetings arranged by the Philanthropy Secretariat of Liberia, which was created to help match foreign funders with nongovernment organizations, or NGOs, working in the country. The Philanthropy Secretariat is the first office of its kind in the world.

Despite the challenges, an overwhelming sense of hope and optimism prevails in Liberia.

Tiyatien Health represents this hope. The community-based health system is led by the poor themselves, as trained health workers, and serves the destitute sick in the most rural villages.

“It’s very powerful seeing former isolated and untreated HIV victims, not only become healthy, but to go on and effectively strengthen their community with compassionate health care and take the model even further by linking the sick with jobs, agriculture and economic programs,” said Connie Smith, a founding member of the Global Neighborhood Fund.

The group also visited a recently rebuilt school in one of the poorest slums in West Africa. The money to rebuild the school came from the dividends from the women who work at and own 49 percent of the first fair-trade manufacturer in Liberia, Liberty & Justice.

“These kids live at the lowest poverty level, but in the classroom they were just kids in school having fun,” said Kelly Smith, founder and managing principal of Certis Capital Management and an Eleos Foundation board member. “It was hard not to have fun with them.”

The Eleos Foundation has just agreed to a $100,000 equity investment in Liberty & Justice, a hybrid of both nonprofit and for-profit companies that has designed a comprehensive model of impact to help participants lift themselves and their families out of extreme poverty.

The Eleos Foundation is committed to bringing together a community interested in issues regarding extreme poverty through education, grants and investments, and is currently working with several projects in the developing world. The organization is holding an education event with Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen on April 25. Email for more information.

Click here for more information on The Eleos Foundation. Become a fan of The Eleos Foundation on Facebook. Follow The Eleos Foundation on Twitter.

The Global Neighborhood Fund is made up of volunteers who pool time, talent and financial resources to help improve the lives of the underserved in the Global South, beginning with Liberia. Click here for more information on The Global Neighborhood Fund, call 805.963.1873 or email Click here to make a donation to the Global Neighborhood Fund.

— Carrie Randolph considers herself your average, everyday philanthropist. A mother of three who cares about her local and world community, she is the author of the Everyday Philanthropist in SB blog.