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Judy Foreman: Santa Barbara’s Giving Community Welcomes Saran Kaba Jones to the ‘Neighborhood’

Liberian dynamo inspires Global Neighborhood Fund audience with report on how her clean drinking water operation is making a difference

Clean-water entrepreneur Saran Kaba Jones, second from left, with Global Neighborhood Fund founders, from left, Nancy Koppelman, Connie Smith and Sandra Tyler. Click to view larger
Clean-water entrepreneur Saran Kaba Jones, second from left, with Global Neighborhood Fund founders, from left, Nancy Koppelman, Connie Smith and Sandra Tyler. (Judy Foreman / Noozhawk photo via iPhone)

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Saran Kaba Jones, a superstar clean-water entrepreneur and leader on the global stage of philanthropy, was the honored guest speaker at a recent luncheon at the Santa Barbara Club.

The occasion was the fifth anniversary luncheon benefiting the Global Neighborhood Fund, an all-volunteer giving group that provides financial aid in Liberia. The West African nation has suffered years of civil war and, most recently, the deadly Ebola virus epidemic.

The Global Neighborhood Fund focuses on women’s empowerment, rural health care, maternal health, clean water, education, and treatment and prevention of disease. Funds though annual dues and grants are voted on by the nonprofit organization’s members.

Guests gathered for the sold-out luncheon not only to celebrate the achievements of the 5-year-old local giving group, but to receive the latest updates from Jones, the founder of FACE Africa, one of the grantees that GNF supports.

FACE Africa focuses on clean drinking water that benefits more that 10,000 residents in one of the most marginalized regions of Liberia.

Jones, 33, already has received international acclaim for her work. Among her awards and recognition is a listing by Forbes Magazine as one of the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa and a listing by The Guardian as one of Africa’s 25 Top Women Achievers.

She is in demand worldwide as an inspirational speaker, and had shared her story at the annual Girls Incorporated of Carpinteria spring luncheon at the invitation of executive director Victoria Juarez.

Nancy Koppelman, Connie Smith and Sandra Tyler — all close friends and Montecito residents — already had long and deep roots in local and global philanthropy when they founded the Global Neighborhood Fund in 2010.

From CALM (Child Abuse Listening & Mediation) to domestic abuse and local schools, Direct Relief and Human Rights Watch, what started out as a passionate idea born from their collective world travels and experience evolved into the Global Neighborhood Fund.

The GNF is a “field of interest fund” administered by the Santa Barbara Foundation, which was represented at the luncheon by Jan Campbell, senior vice president of Philanthropic Services and Communications & Marketing.

In the last five years, GNF grants have gone heavily to grassroots organizations, most headed by women in the foundation’s “first-focus region” of Liberia. Decades of civil war had left the region and its decimated citizens bereft of electricity, running water, roads, schools and medical care.

In 2006, Liberia elected the first woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in all of Africa. The Harvard University-trained economist and former finance minister has a tall task of rebuilding her country and restoring hope.

Jones has been an integral part of that undertaking.

Given a brief introduction by Tyler, Jones described her work in the vanguard of native-born Liberians who have been returning to the country to help restore its economy and future.

Liberia has an enduring connection with the United States. Founded by freed slaves in 1847, its constitution, system of government and flag are based on America’s. Its capital city, Monrovia, is named for James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States. It is Africa’s oldest democratic republic.

Jones and her family fled the civil war in Liberia when she was a young child. Her father, Dr. Brahimia Kaba, a career diplomat and public servant, moved the clan to Côte d’Ivoire, formerly the Ivory Coast, then to Egypt, France and Cyprus. Finally, his diplomatic postings took him to the United States, where his daughter attended college, eventually graduating from Harvard.

Married to Ainsworth Jones, a Cambridge, Mass., immigration attorney, Jones and her husband recently adopted a brother and sister who had been orphaned by the ebola crisis.

She splits her time between Boston and Liberia, where her nonprofit FACE Africa has operated since 2009. It is one of the GNF’s most successful grantees and has implemented more than a dozen projects that have benefited more than 10,000 residents.

At the GNF’s inaugural event five years ago, the focus had been how to effectively change the lives of the underprivileged around the world. Many skeptics were in the audience, including myself, and did not immediately connect the global dots.

Today, however, most people seem to understand from geopolitics how interconnected the world is — economically and politically.

Koppelman, Smith and Tyler founded the GNF with the belief that “thinking and giving globally is essential to building world peace, and has an added benefit of touching lives who have born unbearable hardship.”

Since their first grant cycle in 2011, the collective giving group has awarded more than $140,000 to organizations such as FACE Africa, Last Mile Health, Made in Liberia, YAI and Think Rehabilitation Home.

“Small grants of $5,000 are transformative,” Smith told Noozhawk. “With funding this size affecting the lives of hundreds of individuals, and in addition to financial support, the GNF provides educational convening’s where members and friends have opportunities to learn about the global south from its residents on the ground.”

Koppleman, well known to the Santa Barbara community for her enthusiastic work on behalf of UC Santa Barbara’s Arts & Lectures series, Direct Relief and national politics, shared her own motivation with the luncheon guests.

“As a donor and supporter of GNF, your name will never be on a building, you will never see any great acknowledgement,” she said. “But you are changing lives in the smallest, profound way.”

Smith closed out the afternoon by reiterating the importance of global partnerships and an old African proverb:

“If you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together!”

Click here for more information about the Global Neighborhood Fund, or email [email protected]. Click here to make an online donation.

— Judy Foreman is a Noozhawk columnist and longtime local writer and lifestyles observer. She can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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