Meet the Philanthropists: Dr. Frannie Leautier

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Meet the Philanthropists: Dr. Frannie Leautier

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Dr. Frannie Leautier has had a distinguished career in international development and the private sector. She is currently Senior Vice President at the African Development Bank (AfDB). Previously she was Vice President of the World Bank Group and held variousroles during herfifteen-year careerthere, including Chief of Staff to the President of the World Bank. Before coming to the AfDB, she was Chairperson and Co-Founding Partner of Mkoba Private Equity Fund. Dr. Leautier and her husband are active philanthropists and social investors.

 

Q: How did your philanthropy begin?

In the early 2000s, my husband and I jointly decided to fund a woman from an African country studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States. I attended MIT and graduated with a Master’s in Transportation and a PhD in Infrastructure Systems in 1990. I felt that it was important to support African women in their educational journey because it was through another’s generosity that I was able to attend MIT. My husband and I were not wealthy but we decided that we wanted a portion of our annual income to go towards supporting causes we cared about.

Shortly after we started supporting the funding of women from Africa attending MIT, we also began putting our money aside to support students in high school. We decided to support a group of 10 girls in Agona located in the central region of Ghana. I had visited this part of Ghana some years back through an engineering project that I was involved in and wasstruck by the similarity it had with where I grew up. I am from Tanzania. So when we decided to expand our giving, I did not feel that I had to restrict my giving to my country. Both my husband and I preferred at the beginning to be anonymous in our giving, and giving in an area far from home allowed us to remain in touch with the community but at the same time have some degree of anonymity.

 

Q: Why did you decide to talk about your philanthropy?

We supported various causes in this low key way for the past 16 years, mainly to remain anonymous in our giving, but also in order to keep administration costs low, and ensure that funds go directly to the causes we are supporting. As our lives got busier and in order to have some structure to our giving, while leaving some sort of legacy for our children to build on, we have now set up a foundation incorporated in Ghana. To support an African institution and at the same time get quality inputs in administering the grants provided annually by our foundation, we contributed the funds to the Small Grants Program managed by the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF). The ACBF has a local office in Ghana, so it also makes it easier to follow up. It was great being anonymous as all we really cared about was whether we were making a difference. But to get to scale, we needed to involve others. You know, when giving is across borders and you need to transfer funds across countries internationally with all the “Know Your Client–KYC” requirements these days, you need to have some structure to allow the giving to transpire in transparent ways. But also when you are not anonymous you can encourage others to give.

 

Q: Why did you choose Agona?

We chose Agona specifically because we wanted to work with a traditional governance structure that could help to identify the students. Our goal was to help remove the financial barriers preventing young women from receiving the education they deserved. We started out by working with a few volunteers who introduced us to the Paramount Chiefso that we could come up with a list of girls who would benefit from the program. Once the girls were selected, we provided the money to cover their tuition and books. We receive their grade reports at the end of the year. Some of the students in the program have gone on to university while others have chosen to stay in the community.

 

Q: How did you decide what causes to focus on?

The areas we fund have evolved over time, but from the outset our focus has been on education. I was most interested in supporting female students because of my own educational experiences. Someone removed the financial barriers for me to attend MIT, which was otherwise unaffordable for a woman from rural Tanzania. It was only through the generosity of othersthat I received a complimentary ticket from Swiss Air, which allowed me to make the trip from Tanzania to the United States. I received a fellowship from the United Nations to help pay for my first year’s tuition. I got jobs to pay my rent and then earned a scholarship to do my research primarily because someone orsome corporation removed the barriers for me. Because of all of this, I wanted to support other young women to have access to a quality education.

 

Q: How has your philanthropy been influenced by your early life experiences?

The seeds of my philanthropic interests were planted long before I had the opportunity to set up a foundation. I was born in the town of Moshi, at the base of Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. I am one of seven children – four boys and three girls. We grew up in the quiet countryside on a small coffee farm, where education was important even from a rural existence. My parents encouraged an open learning environment and taught us the value of an education. I was one of 25 girls accepted into an all girls’ high school for math and science and later graduated from the University of Dar es Salaam as a civil engineer. Tanzania, which was under the leadership of Julius Nyerere at the time, was making great strides in access to education. My education, for the most part, was free, except for a few years where my parents had to pay, because there was no public school close by. They needed to buy books, uniforms and so on, but the public schoolsI attended were free. All that was needed for me to succeed was my talent and hard work. It was a real eye opener when I got accepted into MIT. For the first time I had to find money to pay for my education. I believe that the values and ideas that I grew up with in Tanzania ignited my interest in supporting education.

 

Q: How has your philanthropy evolved over the years?

My family has been giving grants to students for about 16 years. An education can bring huge improvements to people’s lives. But you can’t fix everything through funding an education. You have to think about the broader issues impacting young girls particularly in rural communities – demanding household chores, a lack of basic infrastructure and electricity, etc. We have learnt that it is important to assessthe long-term impact of your giving. We have begun to define the criteria needed to measure the effectiveness and impact of our giving. We are entering a more complex phase of our philanthropy. We are asking ourselves how to scale up our philanthropy to create a larger impact on society? We are finding that groups and networks like the African Philanthropy Forum (APF) are important for this reason because there is a limit on what you can do alone. My husband and I also now involve our children and we solicit their ideas about ways to give. They themselves started to give quite young– baking cookies to raise money for cancer research for example or organizing yard sales to raise money for victims of natural disasters.

 

Q: Do you collaborate with other philanthropists?

Yes, if people join forces, they can create a bigger impact and reach out to more people. One of the achievements that I am most proud of is the creation of science and technology schools on the continent that I have been involved in with a friend and fellow philanthropist.6 Our vision wasto create the “MIT of Africa.” Together, we have both contributed our time and strategic advice and have helped to chair fundraisers. We now have three schools established in Abuja, Ouagadougou and Arusha.

 

Q: What advice would you give to others looking to become more engaged in philanthropy? First, I think it’s important to know that giving can happen at any level. It is not just about wealth. Your time is a valuable commodity. Second, your giving has to be sustainable if you want to take it beyond volunteering. Third, I’ve learnt a lot through my involvement in APF. It is really important to learn from and network with others in philanthropy so that we can leverage our resources. Fourth, you’ve got to be selective about how you give and establish the right criteria. One final piece of advice I would share: pass it on to the next generation. It will enable your own values to live on.

 

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