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Joseph Gitari raises funds for human rights organizations in Africa

“The most rewarding part of my job is giving an organization the resources to effect change,” says Joseph Gitari, who helps fund human-rights organizations in Africa.

Your husband dies of AIDS. You probably are infected, too. Alone, you will need to provide for your four children, but work isn’t available. You already live in poverty, and now you’ve been stripped of all property, including your tiny home made of sheet metal, plywood and other refuse.

This is a reality for many indigent African women due to discriminatory widow inheritance laws—something many NGOs, including the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), are trying to change. The passion and people to help are available, but money to fund research and disseminate information is hard to come by.

Enter international studies PhD candidate Joseph Gitari, BA mass communications ’79, MA international studies ’81.

As a Ford Foundation program officer for human rights and social justice, Gitari provides essential funding for organizations like FIDA. Pulling from the $12-million portfolio that he manages, Gitari annually funds more than 30 projects that fight for human rights. In 1998, Gitari provided start-up funding for the Uganda Law Development Center Legal Aid Clinic in Kampala, Uganda —a project initiated by Bob Golten, director of DU’s Human Rights Advocacy Center.

“We see if the project fits with our vision and mission and then work with these groups to help them obtain their objectives,” Gitari says.

“The most rewarding part of my job is giving an organization the resources to effect change,” he adds. “I am able to not only help with money but also with ideas, connections and so on.”

Gitari says his development career was fostered at DU when he worked for University Advancement. There, he sought funding for DU programs by researching potential donors and philanthropies. “And, my education in international studies directly relates to my work now,” he says, citing international studies Prof. Emeritus George Shepherd and law Prof. Ved Nanda (also vice provost of internationalization) as great influences.

After graduation, Gitari worked in London for Amnesty International as head of its Africa Development Program. In 1996, he returned to Kenya—his native country—to work for the Ford Foundation. In late 2003, Gitari relocated to West Africa and now works at the Ford Foundation’s office in Nigeria. He serves as a program officer for human rights and security, funding institutions that are concerned with judicial reform, transparent governance, human security and regional conflicts.

Gitari and his wife, Abi (Alatise), BA mass communication and political science ’85, have three children. Until the recent move to Nigeria, Abi worked as executive director of the Refugee Consortium of Kenya—the only non-governmental refugee advocacy center in the nation. Abi, who met Joseph at DU, still is on the center’s board and is looking for similar opportunities in Nigeria.


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