Actor Forest Whitaker joined lawmakers on Thursday to announce a new initiative to help rebuild communities ravaged by conflict in Africa.

The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI), founded by the Academy Award-winning actor, is partnering with the United States African Development Foundation (USADF) to provide grants and support services to 40 small businesses run mostly by women and young people in South Sudan and Uganda.


“The idea behind WPDI is to provide the tools that they [individuals in South Sudan and Uganda] can use to make a difference to be able to undertake projects that they set out to do in their communities, to move their communities towards a path of peace and prosperity,” Whitaker said at a breakfast event at the Capitol where he announced the effort.

The grants will focus on funding projects in USADF’s three main priority areas: agriculture, energy and youth led-initiatives. The grant funding, totaling about $500,000 and split evenly between the two countries, will come mostly from profits from other USADF programs around the African continent.

Whitaker was joined at the event by Sen. Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenTwo dozen Dem senators urge Trump to extend nuclear treaty with Russia Live coverage: Barr faces Senate panel as he prepares release of Mueller report US so far granted waivers to 6 percent of applicants on travel ban list: report MORE (D-Md.); Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeProgressives threaten to derail major Dem spending proposal Speaker in waiting? Rapid rise of Hakeem Jeffries fuels talk Congress should look into its own taxes and travel, not just Trump's MORE (D-Calif.); Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassThe Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday Dems rally behind Omar as Trump escalates attacks Black Caucus warns Trump is putting Omar's life at risk MORE (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Dean PhillipsDean Phillips18-year-old female suspect dead after Columbine-related manhunt Denver schools closed amid 'massive manhunt' for woman 'infatuated' with Columbine Dems counter portrait of discord MORE (D-Minn.) and Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyTrolling of Bill Barr shows how language is twisted to politics Barr says Mueller report will be released 'within a week' Live coverage: Barr faces House panel amid questions over Mueller report MORE (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, who spoke about ensuring funding for USDAF's efforts.

Under President TrumpDonald John TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll MORE's fiscal 2020 budget, USADF would be combined with the U.S. Agency for International Development, and see a cut from $30 million down to $4 million.

USADF focuses mostly on investing in local entrepreneurs, but Whitaker's organization has expanded its work to include teaching life skills, particularly for young people who have experienced war and poverty.

“I think when you look at child soldiers you’re looking at issues of need, issues of reconciling with families or communities because of the deeds that have been done and to reconcile with their identities,” Whitaker told The Hill.

“I think that what we have found working with different child soldiers and giving them the opportunity for business and other opportunities of that nature, they are able to clear out a lot of the problems and actually become really productive citizens,” he added.

His organization has also focused on teaching young people conflict resolution skills.

"Just recently we had one of our female trainees go out to the mountains to negotiate a peace treaty over two rival tribes over cattle reining,” said Whitaker. “They’ve been trying to get a peace treaty signed for 10 years and in two years she was able get them to sign a peace treaty.”

Whitaker and C.D. Glin, the head of the USADF, hope that post-conflict resolution will be treated more as a development issue than a national security issue.

“You have to move through the conflict issues, you have to create a fertile ground to be able to create and develop issues," said Whitaker. "It’s all about taking destructive issues of war to a development creation idea.”

Glin said it was important to create an "enterprise or entrepreneurial mindset that can survive and thrive in the midst of those conflicts."

Currently, USADF's grant assistance programs generate approximately $100 million in new local activity in Africa.

Whitaker, however, said there was more work to be done.

"The thing is if we want lasting peace our efforts must go beyond the surfaces of security and violence," he said. "Peace building as a team by bringing communities to speak out on their own."

Updated at 2:34 p.m.