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 HollenSenators pressure Trump to help end humanitarian crisis in Kashmir Democratic candidates are building momentum for a National Climate Bank Senate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility MORE (D-Md.); Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeMarijuana industry donations to lawmakers surge in 2019: analysis Lawmakers urge DNC to name Asian American debate moderator Overnight Health Care: Planned Parenthood to leave federal family planning program absent court action | Democrats demand Trump withdraw rule on transgender health | Cummings, Sanders investigate three drug companies for 'obstructing' probe MORE (D-Calif.); Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassCBC marks 400th anniversary of slaves' arrival in US Senate could protect girls from sexual exploitation — but will it? King incites furor with abortion, rape and incest remarks MORE (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsCentrist House Democrats press for committees to follow pay-go rule This week: House Democrats voting to hold Barr, Ross in contempt New CBO report fuels fight over minimum wage MORE (D-Minn.) and Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyCongress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure Overnight Defense: Trump says Taliban talks 'dead' after canceled Camp David meeting | North Korea offers to restart nuke talks this month | Trump denies role in Air Force crew staying at his resort McConnell: Short-term spending bill needed to avoid shutdown MORE (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, who spoke about ensuring funding for USDAF's efforts.

Under President TrumpDonald John TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy 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.