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 HollenTrump planning Air Force One flyover during July 4 celebration at Mall: report Election security bills face GOP buzzsaw Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-Md.); Rep. Barbara LeeBarbara Jean LeeThe Trump administration's plan to change the poverty line would hurt communities who need help the most GOP rep: Trump needs to retaliate against Iran to deter other hostile nations Democrats to pass spending bill with Hyde despite 2020 uproar MORE (D-Calif.); Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Hispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership House hearing marks historic moment for slavery reparations debate MORE (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Rep. Dean PhillipsDean PhillipsGOP hopes dim on reclaiming House The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by MAPRx — Biden, Sanders to share stage at first DNC debate Centrist Democrats raise concerns over minimum wage push MORE (D-Minn.) and Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyCongress unlikely to reach deal on Trump border bill before break House Dems at odds with Senate in .5 billion border bill House Democrats close to finalizing border aid bill MORE (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, who spoke about ensuring funding for USDAF's efforts.

Under President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question 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.