Many successful people have said generosity is the key to business success. Billionaire Robert F. Smith not only fits the mold but far exceeds the expectation.
The chilling and heartbreaking kidnapping of almost 300 girls from Chibok Government Girls Secondary School in Nigeria, that transpired a year and a half ago, was the impetus for the social media campaign, #BringBackOurGirls.
“I was driving two of my own children to school, and it just hit [me] as a parent,” he told The Guardian. “And then the scale of [Chibok]. Even if it was just two or three, it’s a tragedy, but 300?”
Smith is the founder, chairman and chief executive of Vista Equity Partners and second richest African-American, according to Forbes.
Slightly more than 50 girls have escaped the Islamist militant group Boko Horam, the group responsible for the abductions. Out of the escapees, 21 girls are taking a huge risk by going to the American University of Nigeria (AUN). A risk, since they were initially targeted for attending school and since there is a fight for educating girls in northern Nigeria. According to the Education Policy and Data Center, female secondary school net attendance rate is only 29 percent in comparison to a national average of 53 percent.
The 21 girls fortunate enough to attend AUN have enrolled on scholarships. In April 2015, there were about 46 other Chibok girls who escaped but there were no funds available to pay for their education. Dr. Margee Ensign, the school’s vice-chancellor, was hoping to raise funds from the university’s foundation.
Now, eight months later, Dr. Ensign’s hope has turned into a dream fulfilled.
Smith recently offered to pay school fees and expenses of all 21 girls.
“He said, I’ll cover their expenses for as long as they needed it. And then – it was just incredible – he basically said, see if you can find the rest of the [escaped] girls, and we’ll help them too,” Dr. Ensign said to The Guardian regarding Smith.
“We’ve got the Black Lives Matter campaign going on [in the U.S.] at the moment, and these girls matter too,” Smith told The Guardian. “Their lives matter not just because of the events that happened, but just because their lives matter.”
This kind-hearted gesture isn’t foreign to the CEO, as he owns a private foundation, The Zoëlimax Foundation that focuses on filling in the gaps that limit an individual’s ability to realize their full potential. Some of his programs under The Zoëlimax Foundation are Viviendas Leon’, which works to alleviate rural poverty in Nicaragua and improve understanding through cultural exchange, and Teach With Africa, which empowers students and teachers by bringing educators to South Africa to teach and learn.
“Since I came to this school … I have full confidence now that I can express myself everywhere I go,” Mary, an escapee, told The Guardian. “I never thought for once in my life that I will be in this kind of environment. I feel much better because of the love and care shown by everyone.”