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South African Finance Minister Pravin Jamnadas Gordhan, Pippa Green, board member of the South African Broadcasting Company, Roseida Shabodien, Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool, and Moss Ngoasheng of the Nelsen Mandela Foundation

*On Monday, April 23, 2012, Shared Interest, a leading New York-based nonprofit social investment fund, celebrated its18th annual awards dinner at the beauteous Gotham Hall in Herald Square, New York City.  The festive event began with a convivial champagne cocktail sponsored by Graham Beck Wines followed by a scrumptious dinner catered by Great Performances and culminated in a powerful performance by soulful jazz singer Somi.

The glamorous gala attracted more than 350 distinguished U.S. and African leaders and was hosted by award-winning broadcaster and TV journalist Ed Gordon, host of BET’s “Weekly with Ed Gordon.”  The evening celebration raised funds for Shared Interest to provide Black South African entrepreneurs with access to credit and technical support to launch small businesses, create jobs and build secure new communities.

Each year, Shared Interest shines the spotlight on notable individuals and institutions whose initiatives promote and protect human rights, gender, equality, economic justice and democracy in South Africa.  Standard’s Kennedy Bungane presented an award to Pravin Jamnadas Gordhan, South African Minister of Finance, for his skill and accomplishments in strengthening South Africa’s economy and moving the country towards stable, equitable growth during the global economic crisis.

Sylvia & Byron Lewis presented an award to Karen & Phillip Berry, longtime supporters of Shared Interest, for forging partnerships to expand opportunity in South Africa.  Roseida Shabodien presented the corporate award to Merck & Co., Inc. (known as MSD outside of the United States and Canada) for its commitment to building healthy communities in South Africa.

In his eloquent remarks during his acceptance speech, Gordhan praised the commitment of Shared Interest and countless people worldwide in working toward economic justice in South Africa, after the fall of apartheid.  “Apartheid attracted all of you.  The legacy of apartheid that you are helping to eradicate today,” stated Gordhan.  “You are helping to create a South Africa that is able to execute its full potential.”

Merck was recognized for providing treatment, care and support to people living with HIV/AIDS across southern Africa.  Merck and Shared Interest have forged a partnership to make it possible for small agricultural business owners to gain access to capital and technical skills and expertise to grow their businesses and create social and economic change.

“The decision to join forces with Shared Interest was an easy one for Merck,” commented Adam Schechter, president, Global Human Health, Merck.  “We are proud to support their efforts to enable small agricultural business owners to obtain the loans, skills and technical expertise that they need, to boost health and economic empowerment in the critical part of the world.”

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Byron Lewis, Founder and CEO of UniWorld Group, and his wife Sylvia present Shared Interest award to honorees Karen and Philip Berry for forging partnerships to expand opportunity in South Africa

New York business leaders Philip and Karen Berry were honored for strengthening partnerships between the U.S. and South Africa that have fostered international collaboration and business and equitable development.

“We accept this award, not only for ourselves, but for the thousands who are struggling to build productive lives in South Africa,” remarked Karen Berry, who is a Shared Interest investor with her husband.  “We accept this award as a testament to the work that still must be accomplished to eliminate disparities throughout South Africa.”

The awards dinner highlighted uplifting images and success stories of Shared Interest’s pioneering clients.  “Shared Interest recognizes that for all too many Black South Africans, apartheid’s legacy continues: a job, a house, the chance to start a business and build economic security for a family and community remain beyond reach,” said Donna Katzin, executive director of Shared Interest, who acknowledged to guests the African National Congress’ 100th anniversary and South Africa’s nearly two-decades long democracy.  “Shared Interest works with Thembani International Guarantee Fund to provide these opportunities.”

Since its founding in 1994, Shared Interest has helped to launch more than 130,000 small and micro-enterprises; build and improve 120,000 homes and create more than 1.8 million jobs. More than 2,080,000 million South Africans — the vast majority of them women – have benefited from Shared Interest’s guarantee loans.  “And to date, none of our investors has lost a cent of interest or principal,” commented Katzin to resounding applause.

During the celebratory evening, Katzin elaborated on the newly launched Next Generation Campaign that will provide South Africa’s marginalized communities and emerging enterprises with access to capital and capacity development.  The new campaign will also extend Shared Interest’s work into other Southern African countries and extend its reach to the next 500,000 low-income beneficiaries over the next five years, and bridge the gap between commercial lenders and “unbanked” borrowers of color for years to come.

This year’s major corporate sponsors included BET International, Destination Southern Africa, The Nielsen Company, Prudential, Rabin Martin, South African Airways, South African Tourism, Trillium Asset Management LLC, Standard Bank, Bloomberg and Walden Asset Management.  Stanley Bergman, CEO of Henry Schein, was the visionary sponsor of the minister’s reception.

Sylvia & Byron Lewis, founder and CEO of UniWorld Group, co-chaired the awards dinner.  Honorary chairs were former Mayor David N. & Mrs. Joyce Dinkins; South African Consul General & Mrs. George Monyemangene; South African H.E. Ambassador Ebrahim Rasool & Ms. Rosieda Shabodien; and South African H.E. Ambassador & Mrs. Baso Sangqu.

Shared Interest is a leading New York-based international social investment fund, mobilizes resources for South Africa’s economically disenfranchised communities to sustain themselves and build an equitable nation.  Its $14 million dollar guarantee fund has leveraged credit of more than $95 million to struggling South African communities that were once considered “unbankable.”  For more information on Shared Interest, please visit www.sharedinterest.org. (Photos by Patrick Valentine)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.

audrey j. bernard