K. Riva Levinson is the President and CEO of KRL International LLC, a Washington DC-based communications and government relations firm that focuses on the worldʼs emerging markets. A top strategist in managing international policy issues, Levinson has served as a long-time adviser to Africa’s first Woman President, Liberiaʼs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also a Noble Laureate for Peace. Levinson has a bachelorʼs degree from Tufts University and a masterʼs degree from Georgetown University. Choosing the Hero is her first book.
- Riva, what took you all the way to Africa in such an empowering mission, as the counselor of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf?
I met Ellen Johnson Sirleaf when she was in exile in the US from her native Liberia. It was July 1996, and she was contemplating a return home to challenge the rule of warlords. I saw in her a fierce determination, and a potential for what Africa could be if people like her were given the opportunity to lead a democratic Africa. From that moment, her mission, became my own.
This question you ask lies at the heart of Choosing the Hero . The book weaves many stories, my story, a young woman, a wife, then a mother of two, three decades traveling the world, often in times of conflict, meeting many people who did not live to fight another day, and trying to make sense of it all. And then meeting Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a woman who put everything on the line for what she believed in – to bring peace to her country, who would go on to become President of the Republic of Liberia, the first woman elected to lead an African nation, and a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace. Choosing the Hero is about the struggle we all go through to find purpose, the intersection of our lives, and the impact we have on others and that others have on us.
- Describe to us the relevance of firms such as KRL International in the support of today’s global world?
There are barriers to entry in any new commercial or contractual relationship, particularly so, across different cultures and across different continents. KRL seeks to de-mystify and de-risk partnerships spanning such boundaries through education, intelligence gathering, partnerships, communication and diplomacy. And in today’s changing world, this type of skill, and corporate mission, is ever more critical.
Specifically, KRL International tries to bridge the gap, between the US and the world’s emerging markets, particularly Africa, and in doing so, creates shared opportunity. Our project areas include: government relations, commercial diplomacy, advocacy and communications, market entry, corporate social investment, and democracy and governance.
- Please share with us a moment of your life where you were meant to be discouraged in your career, but found the power to overcome the challenges for a successful result?
My 20-year relationship with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has included repeated cycles of deep discouragement and pro-found challenges. Maybe the single greatest was in July of 1997 when the warlord, Charles Taylor’s reign of terror was legitimized through a presidential election in Liberia, and we feared that the sub-region would explode into civil and regional warfare, which it did. But we kept fighting. Peace came, and later democracy, but only nine years later, and after the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives. My message to the reader about this experience lies in the last paragraph of the last chapter of my book. I share it below.
“Working with Ellen has taught me to follow my heart and not to fear being misunderstood. I have come to see that certainty is a luxury and destiny a journey that reveals itself with time. It is easy to stray off course, to doubt and lose faith, to see compromise as surrender, to feel judged, isolated and even abandoned. But there is always something to hold on to, the belief that things will get better. I have come to appreciate that we need people to guide us, those we admire and those we believe in—the heroes that we choose.”
- How would you imagine the economic and cultural ties between USA and Africa during Trump’s Presidency?
US policy towards Africa has always had broad, bi-partisan support, which has been sustained through successive US Administrations and Congress, both Republican and Democrat. I am an optimist, that a cooperation between the US and Africa will continue, because the ties that bind are deep and personal. But that being said, Donald Trump has yet to show an interest in pursuing innovation in US-Africa ties. His central focus, at least initially, appears to be on containing crisis and addressing issues related to illegal immigration. If this continues to be the case, the responsibility to pursue innovation in US-Africa relationships, and build upon the historic cooperation in economic, trade, healthcare, education and other areas, will rest outside of the Administration, in other branches of the US government, in the private sector, the diaspora, with all of us.
- Based on the following description, how would you relate to the Mayshad Woman Philosophy?
What I relate to most of all is the goal of encouraging women to live their life with optimism and empowering them to achieve their dreams. One of my greatest hopes for Choosing the Hero , which is almost entirely dedicated to the struggle, is to emphasize that if I could manage all of this, others may find the inner strength to navigate their challenges too.
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