Published March 25, 2011
Madonna has abandoned plans to build her boarding school for girls in the impoverished African country of Malawi after discovering that team she installed to build it had squandered millions.
“Despite $3.8 million having been spent by the previous management team, the project has not broken ground, there was no title to the land and there was, over all, a startling lack of accountability on the part of the management team in Malawi and the management team in the United States,” Trevor Neilson, a philanthropic advisor hired by Madonna, told the New York Times. “We have yet to determine exactly what happened to all of that $3.8 million. We have not accounted for all the funds that were used.”
Neilson’s investigation into the mismanagement of funds revealed that millions were spent on lavish salaries, free housing, a golf club membership and a car and driver for the director, Philippe van den Bossche.
“A thoughtful decision has been made to discontinue plans for the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls, as it was originally conceived,” Michael Berg, a co-director of the Kabbalah Centre and the co-founder of Raising Malawi, said Thursday.
“I’m frustrated that our education work has not moved forward in a faster way,” Madonna said in a statement.
Van den Bossche, who is the boyfriend of Madonna’s former trainer, Tracy Anderson, left Raising Malawi last October upon the discovery of his mismanagement of the funds.
“Philippe’s level of mismanagement and lack of oversight was extreme in both aspects of the project,” Neilson said in his report, “and the lack of success of the players on the ground is in large part a result of his inability to effectively manage project plans, people and finances.”
Neilson’s report was also critical of Anjimile Oponyo, who was chosen as the head of the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls.
“Her charisma masks a lack of substantive knowledge of the practical application of educational development,” read the report, “and her weak management skills are a major contributor to the current financial and programmatic chaos.”
Back in November, Neilson had warned Madonna that building an expensive boarding school in a desperately poor nation like Malawi was impractical, and suggested the money would be better spent on financing existing education programs.
Madonna, who has adopted two children from Malawi, gave $11 million of her own money to the Raising Malawi charity, which has raised $18 million with help from donations from Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow and Alex Rodriguez. She said she intends to refocus the direction of the organization and improve education in Malawi.
“There’s a real education crisis in Malawi,” Madonna said in a statement. “Sixty-seven percent of girls don’t go to secondary school, and this is simply unacceptable. Our team is going to work hard to address this in every way we can.”