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Duke Professor Takes Major Role In Post-Katrina Rebuilding Effort

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DURHAM, N.C. — Duke professor James Joseph is no stranger to the world stage. He's a former ambassador to South Africa and served under four presidents dating back to the Carter Administration. His latest assignment, though, is personal.

"While I'm here at Duke and running a leadership program for Southern African leaders, the disaster happens in my home state," said Joseph. "So, it's natural for me to find a way to help."

Louisiana Gov. Mary Landrieu tapped Joseph to head up the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation. It's a clearinghouse for funds donated to the state to help in its recovery.

"It's overwhelming but one has to remain optimistic in order to be effective," said Joseph.

The foundation operating out of Louisiana's capital relies solely on private donations. Joseph said that's by design. The foundation is a link for Louisiana's residents to money and resources without any bureaucratic hurdles.

"What Katrina revealed was how bad things were, and that's why there's an emphasis on building things better than they were," he said.

Joseph said the foundation has already doled out about $3 million to nonprofit groups helping Louisiana residents rebuild their communities.

"Eventually, we hope to strengthen some of the community-based organizations so that the people who have been  marginalized traditionally will have a new voice," he said.

Joseph said his experience taking on social issues around the world will serve him well in his home state. The foundation is made up of local Louisiana residents who have been affected by the flooding. Joseph said the group hopes to raise about $50 million over the next two years.

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