Perspectives from Dr. Helene Gayle, former president and CEO of CARE USA
August 18, 2015
We recently spoke with Dr. Helene Gayle, who recently stepped down as president and chief executive officer of CARE USA, a leading poverty-fighting humanitarian organization that Cargill has supported since 1958. Here’s what she had to say.
Can you explain CARE's approach to fighting poverty?
We started out delivering CARE packages after World War II then moved on to become an organization that really focused squarely on eliminating extreme poverty. Over time our experience showed that focusing on girls and women would have an even greater impact on our overall mission for a couple reasons. First of all, girls and women are disproportionally impacted by poverty: 6o to 70 percent of those who are living in extreme poverty around the world are girls and women. But in addition to that, if you invest in the lives of girls and women, you really have an impact that goes well beyond the individual. A girl who is educated is more likely to get married later. She's more likely to earn an income and send her children to school. Children of educated women are more likely to live past their fifth birthday. It goes on and on.
How do CARE's programs also benefit boys and men?
You can't just change girls and women without also having the corollary impact on how boys and men start to think about their lives differently. When I've talked to men who are participants in our programs, I've heard them say how much better their family life is because their wives are now contributors to the families. They're no longer burdens. They see them as equal partners. They see the benefit of helping their wives with household chores because then she's not as tired anymore and they can have a much different family life. So we see that the benefits also accrue to men and boys.
Most of your staff members come from the countries in which you operate. Why is this important?
We have really tight relationships within the communities and work together to come up with solutions that are tailored to their needs. We have a lot of global learnings and method¬ology that we use, but we always make sure that it fits the needs in the local context of the communities. I think about some of our educa¬tion programs in really difficult countries where girls are traditionally not educated. Because we have worked with communities to help them understand the value of educating their daughters along with educating their sons, they have stood up for CARE's education programs even when they have been challenged. We believe that community buy-in from the very beginning is what makes the programs relevant, but also what makes them longstanding and enduring even after CARE is gone.
What does Cargill bring to the table in the communities where we work together on projects?
Cargill is able to help build the agricultural back¬ bone in many of the countries and communities in which we work. By being able to create economic value hand-in-hand with creating social value, you really get a multiplier effect. You have CARE working on the social side and Cargill working on the business side, and together we are able to have a better product than either one of us would be able to deliver alone. Cargill is one of our longest-standing partners and has been on the side of poor farmers around the world. I think Cargill has in many ways been exemplary as a company that lives its values, lives its principles and believes that it has a role to contribute to social change along with its business imperative.
By the time this article goes to print, you will have taken on a new role as CEO of a different not-for-profit organization. As you say goodbye and reflect on your time at CARE, what are you most proud of?
Being able to really cement our focus on empowering girls and women, for one. I'm also proud of developing new and different partner¬ships, including our partnerships with the private sector. Our work in advocacy and policy change. Our integration with other types of organizations, particularly environmental organizations, as we look at the interface between people and planet. There have been times where I have had challenges where it would have been very easy to just say, you know, there's an easier path here. But I think if you have a good sense for where you want to go and are persistent. you get there. I'm proud of where we are today.