Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE USA, on Empowering Women and Girls Worldwide

In a recent in-depth interview with Gayle, we discussed her advice to President Obama on foreign aid and future challenges and opportunities for the international development sector.
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In a recent in-depth interview with Helene Gayle, President and CEO of CARE USA, we discussed empowering women and girls around the world, the efforts and initiatives of CARE towards this end, non-profit leadership and management, the new digital CARE Package, innovations in development, her advice to President Obama on foreign aid, and future challenges and opportunities for the international development sector. This interview is the first of many for International Women's Week.

An excerpt of Dr. Gayle's interview is below, while the full interview can be found here.

Rahim Kanani: As president and CEO of CARE USA, how would you characterize the global trend in awareness, advocacy and action towards the social, political and economic empowerment of women and girls around the world?

Helene Gayle: I guess you could say the stars have aligned. It's as if many of the world's biggest and smartest thinkers have come to the same conclusion almost at once: you can't marginalize more than half of the globe's population and expect to see any meaningful solutions to the problems that ail the world. Perhaps it's because we're all faced with the same facts: 60 percent of the world's one billion poorest people are female; women work two-thirds of working hours but earn only 10 percent of the income; nearly two thirds of children out of school in the world are girls.

No matter how you measure it, women and girls bear the brunt of poverty. But it's also clear that women are also our greatest hope for ending it. We at CARE have long believed that if you change the life of a girl or woman, you don't just change that individual, you change her family and then her community. By doing so, you begin to turn those grim statistics around. Consider that for every year of education you give a girl or woman, she's more likely to have good health, to give birth to a child who survives and to send that child to school. Investing early, when that woman-to-be is a girl, only amplifies the impact, unlocking potential earlier in life and yielding greater returns for her and everyone around her.

Our aid infrastructure is starting to reflect this shift. Last year we saw the creation of UN Women, a new agency created to house and harmonize four former units that worked on the causes of girls and women. USAID, the government agency that provides American humanitarian assistance abroad also, is making gender a core part of its development programs. Now the challenge to all of us is to make sure that women and girl empowerment is not just the "in" thing to do or some kind of passing fad. We must bring about real and lasting change that can only come from organizational commitments to striking at poverty's roots.

The stars really shouldn't have to align for girls and women to realize their full potential. They deserve solutions that endure, something much closer to a constellation.

Rahim Kanani: In terms of organizational distinctiveness, what role has CARE played within this movement for development that pays special attention to women and girls?

Helene Gayle: CARE's size and reach allows us to scale up successful programs so they benefit the largest possible number of people. Our Village Savings and Loan Associations program started with a handful of people in southern Niger. When we saw how savings-led microfinance created tremendous economic opportunities for women without burdening participants with unmanageable debt, we were able to expand it. We've since launched 54,000 VSLAs in 21 African countries serving more than 1.9 million people - nearly all of them women. Today CARE provides more Africans access to financial services than any other international organization.

Rahim Kanani: What do you now know, having served as president and CEO for nearly five years, that you didn't know when you started?

Helene Gayle: There's knowing. And there's knowing. I admired and supported CARE before I joined, but seeing it from inside and up-close still gives me a regular source of wonderment, even after five years. CARE's breadth and depth is amazing. More than 12,000 people working in 70 countries.

And the dedication of CARE employees to their mission is just astounding. Some 90 percent of CARE's employees are from the countries where they work, so when the devastating earthquake struck Haiti last year, nearly everyone on our staff 133 was Haitian. They lost children. They lost friends. And they saw thee communities they called home flattened. Despite that, they kept working - leading a relief and recovery operation that reached more than 290,000 Haitians. It's easy to stay motivated when you're surrounded by such incredible people.

Rahim Kanani: This International Women's Day, what should we know about the state of women and girls around the world?

Helene Gayle: This year marks the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. So it's a particularly appropriate time to reflect. We can celebrate 100 years of economic, political and social achievements of women. But we should also recognize that in many places girls and women are in a precarious state. We still have plenty of work to do...more.

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