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Humanitarian non-profit head speaks at Ford

By Rachel Premack, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 20, 2013

Helene Gayle, president and CEO of humanitarian organization CARE USA, spoke to an audience in the Ford School of Public Policy Wednesday about the challenges non-profit organizations face today.

Gayle spoke as part of the Public Policy School’s Citigroup Foundation Lecture Series, enacted in 2000 to engage students and faculty in dialogue with leading policymakers. She fielded questions from Public Policy Lecturer Sharon Maccini and Public Policy Prof. Marina Whitman and, in the last half of the talk, the audience submitted questions.

Gayle said CARE is connecting cereal giant General Mills and other corporations with workers in impoverished areas to improve those area’s economic capabilities.

“We’re working with (General Mills) in Madagascar — which supplies 80 percent of the world’s vanilla bean — to incorporate the world’s poorest, small farmers into their global supply chain for vanilla, which may end up on your grocery store shelf,” Gayle said.

In addition to public- and private-sector business relations, Gayle discussed women and girls in poverty and budgeting issues in non-profits.

Gayle emphasized that CARE focuses on enacting long-lasting impact on communities. CARE’s staff members typically hail from the same area they are working in and therefore have an understanding an area’s culture and needs to provide the best poverty relief.

Gayle discussed a woman from Burundi who, in her first time out of the country, spoke at a conference about a $2 loan from CARE that led to her starting a business.

“Just with ripple effects that had for her family, as a woman who had been a prisoner of her own home and a victim of domestic abuse,” Gayle said. “It totally changed the life of her family.”

“These things, as small and simple as they may seem, cause a whole ripple effect of change and you see that over and over again.”

Cooperation with CARE leads to the adoption of ideas that may challenge the community’s beliefs. Gayle mentioned how law passed in Benin that allowed women to own land, which, because of the culture, was not being enforced. CARE then coordinated with paralegals to work in the community to help locals accept the idea of women owning land.

Gayle said 90 percent of CARE’s funds come through donations from large institutions. These funds are typically restricted — that is, CARE cannot decide where to allocate them within the company. The other 10 percent, largely small and personal donations, is unrestricted. Gayle said this system makes it difficult for CARE to recognize administrative costs.

“People will give you funding for specific projects but you have to support your infrastructure,” Gayle said. “I think it’s very short sighted because, ultimately, you have to maintain that infrastructure and that platform to be able to do these programs.”

Gayle pointed out that females make up two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population and, while they execute 50 percent of agricultural work, they own only 1 percent of the world’s farmland and make up 60 percent of the extreme-poverty population — those who earn less than $1 per day. Moreover, helping a woman often involves helping a mother and her children.

“You are able to make intergenerational change,” Gayle said. “If you have an impact on the life of a girl or woman, she will put that into her family and her family’s outcome will change.”

Gayle said 96 percent of women paid back their CARE loans successfully, but noted that research into this data revealed that women could be taking out loans for men and be violently coerced to repay them.

“Repayment rates are not the only measure,” Gayle said. “What’s happening to the loan? How are those loans being used? Are they being used in ways that actually empower women or not?”

Jimmy Schneidewind, a Public Policy graduate student, said he came to the event because of his interest in how CARE helps developing countries economically.

“(Old models include), broadly speaking, donor countries sending copious amount of money to international NGO’s to implement some kind of Western agenda,” Schneidewind said. “I’m interested to see how she is increasing country ownership, giving the recipient countries a greater stake in them and having a bit of autonomy in how the money is spent.”


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