- Issue: Fall 2014
On April 2, 2014, WWF President and CEO Carter Roberts sat down with Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE-USA, to talk about the importance of believing in the possible, why partnerships are worth the effort and how $2 can make all the difference in the world.
CARTER ROBERTS: CARE, like WWF, is part of a global network. For WWF, that’s both a strength and a liability. How does CARE’s global network help you get your work done, and how would you describe the challenges of operating in that kind of system?
HELENE GAYLE: When you have members who represent the outlooks of different countries and bring very different skill sets and ways of thinking to a situation, you’re just a more effective organization.
I also think in many cases, given the work we do, having an American face presents some challenges, particularly in countries where people see America in ways that aren’t always flattering. So I think it helps to have a global identity.
CR: And the challenges?
HG: Well, it’s a lot easier to reach consensus when everybody thinks just like you. [chuckles] It’s harder when you’re bringing together different perspectives—and often more time-consuming than if you go it alone. But I think we know the disadvantages of going it alone.
CR: Absolutely. It’s not like conservation or development have any respect for borders.
Helene, you’re a pediatrician. How does your medical training inform the way you do your job and the way you think about the work CARE does?
HG: Well, I started out with a focus on health because I thought it was a tangible way to contribute to society. I evolved from looking at individual patients to thinking about, “How do you apply those same principles to whole populations?”
And then I moved on to global poverty, where health is a factor, but where a lot of the issues have a huge amount to do with what actually drives poor health—lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate nutrition, inability to feed one’s family.
I see my work with CARE as a continuum of looking at ways in which you can use health—a concrete, basic need—to look at issues more broadly. And I do sometimes use my medical diagnostics skills to look at a problem. So generally speaking, the tools that medicine gave me still offer me ways to solve all kinds of problems.
CR: At WWF we’re interested in “disruptive ideas”—things other organizations or individuals are doing to solve critical problems in unusually creative ways—as a means of getting beyond business as usual. Could you talk about disruptive ideas you’ve seen and why you think they’re important?
HG: Something I think that is really disruptive, if you will, in the development landscape is the engagement of the private sector. Engaging private-sector investment and renewable sources of capital as part of the development landscape has made a big difference. Social enterprises have also been a big boost—the development of businesses that have both a social and an economic good. We’ve started a for-profit arm of CARE, specifically to engage more in the area of social enterprise.
CR: You, World Bank President Jim Kim and USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah have all talked about ending extreme poverty in the next few decades: it’s within our grasp, we know what needs to be done and we ought to get after it. But you’ve also questioned whether the will exists in the global community to actually make it happen. What’s your vision for ending extreme poverty?
HG: First, I think it’s important for people to realize that ending extreme poverty is possible, and to believe it will happen in their lifetime. It’s easy to look around the world at all the challenges we face and get discouraged. But there have been real successes in just the past 10 years. Fewer children are dying from malnourishment; the number of people living in poverty is declining.
Will we ever have a world where there are no poor people? I don’t think that’s realistic. But within the next few decades, given the tools we have—along with the right political will and setting the right targets—I believe we can end the most abject poverty.
CR: Our partnership, the CARE-WWF Alliance, was created to address the root causes of poverty and environmental degradation in Coastal East Africa. Talk about the promise and the challenge of our work together.
HG: I know you share my belief that when you partner with organizations that do the same thing you do, you create more change in the same direction. But when you partner with organizations that do things you don’t, then the change is no longer linear—it’s exponential.
So I think that having two of the best-in-class in our respective fields come together for something so bold holds tremendous promise. How do we improve people’s livelihoods while also improving the environment? Those issues are so interwoven that by working on them together we can have an impact that’s multitudes greater than either organization could have alone.
And we can’t forget the catalyzing role Ginger Sall played in the early days of the Alliance. She’s served on both our Boards simultaneously and was the one who saw the potential for us to come together and do something great.
CR: The Alliance has been a real labor of love for Ginger and John, and the whole Sall family. And the staff in the field fed off that passion—it helped fuel their energy and drive, and the progress they made in their work with the local communities.
HG: They have been so influential in getting us going. But of course partnership takes work, it takes energy, time and commitment.
CR: Like a marriage.
HG: Right. We had to figure out how to speak the same language and sort out our commitments. But if you don’t put that effort in up front, then it’s not going to be a very stable partnership.
CR: I’ll never forget going to Africa with our Boards. In Namibia, the WWF Board was excited that income generated through our community conservancy program was enabling people there to save money for the first time in their lives. And the CARE team said, “Yeah, but is that translating to improved maternal and child health and decreased mortality rates?” We’ve learned to see more through your eyes, and that’s been so beneficial.
Last question. While the work we do can be unbelievably rewarding, it can also feel overwhelming. Do you ever get discouraged? What gives you hope?
HG: Sure, I get discouraged—I’m only human. But I am hopeful every day because I have seen the difference we make. Take CARE’s work with the Village Savings and Loan programs, for example. That gives me hope because it allows people to pool resources and then make loans to each other—to start businesses, send children to school, get access to healthcare.
I’ve seen the difference that a $2 loan can make in someone’s life. A lot of our loans go to women who have not had the opportunity to earn incomes. This very small amount of money doesn’t just change her life, it changes her family’s life as well. Her children now have a role model for what is possible. Empowering someone with the dignity that comes with feeling like they can realize their potential—that gives me hope. It should give everyone hope.
CR: I’ve said before that working at WWF is the very definition of hope. I could say the same about working at CARE.
HG: I love that. Absolutely. Yes.
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