This year, the international nonprofit CARE will for the first time conduct poverty-alleviation work in Atlanta, instituting a savings program for women based on a model that took off first in Niger.
Village Savings and Loan Associations brings women together in local financial cooperatives, allowing them to pool funds to preserve personal wealth and issue loans to spur small business activity.
The program has now been used by some 7 million women in nearly 50 countries, a testimony to CARE’s worldwide scale.
But it also shows the power of small groups and individuals to make a real impact toward the goal of achieving gender equality all while making a dent in extreme poverty.
That interplay between global citizenship and personal action cropped up continually during a wide-ranging World Affairs Council of Atlanta discussion with CARE President and CEO Michelle Nunn on Oct. 14, celebrating International Day of the Girl.
Indeed, CARE this year is marking its 75th anniversary, tracing back to the time a small group of volunteers decided to send what became known as CARE packages to people in war-scarred Europe. It was all done manually, with 20 million packages reaching specific destinations long before the age of Amazon, Ms. Nunn said.
“This celebration of our history is also a call to the future,” she said, taking listeners on a journey through CARE’s current work and showing through individual stories the progress being made toward seemingly intractable problems.
Ms. Nunn said research showing that investments in women’s education and entrepreneurship pay disproportionately high dividends for societies. When a girl finishes school, her children are 2.5 times more likely to live to the age of five, and each year of secondary education adds 10-15 percent more to a women’s lifetime income.
“That power is what we are invested in, and we want to ensure that everybody has the same rights. If we want to defeat poverty, which is our ultimate mission— that’s Sustainable Development Goal No. 1 — we can’t do that unless we have gender equality.”
Women are proving able to take big steps with modest investments, thanks to their focus on community, Ms. Nunn said. For example, the savings and loan program came out of a group of women in Niger who had bigger ambitions than the tree-planting project that brought them together. A group of Afghani widows CARE convened under a food-distribution program joined up to establish a school and found a women’s rights group to challenge Taliban ideals.
“It’s not just about the vulnerabilities that (girls) face. It’s about their power and their voice,” Ms. Nunn said.
“It’s not just about the vulnerabilities that (girls) face. It’s about their power and their voice.” — Michelle Nunn
The nonprofit entrepreneur moderating the discussion with Ms. Nunn was looking to drive home that same message at the breakfast event, which was sponsored by the government of Canada.
Philadelphia native Martice Sutton founded Girls Going Global after returning from a stint working as an expat in Hyderabad, India.
The Spelman College international studies graduate found that women of color weren’t given the same encouragement to go abroad, causing them to miss out on the enrichment that comes with negotiating international terrain.
While traveling, “there was no one that looked like me, and my family was so scared all the time. There was this idea and concept that I shouldn’t be traveling, that this is not something that we should do,” she said. “I wanted to do something that could make girls more globally aware.”
She started with cultural events, eventually raising money for girls’ passports to eliminate hurdles to studying overseas. That naturally evolved into summer trips, and now the 7-year-old organization has taken about 150 girls ages 13-17 to five countries: Canada, Belize, Italy, Peru and Costa Rica.
Travel notwithstanding, Ms. Sutton said Girls Going Global is about using the challenge of intercultural relations to spur personal growth, getting young women to question their assumptions and leave their comfort zones.
“It’s not about going to another country, it’s about exposing you to anything that is unfamiliar,” she said, encouraging the mostly female audience to find a global organization in Atlanta to plug into. See Global Atlanta’s aggregated global events calendar here
Fittingly, the discussion took place at CARE’s global innovation hub within its downtown headquarters, where Girls Going Global now has its offices. CARE is soon to open its second floor to more local nonprofits, part of an effort to make the large organization more “porous” to Atlanta’s burgeoning global health community, as well as spur innovation and attract young talent.
Ms. Nunn said CARE has experts who have spent decades in specialized fields like sexual and reproductive health, which could be useful to a new organization focused on similar issues.
“Sometimes the magic of innovation comes when you have that expertise coupled with something quite new in terms of perspective,” Ms. Nunn said.
CARE over time has also hosted its Scale X Design innovation competition in Atlanta, encouraging teams from its offices around the world to pitch new ideas in a startup-style sessions where they can win internal budget for implementation.
Clearly, the world still has a ways to go in helping girls reach their full promise, Ms. Nunn said, and the #MeToo movement has shown that even nonprofits working on these issues aren’t immune to the scourge of sexual abuse. Many are reevaluating their policies in light of recent allegations against groups like OxFam.
But she sought to leave the room encouraged, telling of a CARE-backed program to engage male tuk tuk drivers in Egypt who previously thought it was OK to force employees into sex. CARE has sought to make them champions of women and girls, for the benefit of all involved.
“Not only did they feel good about it, but they started to make more money because more women and girls started to ride in their tuktuks,” she said.
She also cited a young girl in Ethiopia who has become her family’s breadwinner after participating in CARE’s village savings and loan program. After being married against her will at 12, she climbed a tree in protest and refused to come down until her mother promised to send both her and her sister to school.
That kind of transformation is what is happening through the steady work of CARE and other groups, Ms. Nunn said, both locally and globally. There’s a place for anyone to participate, she said, noting that she knows CARE donors who have been giving $10 per month over decades.
“Not only can we be good local community citizens, but we all have the opportunity to be powerful global citizens. We have the tools, the technology and the capacity. For us at CARE, we want you to come and be an advocate.”
The program was part of the World Affairs Council of Atlanta’s #LeadHERship series focused on bringing female voices to the fore.
To learn more or to join the council, visit www.wacatlanta.org.