CARE Leader Tells SMC Students That Women Hold the Key to Ending Poverty

Steve HollingworthChief Operating Officer of Aid Group Explains New Focus on Women and Girls

What's the best way to prevent hunger and poverty in the world? In the eyes of CARE, the international aid organization, the answer is to help out women and girls. Of the 60 million clients CARE serves, 70 percent are now women and girls.

"More equity for women is a key strategy for addressing poverty," said Steve Hollingworth, CARE's chief operating officer, who spoke to a class at Saint Mary's College recently."

Hollingworth came to Saint Mary's to speak to students in a class focusing on Rwanda, which is still recovering from a 1994 genocide that claimed 800,000 lives. The students were given $5,000 by the Kundebana Foundation and had to decide which organizations in Rwanda would be awarded the money. Hollingworth advised them to start by asking "Where's the greatest need, and where will the money do the most good?"

Those were the same questions CARE asked five years ago, and the answer led the organization to shift its focus to helping women around the world. "Aid that gets into the hands of women has a much greater influence on the rest of the family," Hollingworth explained.

Fittingly, CARE is celebrating the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day today by kicking off its annual three-day conference in Washington, D.C., with keynote speeches by former First Lady Laura Bush; Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; and CARE president and CEO Helene Gayle.

Why CARE Focuses on Women

CARE hasn't always focused on women. For years, its main strategy was to deliver direct food aid, and much of it went to men. It still rushes in with food when natural catastrophes or wars create sudden crises, such as in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia or last year's earthquake in Haiti. But five years ago, it started directing its efforts to women because it wanted to find more sustainable solutions to chronic hunger and poverty.

"We're always going to fight poverty. And the most effective way to do that is to empower girls and women," Hollingworth said. "When they are educated, healthy and have an opportunity to earn money, everyone around them -- including men and boys --benefits."

The decision was driven in part by sheer need. Seventy percent of the world's poor are women and girls. But it was also driven by a desire to get the most out of CARE's resources.

Hollingworth shapes policy for an organization with an annual budget of $850 million and a workforce of 11,000 employees in 70 countries. Through 938 projects worldwide, the aid group helps about 55 to 60 million people a year. CARE's challenge, he said, is to address critical poverty for about $15 per person per year. Clearly, it needs to make every dollar count.

New Initiatives in Health, Education, Economics

Since changing its focus, CARE has created a number of new initiatives focusing on women. One is Mothers Matter, a global program aimed at reducing maternal mortality through better prenatal care, clean delivery and postnatal follow-up.

Another is Power Within, which is aimed at getting girls in school and keeping them there by making the curriculum more relevant to girls and removing barriers to their education, such as cultural discrimination and safety issues.

"Education is transformational. If you're denied that as a young girl, you never recover. There are 75 million women who are not in school. That's a lost generation," Hollingworth noted. "If a girl is educated, she'll have fewer children, and her kids will have better health and education."

The organization also has poured a lot of resources into microfinance projects that arrange small loans -- as little as 50 cents a week -- to allow women to start their own businesses, buy livestock or open a store. Hollingworth had great success with this approach when he was CARE's country director in India. When he arrived in India, only 7 million poor women had access to loans out of a population of 1.2 billion. That figure has now grown to 80 million.

Small Actions Make a Difference

Hollingworth knows the power of small deeds very well. As an aid worker in Lesotho, in southern Africa, he worked with women who were forced to travel great distances to mill corn into cornmeal.

"They got a small loan and bought a mill. I helped them install it and they invited me to a party in the village after it was installed," he recalls. "We all danced around the mill holding all of the tools used in milling and growing corn." The mill was a huge success, and the women's group made more than $8,000 profit in the first year - a huge sum in that country.

It's stories like that that make him want to continue CARE's work, Hollingsworth said.

"The people we work with in the developing world have such energy and hope for the future. This keeps me going."

Teresa Castle
College Communications

Photo by Gabrielle Diaz '11

A New Kind of CARE Package Helps Women and Girls

CARE created the original CARE Package in 1946 to deliver supplies and food to Europeans after World War II. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, the organization has created a new web-based CARE Package that can be individually customized and supports CARE's global strategy of giving girls and women the tools they need to become catalysts for change. Check it out here.