Dr. Helene Gayle heads one of the most critical non-profits in the world, Atlanta-based CARE.
But she’s increasingly focusing on lessons from the corporate world when directing her organization’s fight against worldwide poverty.
Terms like leverage, supply chain and re-branding flow readily from her tongue, as she describes her strategy to help more people with CARE’s projects. For a second or two during an interview last week, I thought I was talking to UPS CEO Scott Davis or Home Depot CEO Frank Blake, two men who smile when they hear talk of supply chain.
But it was Gayle, a 54-year-old trained pediatrician, who was explaining CARE’s partnership with UPS, so it could get disaster relief more quickly to the next hot spot. To do that, CARE needs sophisticated logistical expertise from a company that knows how to efficiently deliver packages to more than 200 countries.
These days, Gayle said, the line between for-profits and non-profits is blurring. Companies want to have a sustained impact if they’re going to do engage in “social responsibility.” At the same time, non-profits like CARE need corporate know-how, along with corporate money.
“We touch 55 million lives every day with our projects, but there’s a billion people or more living in poverty,” she said. “We cannot do it by ourselves. We need partnerships to leverage other resources.”
Those partnerships include tapping a wide range of companies — Coke, General Mills, Gap, Nike, Cargill — for projects aimed at transforming dire conditions. Projects generally take advantage of a company’s expertise to deal with development issues — Coke helps on water, while Cargill deals with agriculture.
It’s not all altruism from the companies, Gayle concedes. They’re making a long-term investment in economic change, so that future markets for their products will develop.
During this recession, company contributions have become more essential to CARE, Gayle said, because individual donations dropped by 20 percent. For the past two years, she said, “corporations made up the fastest-growing source of revenue.”
CARE’s revenue, $708 million in 2008, is expected to decline to $701 million this year. About 40 people have been laid off, as part of a cost-cutting effort.
With tight resources, CARE has decided to focus its efforts on females.
“Women and girls disproportionately bear the brunt of poverty. The flip side is, you can have the most success and long-lasting change by focusing on them,” Gayle said.
So, just like a corporation would, CARE re-branded itself with a “I-am-powerful” campaign to let donors know it was changing direction: “She has the power to change the world. You have the power to help her do it.” The campaign was launched around the time Gayle became president and CEO in 2006.
While Gayle spent her career in the non-corporate world — Centers for Disease Control and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — she credits the Microsoft co-founder, whom she called “the world’s greatest businessman,” for enhancing her corporate acumen.
But hasn’t she strayed a good bit from her pediatric training at the University of Pennsylvania?
“I still think I’m a doctor,” Gayle said. “The greatest cause of death in the world is poverty.”
Hopefully, it will be a little less so as her work takes hold.
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