March 16, 2017 Michele Sullivan, President Caterpillar Foundation

Caterpillar Foundation: Empowering Women to Raise 50 Million People Out of Poverty

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Photo: Together.Stronger. Campaign // Powered by Caterpillar Foundation

Today, as you read this article, there are about 500 million women throughout the world that cannot read or write. It is a fact that girls who attend school earn better incomes, marry later in life and have fewer and healthier children. It’s also a fact that women entrepreneurs reinvest 90 percent of their earnings into their families and communities, leading to a disruption in the cycle of poverty. And yet, today, one in seven women do not have the education to simply write their name on a piece of paper. This is an intolerable waste of human capital, and a fundamental cause of poverty.

Five years ago – and more than 20 years into my career at Caterpillar – I received the honor and opportunity of my lifetime when I became President of the Caterpillar Foundation. I am so proud to lead a foundation with a long history of investing in organizations that do very good work. But, at the Caterpillar Foundation, we are determined to do more. We believe that the company whose products have helped build the world’s greatest bridges and skyscrapers shouldn’t shy away from the world’s biggest human challenges. That’s why we shifted our focus from a traditional corporate philanthropy model to a social innovation and social investment model. We began to focus on policy work as we believe sustainable changes in policy are necessary to making real change happen.

This bold vision shaped the Caterpillar Foundation’s ambitious goal: raise 50 million people out of poverty by 2020.

 
Photo: Together.Stronger. Campaign // Powered by Caterpillar Foundation

We recognize that to end poverty, we cannot just address its symptoms. We must attack its root causes. And one of those root causes is the economic and social disparities between women and men.

According to the latest Global Gender Gap report from the World Economic Forum, achieving economic equality between the sexes around the world could take 170 years. We simply don’t have the luxury of time.

That’s why we invest in programs that empower women and girls. The same 500 million women and girls that cannot read this article today. We know that an investment in women yields the strongest returns.

One of the most effective ways to empower women is providing the necessities of a stronger, healthier life by expanding access to education and basic human needs such as clean water and sanitation, nutritious food and shelter.

For instance, each day in sub-Saharan Africa, women spend an average of four or five hours – time that could be spent going to school or building a business – walking to and from remote water wells.  In Tanzania, I met a mother, who spent three hours every day waiting in line to collect water.  After clean taps came to her village, she had more time to devote to her business, double her income and afford the tuition fees to send her kids to school. Simply installing a safe, clean water tap in a village in Africa or Southeast Asia is transformative.

Additionally, we know that when women have access to reliable energy, female employment rates increase by 9.5 percent, girls are more likely to finish primary school, and child mortality rates drop. Recently, Caterpillar demonstrated the power of power through the donation of our 3500 generator to the St. Luke Foundation of Haiti. This donation will provide reliable energy access to more than 150,000 people and help power multiple schools and hospitals. Through the power of partnerships, we believe that investments that empower human capital will enable women and their families to begin their path to prosperity.

We realize that we have a big task ahead of us. And, we also know that we cannot achieve our goals alone. There’s an African saying: “If you want to go fast, go alone.  But if you want to go far, go together.” That’s why we launched Together.Stronger.™, our collaborative impact platform that unites businesses, non-profits, governments and citizens to combine the best of their expertise, reach and influence for social good.

Using the right tools and thoughtful solutions, I know we can make our goal of raising 50 million people out of poverty by 2020 a reality. Working together, we can achieve great things.

Together, we are stronger.

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