How the Caterpillar Foundation is helping improve life for women in poverty

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How the Caterpillar Foundation is helping improve life for women in poverty

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One of the most challenging aspects of extreme poverty is that it’s inextricably linked to gender parity. When women are denied the latter, it exacerbates the former. Happily, the reverse is also true. As the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development stated, “Higher female earnings and bargaining power translate into greater investment in children’s education, health and nutrition, which leads to economic growth in the long term.” Indeed, the OECD found that in Africa alone, crop production could increase by up to 20 percent if women’s access to fertilizer were equal to men’s.

In other words, just as poverty does not happen in isolation, neither does its alleviation.That is the notion that the Caterpillar Foundation – and its She Is campaign – is facing head-on. The initiative is aimed at giving women in developing nations increased access to energy.

Funding for the Foundation’s work comes from the proceeds of Caterpillar Inc.’s products, which in themselves help to address poverty by building a better future.

“We want to get to the root cause of poverty,” said Michele Sullivan, president of the Caterpillar Foundation. “Poverty does not occur in a vacuum. Particularly in developing countries, women are the ones that really make the family go in every way. A woman that doesn’t have to go look for water can go to school. If she can go to school, she can get an education. If she can get an education, she can get a job.”

Or, as Jennifer Zammuto, the Caterpillar Foundation’s Chief Operating Officer put it, “When everyone has the same fair chance, we all benefit.”

The Caterpillar Foundation and its grant partners have already done a great deal to support women in developing nations. There’s Kenya’s Esther Rukaro, who, in a few short years, launched a distribution enterprise for clean cookstoves, thanks to aid from the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and the United Nations Foundation.

There’s Marie Claudine Musabyimana, who went from being afraid to light her own home with a kerosene lamp, for fear of fire, to running a thriving food stand lit by a solar lamp. She’s even contemplating the construction of a solar-powered supermarket.      

These are success stories and, certainly, there are a lot of them. On a broader scale, though, there’s still a great deal of work to be done to help lift women in developing nations out of extreme poverty. 

“It’s not just the private sector that can solve [global poverty]; it’s not just the public sector, or the non-for-profit,” Sullivan said. “These three have to work in concert.” 

Purposeful partnerships between businesses, non-profits, government and citizens can really start to tackle some of the world’s toughest issues, like energy poverty. By working together, Caterpillar and the Caterpillar Foundation are leading the way in showing how to approach resolving the energy access crisis. 

The Caterpillar Foundation does not, of course, exclusively help women. But it identifies them as a key to alleviating poverty. What it has found, in essence, confirms the OECD’s finding: when women benefit, society as a whole benefits. 

The Caterpillar Foundation’s Sullivan notes that women tend to organize the family, spend time on schoolwork, and cook meals. So much of the success of the family, and consequently the community at large, depends on women being given every opportunity to work efficiently and without obstacles.

“The women and the girls are critical,” she said. “Whether a woman ends up as an engineer or a doctor or a shopkeeper, the world is going to benefit.”