Spreading a Message of Empowerment

Entrepreneur and CEO Sheila Johnson is asking America to step up and help women living in poverty around the world. She recently teamed with the humanitarian group CARE to launch "Sheila's I Am Powerful Challenge." She and Dr. Helene Gayle explain the new effort.

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TONY COX, host:

I'm Tony Cox and this is NEWS AND NOTES.

Entrepreneur Sheila Johnson knows how to take care of business. Now she's calling for Americans to really get down to business and help women all over the world living in poverty. According to the humanitarian group, CARE, women make up about 70 percent of the world's poorest people. Johnson recently teamed with CARE and established Sheila's I Am Powerful Challenge. The campaign aims to uplift, educate and provide resources to poor women and girls worldwide.

Joining me now is Sheila Johnson, CEO of Salamander Hospitality and President of the WNBA team, the Washington Mystics. Sheila, nice to have you on.

Ms. SHEILA JOHNSON (CEO, Salamander Hospitality; President, WNBA's Washington Mystics): All right. Thank you. It's great pleasure.

COX: Also joining us is Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE. Dr. Gayle, nice to have you on, as well.

Dr. HELENE GAYLE (President and CEO, Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere): Hi. Thanks.

COX: Sheila, let's begin with you. What influenced you to begin this campaign?

Ms. JOHNSON: Really, I started doing some research on CARE because I was a close friend with some of the CARE's staff (unintelligible) start this I Am Powerful campaign. The I Am Powerful brand, which was launched way before they came to me…

COX: You know, it's - Sheila, let me interrupt you, your line is a little strange. We're going to see if we can fix it up and get back to you.

Ms. JOHNSON: Okay.

COX: And while we do that, I'm going to talk to Dr. Gayle in the interim, okay?

Ms. JOHNSON: All right.

COX: All right. Dr. Gayle, last year, you became CEO of CARE and you were also the first woman, first M.D., and first African-American to lead the organization. How does Sheila's challenge fit in with your goals?

Dr. GAYLE: Well, it fits in wonderfully. And we're so proud to have the partnership with Sheila Johnson. She's been a great supporter by the resources - financial resources, but she's also been a great partner. She's really put her whole self into this challenge, not only in terms of the resources, but also really working to raise the visibility around these issues and use all the different organizations that she's involved in to - assenter on this issue. How do we build a movement around empowering women globally?

As you mentioned, 70 percent of those living in poverty, in extreme poverty, are women and girls. And so if we want to have an impact on poverty, we have to have an impact on women and girls, in changing their lives. And so we're just really thrilled that Sheila Johnson has put the resources that she has, the energy she has into helping us with this incredible effort that we're trying to move forward.

COX: We're talking about energy and empowerment of women. I understand that Sheila's back with us now. Sheila, are you there?

Ms. JOHNSON: Yes. Is this any better?

COX: Oh, it's a lot better. I guess you really do have the power. I'm telling you. We need to have you around here more often. Talk about what you want to do first with this new campaign.

Ms. JOHNSON: Well, first of all, I think I see my job as really trying to motivate and get three million women involved in this campaign, to really market the I Am Powerful Challenge out there, across this country, to get them to match me dollar for dollar. We're going to use - it's a total of $5 million, four million we want to get matched, the other million, we're going to use to really, really get the word out there.

We're doing it to the WNBA. Through my connections there, I want this I Am Powerful Challenge and the awareness of this campaign to every arena across the country. With Parsons School of Design, they have come onboard to help as far as getting products out that are being made from the different communities and also to bring in ideas of how to rebuild villages.

Parsons is more than just "Project Runway." They have interior design, product design, technological design, just everything that is going. And the third is the Jackie Robinson Foundation reached out to them. I've given them a grant to help, take the young people that they've been mentoring and working with from inner city that have graduated, and they've really taken them to college.

It really take them over into the CARE communities, to see the work that's being done there, and bringing back new ideas that they can even improve their own lives. It's really trying to get a social conscience out there to really help CARE really to eradicate this problem of poverty among all women.

COX: Let me ask…

Ms. JOHNSON: And by doing…

COX: Go ahead.

Ms. JOHNSON: I just want to say by using the resources of this country to be able to get students over there. I just think that we may be able to come to a consensus in a way of communication as how we can reach some consensuses to the problems even within our own country.

COX: Well, let me bring Dr. Gayle and ask this question because in much of the world - I know that I am not saying anything that you both don't know already -women really don't have the privileges and freedoms that American women do and we have seen in places like Iraq and other parts of the Middle East where there have been attempts to, shall I say, Westernize the thinking with regard to women and women's rights that there have been issues and problems. How do you help women in countries that believe where they are that they should not be educated? And how do you do it in a way that is culturally sensitive, Dr. Gayle?

Dr. GAYLE: Yeah. Just a little bit of background for those who don't know, CARE is an organization - we've been around for 61 years. We focus on emergency relief. But a lot of what we do is really focused on long-term, sustainable development within communities and trying to give communities the ability to lift themselves out of poverty, if you will, whether it's through giving micro loans - so that people can start businesses, whether it's providing education, improving agricultural productivity, access to health services, access to clean and safe water, all of the things that are critical for people to be able have - to be able to change their lives and giving them the tools to do that themselves.

And so when we work with communities, we take the things that are their greatest - that the things that they need most to change their life and help work with communities to tailor to their needs. So whether it's educating women where in some places where we are, in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, women don't have access to education.

We work with those communities to show those communities why it's in their interest for their women and girls to be educated. Because if a woman is educated, her children are less likely to die, her family is more likely to be able to improve their level of education. And so we show why it's actually in the interest of families and communities for women to change their lives.

We can't move this world forward if we're keeping back the 50 percent potential that lies in women and girls around the world. And I think when you work with communities, you see that people start to shift their - thinking. We do it in a way that respects local cultures and we do it in a way that works and tailors the need to the local environment.

So for instance, even in a country like Afghanistan where we work during the era of the Taliban, where it was illegal for women to get educated, we worked with those communities and we're able to maintain education for girls and women by working directly with the communities. And they saw why it was in their own interest to do this. And we did it in a way that was culturally appropriate by calling them sewing schools and we were able to keep schools open. So I think you can work with communities to figure out how you adapt to cultural ways and not bring necessarily a solution that is imported from a Western point of view.

COX: Actually, your point. Unfortunately, our time is out. I had another question for you, Sheila, but I'm going have to delay it because we don't have any more time to continue the conversation. Thank you both for coming on.

Ms. JOHNSON: (Unintelligible).

COX: It was a pleasure to have you…

Dr. GAYLE: See you, Sheila.

Ms. JOHNSON: Thank you. Goodbye, Helene.

Dr. GAYLE: See you. Bye-Bye.

COX: Dr. Helene Gayle is the president and CEO of CARE. She joined us from member station WABE in Atlanta, Georgia. Sheila Johnson is CEO of Salamander Hospitality and global ambassador for CARE.

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