'I am Powerful' Brings Resources, Hope to Women
CHERYL CORLEY, host:
We've just heard about the initiative that students are taking to help other young people around the world. And now we want to bring you a story about adults who are making a difference in the lives of other adults, as well as children.
And to do so, we're touching base again with Sheila Johnson and Dr. Helene Gayle. They were with us a year ago on Tell Me More to talk about their "I Am Powerful" campaign. It's an effort to help some of the world's most vulnerable citizens, women. More than 70 percent of the poorest people on the planet are women and children.
Sheila Johnson is the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television. She's also president of the Washington Mystics, a women's professional basketball team. And Helene Gayle is president and CEO of CARE, an international aid organization. And they join us now in the studio. Welcome.
Ms. SHEILA JOHNSON (Co-founder, Black Entertainment TV; President, Washington Mystics): Thank you, Cheryl. It's great to be here.
Dr. HELENE GAYLE (President and CEO, CARE): And thank you. This is a real pleasure.
CORLEY: Sheila Johnson, last year at this time, you had agreed to donate four million dollars to CARE's "I Am Powerful Campaign" to match contributions over the next two years, and it was supposed to encourage, as I understand it, at least three million women to join you to fight global poverty. And I was wondering whether you were able to secure the matching funds.
Ms. JOHNSON: Not only did we secure the matching funds and we got all the women involved, we actually matched the funds in eight months.
Dr. GAYLE: Yeah.
Ms. JOHNSON: Yes. So we've done it, and we're still raising money, which is very exciting.
CORLEY: So how much exactly was raised?
Ms. JOHNSON: Well, as of two months ago we were at the 10-million-dollar mark.
CORLEY: You exceeded your goal?
Ms. JOHNSON: We exceeded our goal.
CORLEY: Dr. Gayle, how will those funds be used?
Dr. GAYLE: Well, those funds will be used in our programs that try to empower poor communities and giving them the skills they need to change their lives. So there are programs like reducing the risk that a woman will die in childbirth, or giving a young girl an opportunity to get educated who wouldn't have otherwise, or helping to make small loans so that women and men can start small businesses that will allow them to have extra resources for their families. ..TEXT: CORLEY: I would like you both to talk about your travels just a little bit. Together you've been to Guatemala, to Tanzania, Ecuador. I was wondering, Dr. Gayle, what's been the reaction in those countries to the "I Am Powerful" campaign?
Dr. GAYLE: Well, I think when we come together, myself and Sheila Johnson, and particularly with Sheila, who is an incredibly successful businesswoman here in this country. When they see somebody like her coming to hear about their lives and to show that she cares, it means a great deal. We have had women along the way who have asked her, seeing her as a role model, somebody who juggles a family, a career, being a businesswoman, you know, and they want to know how she does it.
CORLEY: Sheila Johnson, yeah.
Ms. JOHNSON: And I have to also say that not only hopefullythat I'm giving them something, they're giving back to me also. I mean, I'm seeing some incredible women who are just literally changing their communities in really big ways. There's one woman in an African-Ecuadorian village by the name of Betty(ph) who is just marvelous. She has so many skills out there and so many things that she can do. ..TEXT: CORLEY: So what was she doing specifically that really impressed you?
Ms. JOHNSON: Well, it was really how she was really trying to galvanize her community, to get the other women to believe in their own abilities and what they could do. And one of the things that she said just before we left that village, she says, you know, for so many times I've been told that I must stand behind a man. And she looked at all of us at CARE, the women out there, and she says, for the first time in my life, I now know I can stand behind a woman.
CORLEY: If you're just joining us, I'm Cheryl Corley. I'm speaking with Sheila Johnson, co-founder of Black Entertainment Television and president of the Washington Mystics, and Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE, about their campaign, "I am Powerful." And remember, you can always tell us more. We want to know what you're doing to help others. Do you travel abroad to help other countries, or do you contribute through your local church or synagogue or mosque? Go to our blog at npr.org/TellMeMore or call our comment line at 202-842-3522.
Dr. Gayle, I was wondering, on behalf of the campaign, are your efforts culturally different here in the United States than they are in other countries? I ask because I was reading about the approach you took in Afghanistan, where you were trying to keep schools open there.
Dr. GAYLE: Well, the campaign itself is a campaign primarily in this country to increase the connectedness between women in this country to the issues of poor women around the world. So "I am Powerful" is a communication campaign. And the tagline on it says, she has the power to change your world. You have the power to help her do it. That's somewhat distinct from the programs that we do in the countries in which we work, and we're in seventy countries around the world. And we've put a real focus on trying to empower women and girls because they're disproportionately impacted by poverty.
Seventy percent of people living in extreme poverty are women and girls. But we also know, through our sixty-plus years of work, that if you change the lives of women and girls, you have the best chance of having a sustainable impact on whole communities. You can't move forward if you have fifty percent of your potential left behind, if you will. And we also do know that women, when they have access to resources, they put them back into the families, have adequate nutrition, is that they get their children immunized. So we know that by investing in women and girls, you have that opportunity of having long-lasting change with whole communities.
CORLEY: Well, you're both here, of course, for the two-day national conference that CARE is holding in Washington this week. Dr. Gayle, what do you hope to accomplish?
Dr. GAYLE: What this conference is, is an annual conference when volunteers - not people who work for CARE, but volunteers - come together, they pay their own way to come to Washington to learn about the issues related to global poverty. And then they go and lobby their Congress people about issues that relate to the global poor. So it's really a chance to have the voices of the voiceless be heard.
This year, we're focusing on three issues. One is global climate change and the impact that it's having. The issue of violence against women, and then third is looking at the issue of hunger and reducing food insecurity around the world that has been highlighted because of the rising food prices but has been a long-term and long-standing issue before that.
CORLEY: How many people are going to be a part of it?
Dr. GAYLE: We estimate this year about five hundred people. And just to put that in context, six years ago when this conference first started, we had eighteen people. We have - our youngest participant is nine years old, and the oldest is ninety-one. So this is a wide range of the American people who are coming to speak truth to power and talk about the issues of global poverty.
CORLEY: Miss Johnson, I was wondering what you hope to accomplish at the conference.
Ms. JOHNSON: I'm really trying to start training leaders who can join CARE and join this movement. We have students from Parsons School of Design who are over there. They're trying to help women to better design their own designs so that they can be more marketable. We have product merchandising students over there. We have interior and architectural design students that are going to help with housing, that can build more sustainable housing for them. ..TEXT: We take for granted in this country things that we do have. And one of the reasons why I've sent these Jackie Robinson students over there is so they can see what's really going on globally, to get more of a global perspective, so that they can then bring those lessons back to help others, and we can start strengthening these young people to become leaders.
CORLEY: Well, I won't hold it against you that the Mystics beat the Chicago Sky the other day.
Ms. JOHNSON: Listen, we had to win a game. I mean, we have been struggling.
CORLEY: But I wanted to ask you a little bit, too, about the documentary. It's a new feature-length documentary called "A Powerful Noise." And you've accomplished so much in your life, entrepreneur, a sports team owner, philanthropist. What's it like now to consider yourself a filmmaker?
Ms. JOHNSON: I have to say it's probably one of the most exciting pieces of my life that has, you know, been put before me. Because we are, you know, really able to communicate the work that we're really trying to do. I'm not calling it a CARE film, but it's about women. It's about three women. We shot in Vietnam, Mali, and Bosnia. Vietnam to deal with the HIV/AIDS issue, which people have forgotten. And Mali is the education issue. Mali's one of the poorest countries in the world. And women, through education, we can keep them out of sexual trafficking. And Bosnia is really about economic empowerment.
CORLEY: And Dr. Gayle, this is really going to help you further your message?
Dr. GAYLE: Well, we think - yes, we're thrilled with the film, and to be able to portray these three different women and the three different - their own life circumstances, and show women who have overcome challenges to become leaders in their own communities. We believe it helps to highlight the issues that we're trying to highlight as an organization. So it's a very uplifting film that I think gives people a hopeful and optimistic view of what can happen when we do put the power in women's hands.
CORLEY: Shirley Johnson, president of the Washington Mystics, and Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO of CARE. They joined me here in our Washington studio. Thank you to you both.
Dr. GAYLE: You're welcome.
Ms. JOHNSON: A pleasure.
CORLEY: If you'd like to see a trailer of the film, "A Powerful Noise," go to npr.org and click on our web page, Tell Me More.