Participants in the CARE Sierra Leone Women in Enterprise program
By: Ryan Shepard, Executive Director of the CARE Atlanta Global Innovation Hub, Care.org
When I was first asked to contribute to a blog on International Women’s Day, I immediately thought I was the wrong person to speak. I’m new to CARE, there is still so much that I have to learn, and I certainly didn’t imagine anyone would want to hear from a guy for International Women’s Day. But as I talked to colleagues and friends about the opportunity, it was clear that I would be doing a deep disservice if I did not add my voice to this topic at such an important time in our collective experience.
At CARE, we recognize that power relations between genders are unequal. In order for us to live our values in the fight against poverty, we must all challenge patriarchy, while promoting gender equity on the path towards social justice. This is why we invest in gender justice. We can never overcome the injustice of poverty until people of all genders are equal and free.
For me, that means leaning on the adage that my liberation is tied up in the liberation of all others.
As we embark on the journey of building the CARE Atlanta Global Innovation Hub, we see our effort as a major landmark in supporting the transformation of CARE USA’s presence and footprint in the world. Our mission is bringing together people and organizations dedicated to achieving social justice and equity everywhere.
The Hub will look like many of the coworking spaces that have become popular around the U.S. On any given day, you’ll see entrepreneurs, artist and experts collaborating in the space. You also see programming that emphasizes arts and culture in our effort to support social enterprises and community members through deep, authentic partnership. We believe in solving problems in proximity because the people impacted by oppression are best placed to create innovative, sustainable solutions.
CARE Sierra Leone country office staff regularly meet with VSLA participants to provide support resources.
As I reflect on my place in this work, I am reminded of one of my earliest experiences at CARE. While visiting colleagues and community members affiliated with CARE’s work in Sierra Leone, I had the chance to learn from a group of women entrepreneurs who were participating in a Village Savings and Loan (VSLA) group. The savings groups allow community members to pool resources for savings, loans and emergency expenses.
While the financial benefits are quite clear, the broader social impacts in the community are far greater. As I sat in Mabonkani, I felt the tremendous power of the moment. The women and men shared stories about how the VSLA program became a symbol of strides towards equity in the community and in their households. They spoke about how the growing businesses provided means that repositioned the women as breadwinners in their home and in many cases, the primary source of income. The days of patriarchal home economics were quickly coming to an end. Many added that this also meant greater harmony at home and more egalitarian decision making in the community.
Supporting women entrepreneurs helps advance gender equity.
So as we look for partners and collaborators, we will center a commitment to the equal realization of dignity and human rights for all genders. Our space must reflect this commitment because we are all better off because of it. This is not only the right thing to do, but it is part of reaching our greatest collective strength. We will use our individual power and privileges to act upon our ideals, while being unwavering in our shared commitment to each other in the form of justice. We are better positioned today than ever before and the urgency of the moment is our shared moral imperative. We’re all in! And I hope that you will be in lock step with us as we all march higher.
In Mabonkani, many of the women run agriculture businesses and store harvest until market prices are ideal for sale.
About International Women’s Day
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. International Women’s Day began in 1911 supported by over a million people in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. Today, IWD belongs to all groups collectively everywhere. IWD is not specific to any one country, group, or organization. Share your actions on Twitter with the hashtags #IWD2019 #BalanceforBetter
I’m inspired by the Salesforce commitment to equal pay for equal work. To learn more about equality, allyship, and social justice, check out these resources:
- Equality Ally Strategies
- Understand the Meaning and Power of Allyship
- Learn How to Be a Successful Ally: Four Key Practices
About the Author
Ryan Shepard is the Executive Director of the CARE Atlanta Global Innovation Hub. Ryan was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He’s a graduate of Morehouse College and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Ryan was a 2011 Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation Fellow in Social Entrepreneurship at the Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership.