When Michele Sullivan took the reins at the Caterpillar Foundation in 2011, she turned what was the pretty mundane philanthropic arm of the heavy-equipment company and turned it on its head. Pre-Sullivan, the foundation took a more traditional approach to its giving. Now it's a cutting-edge grantmaker that's become well-known for putting big money into empowering women and girls in developing countries.
How'd that happen? Well, when Sullivan took the lead at the foundation, she had already spent 20 years working on the business side of things at Caterpillar and approached her new role from a business angle by asking herself “What’s the best investment for the dollar?” The answer certainly wasn’t the Band-Aid giving that is typical of many corporate charitable arms.
Sullivan took a long view on global poverty, zeroing in on the role of girls and women in breaking the cycle of poverty. As she told IP last year:
If a girl is successful, so is the rest of the family. It helps everyone. If you help the girl, you help the family and the village and the society.
Female empowerment often begins with education. Being acutely aware of this fact, Sullivan has directed Caterpillar Foundation funds in a major way toward women-focused education programs around the world. As part of Caterpillar’s previous $3 million commitment toward advancing gender equality in Latin America, the Resource Foundation (TRF) is now poised to launch its Regional Education and Gender Equity Program seminar in Santiago, Chile. TRF and Caterpillar held the inaugural Regional Education and Gender Equity Program seminar last year in Panama City, Panama.
The Regional Education and Gender Equity Program is an initiative that focuses on improving education, teacher training, and community support networks in the Caterpillar corporation’s key Latin American locations including, Brazil, Mexico and Panama. The program also conducts girl-focused educational support in Argentina, Chile, Columbia, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Peru, and Uruguay.
The Chilean seminar will launch with an inaugural panel for Education and Gender Seeds for an Equitable Future. 10 NGOs and 10 Latin American countries slated to participate in the panel.
The Caterpillar Foundation also supports female empowerment programs outside of Latin America. Last year, the foundation teamed up with the US State Department, giving $1 million to support its African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) and the Women’s Entrepreneurial Centers for Resources, Education, Access, and Training for Economic Empowerment (WECREATE). Caterpillar has also poured money into 10x10, a fund that promotes female education through a few different avenues including the documentary, Girl Rising.
Finally, the foundation sees supporting water and sanitation projects as a key part of its gender empowerment and development work.