When Michele Sullivan took over the reins at the Caterpillar Foundation in 2011, it had already established a decades-long history of giving. For the most part, this involved safe bets, making for a fairly predictable giving pattern year after year. The foundation has certainly contributed to the greater good—by 2012, Caterpillar had already invested over $600 million to groups and programs “geared towards sustainable progress for all,” but its conventional style of grantmaking wasn’t exactly the kind of stuff that excited global and development change agents.
Then Sullivan took the lead. And while the mission of fostering sustainable progress for all remains the same, the way the foundation pursues that mission has transformed.
When it comes to addressing the most pressing global development challenges, Sullivan gets down to the root of the problems. Because, as she sees it, if you’re not looking to the source from which these pressing challenges stem, “...you’re just addressing the symptoms, and the causes will still be there.” Caterpillar’s mission would remain the same and Sullivan would take direct aim at alleviating global poverty.
In order to address the root causes of global poverty, the Caterpillar Foundation launched Together.Stronger, which it describes as a “collaborative platform for purposeful partnerships.” The goal of the program is to bring business, NGOs, governments, and people together to lift 50 million people out of poverty by the year 2020. And while there are plenty of linchpin problems that keep people locked in the cycle of poverty, Sullivan and company have kept their focus on key matters like education, female empowerment, the environment, energy, and basic human needs like food, shelter, and water.
Over the past few years, the Caterpillar Foundation has made some pretty big moves in all of its areas of focus. For instance, in 2013, the foundation pledged $200 million toward work aimed at reducing poverty by investing in girls and women around the world. And it hasn’t been wasting any time on this front, having committed millions toward advancing gender equality in Latin America and Africa. Water is another matter in which Caterpillar has made some notable investments.
Earlier this year, Caterpillar Foundation hosted its latest Water Walk in Munich Germany, at the bauma, one of the world’s largest trade shows for the construction industry. The foundation partnered with charity:water for the event, which aims to bring clean water to people in developing countries.
At the show, patrons carried two 20-liter containers around a short track to demonstrate a fraction of what millions of women and children must endure every day to provide water for their families.
The walk took place over a week, and the Caterpillar Foundation donated money for each completed walk up to $1 million. At last tally, the foundation was on track to make that million-dollar give. All the money raised benefits charity:water, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing clean and safe water to poor people around the globe.
If this sounds a bit familiar, it’s because the Caterpillar Foundation and charity:water have forged a strong relationship over the past few years.
In 2013, the foundation challenged 1,000 people to take the Water Walk, which raised $3 million for charity:water to bring clean water to people in Malawi. And in 2014, Caterpillar announced that it would be committing $11 million to NGOs working in Africa, with $5 million of that total pledge going to charity:water.
Though the Caterpillar Foundation has formed a strong partnership with charity:water, it’s not ignoring other WASH outfits such as Water.org. In 2013, the foundation supported the organization famously backed by Matt Damon, with a three-year, $3 million grant toward Water.org’s WaterCredit program. The money provided water access and clean sinks and toilets for over 200,000 people in India—infrastructure and fixtures that those of us living in the developed world often take for granted.
Water: It’s a basic human need that speaks directly to the Caterpillar Foundation’s “root causes” giving mission in nearly every aspect. It’s easy to make the connections, here. Access to clean water means that women and children aren’t spending hours each day hauling jugs back to their families. This frees up time for children to attend school and for women to pursue other income-producing activities. Which, in turn, fosters economic development and female empowerment. It’s a virtuous cycle that Michele Sullivan and the Caterpillar Foundation are keen to build and keep going.