Former Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. would have been proud to have Dr. Helene Gayle receive this year’s Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Progress and Service from Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College.
That’s what members of the Allen family said on March 12 after hearing Dr. Gayle, president and CEO of Atlanta-based CARE USA, speak at a lunch in her honor.
Gayle is now one of a distinguished list of leaders who have received the award including former Georgia Gov. Zell Miller, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, business leader Jesse Hill Jr., Charles and Lessie Smithgall, and media entreprenuer/philanthropist Ted Turner.
But it was the memory of the late Mayor Ivan Allen that touch Dr. Gayle the most.
“I’m so honored to be among you,” she said at the annual lunch at the Biltmore. “The Allen family’s service to this city really exemplifies leadership in our city.”
She quoted Mayor Allen, who described the challenge of ending segregation and fostering integration as “business pramatism.” It made good business sense for Atlanta to strive for racial harmony when most Southern cities resisted segregation, often resorting to violence.
And then she brought it to her work at CARE.
“Ending poverty is business pragmatism on a global basis,” Gayle said.
She also borrowed (and reworded) a phrase from another one of Atlanta’s great leaders — Martin Luther King Jr. — “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Dr Gayle’s version: “Poverty anywhere is a threat to the economy everywhere.”
The challenge is huge with 2.6 billion people on earth living on less than $2 a day, and those statistics keep getting worse during this tough economic times.
“We are continuing to swell the ranks of those living in poverty,” Dr. Gayle said of those who not only have a scarcity of food and clean water, but who also feel powerless to improve their lives and emerge from poverty.
“On a global basis, women and girls are disproportionately impacted by poverty,” she said. “Two-thirds of the world’s work is done by women, but women only have 10 percent of the world’s income.”
That’s why CARE has been focusing its efforts on women and girls. When women begin to earn more money, they reinvest it in their families and in education — avenues that can help lead people out of poverty.
Dr. Gayle said CARE has a three-pronged approach in its quest to end global poverty — provide basic human needs of food, water and health; change people’s personal power so they can better help themselves; and try to change national and international policies.
For example, in 2007, the world’s top nation’s agreed to spend .7 percent of their gross national income on foreign assistance. But most countries did not come close to meeting that target. The United States only spent .16 percent of its gross national income on foreign assistance, or $21 billion.
“I was raised to believe — to whom much has been given, much is expected,” Dr. Gayle said. “We are a nation that to much has been given.”