Under the Neem Tree with Dick Crawford

Under the Neem Tree with Dick Crawford

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CARE Global Leaders Network Advisory Board Member and former McDonald’s executive Dick Crawford recently traveled on a CARE Journey to West Africa to see CARE’s work first-hand. Dick said the trip surprised him in its impact.

Why did you take this CARE Journey to Ghana and Ivory Coast?

I saw this trip as a unique opportunity to get a better understanding of the actual work at the ground level that CARE does.

A major portion of my life has been spent in food, agriculture and corporate engagement with governments and non-governmental organizations. I worked a period of time with McDonald’s on their global supply chain, not only on procurement but trade issues, food hygiene issues and public policy.

Were you specifically interested in West Africa?

Actually, there were several other opportunities that were more interesting to me from a cultural or geographic point of view. Like many folk, I’ve been fortunate to travel a great deal, but I’ve never been to West Africa. It was sort of new territory. And then some of the cultural ties between the United States and the peoples of West Africa around slavery, and also agriculture, were of significant interest. The trip did a very good job of balancing visiting CARE’s projects and cultural tourism. We went to a couple of forts where Africans were imprisoned in the slavery trade.

What struck you about CARE’s Village Savings and Loans (VSLA) programs?

The degree of the benefit of that work was an awakening for me. With the Village Savings and Loans I had thought more about the work of CARE on the financing side and the empowerment side – what that would mean, let’s say, in a family unit. I.e., all of a sudden, the woman has an independent revenue stream and what does that do within the family unit? I was aware of that, but the broader sort of social integration and leadership side was unexpected by me. We were in a country, Ivory Coast, that was devastated by civil war and mass killings just a few years ago. Now, you have VSLA participants sitting down under a Neem Tree next to people of other ethnicities who might have killed their relatives during the war, developing a cooperative relationship. For me, that was pretty powerful. These people were willing to sit down together, to share their experiences, share resources, have a democratic process on where the money went, to whom and why -- on democratic and collaborative terms.

It sounds like the embryo of self-government.

It’s goes back to the Greek foundations of democracy at the local level.

Some people may think, “How much can I really do about global poverty, it’s so huge. And we’ve got problems of our own in this country.” Why should we do this, Dick?

That’s a great question. I would invite them to go sit under a Neem Tree and just observe for an hour. Here are women, and they commit to meet every week on a certain day at a certain time, and it’s mandatory. And they get together and conduct their business. One piece of business is, it might be 25 cents, it might be a dollar, but they have to throw some money into a collective pot that then becomes the capital for lending to the members of the group. If they can make a difference at 25 cents, think about the little bit that I can throw in, combined with what CARE puts in, it does make more than a dent. If you see how they have moved from civil strife to where they are now in terms of cooperation and collaboration, it’s amazing. And you can see how their quality of life has improved and life expectancy has advanced. There is significant, tangible evidence that small amounts combined add up quickly and create transformative outcomes.

What surprised you?

The obvious skills and dedication and success that CARE and the CARE people are having on the ground -- that surprised me. Two, I was pleasingly reinforced at the resiliency of humankind. People are people and they’re going to respond in a human way. The third thing that surprised me was that the trip reaffirmed for me the worth of continuing to support CARE. That to me was transformational.

What do you mean by “transformational?”

CARE has a good brand, a good reputation. It is known for its focus on empowerment of women and girls in the farthest reaches of the planet. So, I know that at one level. But actually experiencing that was significantly different. You can read about it and understand it to some degree, but when you touch it, smell it, and feel it, it’s an entirely different level of understanding and comprehension. I would encourage folks to go out and experience this.

CARE supporters and program participants join a Village Savings in Loan program meeting in the Ivory Coast. Photo credit: CARE 2019