My One Cent: Heather Higginbottom
"It is critical for the U.S. to provide leadership in funding programs that fight poverty and provide emergency assistance."
December 20, 2017
Heather Higginbottom recently joined CARE USA as Chief Operating Officer. She previously served for eight years in the Obama Administration including four as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources where she oversaw U.S. foreign assistance. Heather’s unique expertise comes with clear perspective on the critical need for foreign assistance leadership the world is facing today. This is Heather’s My One Cent story:
I’m fairly new to CARE, but I’ve been focused on poverty eradication throughout my career and I can’t think of a more mission-driven organization to be part of than CARE. Outside of work, I am the mother of a five-year-old girl and three-year-old boy and I also have two great dogs, including a recent adoptee from Hurricane Irma!
Throughout my career, my motivation has been to advance policy solutions and programs that help enable and empower people in the United States and around the world to live free from poverty. It’s what I have always wanted to do. Earlier in my career, I focused on domestic urban poverty and the urban education system and then shifted into the critical role that the U.S. Government, NGOs and the private sector can play in addressing global poverty.
After nearly 20 years in government, I’m excited to be working in the non-profit sector. From my perspective, what’s most important right now is how critical it is for the U.S. to provide leadership in funding programs that fight poverty and provide emergency assistance. U.S. leadership encourages other countries and organizations to contribute to our global humanitarian system. We’re currently facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War yet the U.S. resources we’ve long depended on are at risk. If the U.S. doesn’t lead, there is left a void that might not be filled, putting millions of people’s lives in jeopardy.
This past summer I was in Uganda, visiting with South Sudanese refugees. Sitting with women who were facing extreme food insecurity, who had fled terrible violence and knowing that we’re dealing with so many crises around the world right now, it was overwhelming and it puts a fine point on how important U.S. government resources are. People who are desperate to meet basic needs will turn wherever they can to meet them and sometimes that will be towards armed groups, in a direction that can threaten their safety and security as well as our own.
I’m optimistic because foreign assistance has a strong group of supporters in this country. They refuse to accept to live in a world where this level of poverty and suffering is acceptable. I’m optimistic because we’ve heard a loud outcry from people who are paying attention who say, “We’re not going to retreat from our leadership role in the world. We’re not going to let people suffer.’
I’m optimistic because in the last two decades, we’ve cut extreme poverty in half, reduced deaths from preventable diseases, tackled HIV/AIDS in ways we couldn’t have imagined and provided treatment to millions and millions of people.
I’m optimistic because of people like Slimata Dagnoka. Salimata is from Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa and her journey shows the power of one person to change entire communities. Salimata was forced to marry at the age of thirteen. She didn’t finish school and was regularly abused by her sixty year-old husband. But Salimata saw an opportunity for herself through a CARE Village Savings and Loan program. She took a loan and sold salt in her community. Then she took another and another until ultimately she became a salt wholesaler. She achieved financial independence and divorced her husband. She bought her own home. She sent her children to school.
But she wasn’t done. Salimata wanted others to experience the transformation she did. So she started 175 VSLA groups engaging more than 3,000 people. And today she is president of the VSLA network in her community.
Stories like Salimata’s give us reason to be optimistic. But we also know how much more work we have to do so that we can empower and partner with millions more Salimata’s around the world. And resources are critical to do that.