You have been collaborating with Save the Children, a prestigious charity, for over 40 years. What led you to accept the Vice Chairperson position for Azimuth World Foundation (AWF) in a year when the world is facing a pandemic caused by the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus?
What led me to accept the Vice Chairperson position was the opportunity to apply what I have been fortunate to learn at Save the Children to Azimuth, which my friend Terry Rockstad initiated and is now led by Mariana Marques. Leadership matters, and with Terry and Mariana devoting their time and resources to making the world a better place, I wanted to help out in any way possible.
And while the pandemic clearly presents challenges, there is a compelling reason to have more philanthropic foundations engaged throughout the world, addressing poverty and using best practices. Also, it is exciting to be part of a start-up foundation that aspires to make a difference.
Do you find that the pandemic that the world is now facing might change or reinforce the role of communities?
I think the impact on communities will be significant. Yet, the role of communities will even be greater and present opportunities for local leaders to model best practices to reduce the transmission of the virus. With grassroots community efforts, we can reduce the virus's spread, and vaccination campaigns can be more effective. Public health efforts can only be effective if increased numbers of people seek vaccines, wash hands frequently, wear facemasks, and isolate infected individuals.
Also, community members know best which individuals and families are most impacted by the virus and poverty in general. Azimuth and other actors can direct their assistance to the most vulnerable with their help, as Azimuth has started to do with its work at the Bwindi Community Hospital in Uganda.
Considering the current world situation concerning public health, access to safe water, and balance between humankind and nature, how can AWF help?
Safe drinking water is critical to children and family health. The community must also maintain drinking water systems if investments in water systems are to be sustainable. Azimuth has identified Water Mission, an NGO with 20 years of experience and a focus on some of the world's poorest countries, where it has been working since 2001. By carefully selecting partners, like Water Mission, with the ground experience and national staff, we know the chosen communities will be trained to manage their water system and establish routine maintenance procedures. With clean water available, we can reduce diarrhea and increase handwashing which is critical when COVID is present. We need to double down on these efforts, especially at this time.
In the last few years, through Save the Children, you've faced crises in different sites: you were in Haiti in 2010 after the earthquake, in Florida in 2017, and in Puerto Rico in 2018 responding to the devastation caused by hurricanes Irma (Florida) and Maria (Puerto Rico). In crises such as these, how relevant is the work of charities?
In a crisis, organizations like Save the Children and many others do everything possible to increase what we do. These are the times when people are most vulnerable. I saw this first hand in Haiti, where I spent two years. Fortunately, the general public supports the non-profit sector, and we can respond and do what we would want to do if it impacted our families. Covid is an example like no other. Everyone is impacted. There are likely only a few places in the world where there might not have been COVID cases. Our staff are at risk, and so are the people we serve, so we need to ensure our staff's well-being so they can reach the most vulnerable. Azimuth has to carefully select the public health and water and sanitation programs to reduce life loss and then help people get back on their feet afterward. The recovery period can be long, especially when family members pass away and family income is significantly impacted. At these times, we have to look to communities to help identify the most vulnerable and find mechanisms where families support each other.
Can the average citizen contribute to a better world?
Every one of us can contribute to a better world. I have been a supporter of Save the Children for more than 40 years, and since I have been on the board of Azimuth, I make contributions to Azimuth. We all can do something, and it is not the amount one contributes. I always encouraged staff with whom I worked to ask themselves what they would do if the people impacted were family members and what they would do to help a person or family out. COVID has been personal for millions of people worldwide, so we all know to contribute to agencies we trust to make a difference by having an impact.
And what about companies? How do you see the involvement of companies in the causes that AWF supports? What role can they have?
Companies play a huge role, especially when their staff are engaged and know what a company is doing. Many companies have matching gift programs to encourage staff philanthropy. Others provide executives on loan to help support both development and humanitarian programs of not for profits. Others donate gifts in kind that can really help people when they are vulnerable to get back on their feet. Companies also have a presence in many countries in the world and can get involved locally as well.
We are an ally to Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities dealing with matters of access to Health and Water and the protection of the right to maintain traditional ways of living in harmony with Nature.