06 Mar 2016 The Birth of an Idea

This is the story of a woman. A woman I will call Mary. I met Mary in Tanzania last year, and she told me a story of change.

Mary is a mother. All her life, she walked miles each day to fetch water for her family. She spent so much time lugging water cans over dirt roads that she never went to school; Mary could barely read. Her children didn’t go to school either as she couldn’t afford the fees with her small farming income, and she contemplated the fact that now she needed their help to fetch the water.

Photo credit: charity: water

Mary also hadn’t felt healthy for a long time – she cooked porridge on top of an open flame in a one-room home that was constantly smoky. Mary subsisted – she didn’t call it living – on less than 2 dollars a day.

Mary’s story is not unique. Across the globe, there are more than 1.2 billion people who live on less than 2 dollars a day. But if Mary’s story taught me anything, it is that every one of them has hope. And that hope can become reality through a mixture of dignity and resourcefulness.

The Caterpillar Foundation, has been working hard to define what it means to be resourceful; after all, that’s the real problem we’re trying to solve. And it turns out, that problem is access — access to education, infrastructure, energy, innovation, jobs. No one cause, company, or country can provide all the channels of access needed for real sustainable development. Access is key to empowering Mary to create her own future – one that is full of prosperity and looks nothing like her past.

Photo credit: Opportunity International

Photo credit: Opportunity International

When I met Mary, I could hardly believe that not all that long ago, she lived in such poverty. She smiles all the time and is at once excitable and serious, brave and whip-smart.

On that day, she was standing in her kitchen, making juice…and not just any juice, but juice that she would sell later in the day at the juicing business started with a microfinance loan. She was in her kitchen, kids at her feet, all wearing school uniforms and huddled by the small TV she’d recently purchased watching cartoons, dubbed in Swahili. When they got home from school later that day, Mary would give them a glass of milk that she kept cold in her family’s refrigerator now that she had electricity, and an income to make such an investment. The open flame and the smoke were gone.

Mary’s success is possible only because a group of motivated partners across the world was activated by a single idea that our shared humanity is stronger than any one of us alone.

And that’s where the idea for Together.Stronger. was born. The Caterpillar Foundation has been working with leading nonprofit and policy partners to build an ecosystem that is bigger than all of us. Mary’s story – and Together.Stronger. – demonstrates what is possible when the cause, private and public sectors combine the best of their expertise, reach, and influence for social good.

The Caterpillar Foundation doesn’t take partnerships lightly. Through our efforts, we are aiming to empower 50 million people with the resources and skills they need to lift themselves out of extreme poverty by 2020.

HABIBA MOHAMMED - Director at the Center for Girls’ Education in Zaria together with her students.

HABIBA MOHAMMED – Director at the Center for Girls’ Education in Zaria together with her students. Photo credit: The Malala Fund

We decided to launch Together.Stronger. today – on the eve of International Women’s Day – on purpose. If Mary’s story tells us anything it’s that women, with the advocacy of men, will clear the path to our shared prosperity. In just one year, Mary was able to lift herself out of poverty. It wasn’t a miracle, and she didn’t pull herself up on her own. Her success is what happens when partnerships are given the space to grow, and the freedom to flourish.

On this website, you’ll learn about new ways that some major partners are joining forces to support the achievement of the Global Goals, and how they are together exploring innovations and solutions to some of the world’s toughest challenges. And, you’ll also find details about the tangible and sizeable impact our partners are making in the lives of those like Mary who face extraordinary challenges.

Join us on our journey at togetherstronger.com, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and join the movement.  And, pause with us for just a moment to picture the day when Mary’s grandchildren stop to ask her: what was poverty?