Susan Crown

CARE Impact Interview: Susan Crown

May 2011

Susan Crown joined the CARE Board of Directors in 2006 and recently made a major gift to CARE’s maternal-health program in Sierra Leone, where she traveled last year with Dr. Gayle, policy makers and other influential leaders, as part of a Learning Tour focused on maternal health. She is a partner at Henry Crown & Company, a Chicago-based family firm that manages investments in banking, diversified manufacturing, health care, oil and gas, real estate, resort properties and telecommunications. After graduating from Yale, Ms. Crown earned her M.A. at New York University. She is a director of Illinois Tool Works and Northern Trust Corporation and has received several awards for her community work. In 2009 she served as the co-chair for CARE’s National Conference and Celebration in Washington, D.C. She kindly agreed to share her point of view.

What first motivated you to get involved with CARE?

CARE’s global reach and program approach impressed me. The organization seeks to end poverty by providing those most in need— mostly women and girls—with access to rights, markets and basic services like education and health care. It is not a parachute in-and-help-people organization; it is an organization that supports those who wish to help themselves. In my view, this is the only way to bring about sustainable change.

You are a strong advocate for maternal and child health in poor countries. Why is this particular issue so important to you?

No woman should ever die giving life. In this era of modern medicine, it is unconscionable that women and children are suffering, indeed dying, from completely preventable causes. As a society we face a number of issues that appear to be insurmountable. The provision of basic medical care is not one of them. We have the knowledge and tools to promote a healthy pregnancy and delivery. We know how to prevent and treat childhood diseases. Maternal and child health challenges are within our reach to solve.

Last year you traveled to Sierra Leone on a CARE Learning Tour. Sierra Leone has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. During your trip, what did you see that makes it so challenging to improve maternal health there?

[Although] I’ve had the opportunity to visit a number of developing countries, what I witnessed in Sierra Leone made an indelible impression. The spirit of the people is extraordinary, despite nearly 3 decades of civil war. One of the greatest costs of the prolonged strife has been neglect of the country’s infrastructure. Things we take for granted, like modern medicine, education, water treatment, communication and road systems, simply do not exist in Sierra Leone. Women experiencing complications in labor are carried to distant hospitals by volunteers willing to transport them in a hammock. The busiest maternal clinics lack essential equipment like ultrasound machines. Operating rooms are antiquated, and midwives, after 2 years of rigorous training, are assigned to remote communities without housing support and are paid only $60 per month. Children with communicable diseases are housed in the same overcrowded hospital wards as children with non-contagious conditions.

At this juncture, there is unprecedented political will to modernize the health-care system in Sierra Leone. This is an opportunity that needs to be seized.

What made the biggest impression on you?

The fact that the government currently has only one obstetrician/gynecologist employed. The rest of the medical practitioners for women and children in Sierra Leone are nongovernmental organization professionals and volunteers. Millions of women and children and one doctor—it is hard to fathom.

While there, you met with President Ernest Koroma and Vice President Samuel Sam Sumana to discuss the country’s maternal-health situation. What were some of the key takeaways from that meeting?

The government in Sierra Leone has much to do: rebuild, realign, end corruption and deploy limited resources to productive activities and progress. President Koroma and Vice-President Sumana are committed, capable, clear-thinking leaders, both with backgrounds in management. They are applying sound management practices to their work and have set real performance standards in every aspect of government. The first lady of Sierra Leone is also providing great leadership. As a former nurse, she is keenly focused on improving child and maternal health. My takeaway is that this is a strong team, holding great promise.

What moved you to make a major gift to CARE’s maternal-health programming in Sierra Leone?

Few grant-making opportunities present themselves like this one, with such clear, direct, and immediate benefit. Strategically invested capital will have a dramatic, life-altering impact on the well being of women, children, families and communities in the region. As a mother yourself, what was it like talking to other mothers in Sierra Leone who endured difficult deliveries or lost babies because they didn’t have access to appropriate care? Heartbreaking. They expect so little and accept their situations as a harsh, but completely normal, reality. This trip caused me to appreciate the medical care we take for granted in the U.S.

What would you like to share about your experience with donors who have not visited CARE projects?

Talking about tough issues is one thing; seeing the faces and places is quite another. I would recommend that everyone traveling abroad take a morning or afternoon to visit a CARE program. The country directors are extraordinary. They approach their work with real knowledge on the ground, intelligence, sensitivity and respect for the potential of each person. The other aspect that can best be understood from a country visit is that CARE clients simply want what every person wants: dignity and opportunity.

In 2009 you played a key role in CARE’s national conference in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of CARE supporters called on their congressional representatives to increase funding for global maternal- and child-health programs. What were some of the best parts of that experience?

I was blown away by the fact that so many individuals traveled to Washington—at their own expense—to support CARE’s global agenda. The passion and commitment to CARE’s work was both affirming and inspiring.

How has your involvement with CARE made an impact on your life?

It has opened my eyes to many of the differences, and similarities, of people around the globe.

What would you like to do next with CARE?

My greatest hope is to be part of the team that causes CARE to no longer need to exist.

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