Interview with Kathy Hall, The Summit Foundation

Poverty and Inequality

Kathy Hall, Senior Program Officer for Empowering Youth: Girls’ Equality and Adolescent Reproductive Health,  examines the relationship between the concept of Equity and the fairness and justice approach at The Summit Foundation. By establishing programs in rural areas, The Summit Foundation seeks to improve access to education and health. Kathy discusses the Youth Leadership and Development initiative called GOJoven, which looks to empower young leaders as catalysts for social change.

Interview conducted in March 2014

1.     What does equity for children mean for your organization and why it is important?

I don’t think there is an explicit reference to equity in how we express our core values and the main description of our program focus. But despite the absence of the word itself, I think equity is very much at the heart of the work of The Summit Foundation. In all three of our program areas, there are quite a lot of references to matters of fairness and justice. We talk a lot about evenhandedness among different populations who may be living in proximity but have very different experiences in life due to differences in access to resources, in poverty levels, and levels of wealth—and yes, just differences in access to the various forms of inputs that impact people’s ability to function in the world. We have a strong infusion of the idea of wanting to improve quality of life for people; regardless of their circumstances or where they were born. For example, in our program Empowering Girls (previously, Empowering Youth) we are expressing our grant-making process as really trying to get at the social, economic, and health challenges that girls and young women face in particular, because of the fact of that they are born female. This is the program I oversee.

2.     What programs do you fund that promote equity and are there criteria that guide this selection?

We are very focused on trying to reach the most marginalized adolescent girls; mainly in rural or low-income urban areas. I should say our main geographical focus is on four countries in the Mesoamerican region of Central America.

Within that we try to work with organizations that we feel are honing in as well as possible on more impoverished people in particular. A lot of times it can be due to their ethnicity or their status of living in a more rural area that disadvantages them in terms of access to educational and health resources. What we’re trying to do in my program is to look at how some of those gaps can be attended to between those who live perhaps not right in the capital city, for example. This takes up a great deal of our focus. One of the flagships initiatives of my program is a Youth Leadership and Development initiative called GOJoven that was launched nearly ten years ago, in 2004. This programs looks to specifically support and empower young leaders to act as catalysts for social change in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico. It has a specific focus on transforming societal norms and access, and policies and programs related to sexual and reproductive health in particular.

3. And what impacts has it had?

That’s a good question. We decided to do a thorough external evaluation in 2012. We published those results because we felt like there had not been many evaluations of youth programs with a focus on sexual and reproductive health. We were trying to answer the question of, what really can be expected of a program of this nature? All these types of programs tend to be rather unique, but we were focused on carrying out an evaluation 8 years after the program started to see what was happening at all levels: at the individual level for the roughly 180 young people who had been through the program at that point and at the organizational level, looking at civil society and governmental institutions that had young leaders who participated in the program, as well as even broader systemic or policy improvements.

What we found was very satisfying. Although we know that 180 people in four countries is a very small sample size to change the daily reality in these countries, we also feel like our investment in these 180 individuals is having a long-term return for them and their communities. Some of these impacts cannot even be fully known yet. Given that the requirement for the program is an age range of 18-30 years old, most of these individuals are in their twenties or thirties. They are young adults and many of them are in relatively junior positions. A big point of this program is that these 180 young adults are mostly from the more rural areas of their countries. They are chosen very carefully in order to try to address some of the inequities that we see in sexual and reproductive health within this geography. Again, that disparity is certainly very obvious when you look at rural versus urban and at certain ethnic groups versus the majority population. We are definitely trying to get at some of that by choosing to include these young people that maybe have not had access to as many advantages as young people from more middle class or upper middle class backgrounds living in a capital city. We really wanted to target those young people who are coming directly from communities with some of the worse indicators in terms of health, educational attainment, issues like violence, and so forth. Thus, our selection process was carefully drawn.

4. What kind of major challenges does your organization have to address matters of equity and how can those be resolved in the future?

I would say the biggest challenge we have is getting governments and policy makers at the country level where we are working to pay careful attention and give consideration to these issues – issues like reaching adolescent girls in the 10 to 14 age range. These adolescent girls from very impoverished backgrounds need targeted interventions to put them on a different path than their mothers and grandmothers. The challenge then is ensuring that what we do so effectively at the community level trickles up to budgets and policy priorities for governments.

5. What would you recommend to do to get into budgets and priorities?

It may entail chipping away some of the privileges that surround those in power. They are obviously trying to figure out how to use and allocate scarce resources to address the needs of their population at some level, but they are not using or allocating them in an equitable manner. They are not putting enough emphasis on addressing the historical, long-standing divides between certain geographies in the country or among certain ethnic groups. All too often governments resist that reallocation of resources. We need to continue to build the evidence and continue, as institutions of civil society, to knock on the doors of policy makers with our practices and evidence. This is certainly part of our vision with programs that we have supported like Population Council’s Abriendo Oportunidades girls’ program serving indigenous girls in Guatemala and the GOJoven program I mentioned.. We want some of these girl leaders and GOJoven fellows to eventually be those within the ministries, and within the government, whether it is in elected office or as high-level bureaucrats who have the power to address these types of issues. That is what we are aiming for.

6. Yes, that kind of closes the circle; let’s say, of your argument for having this project, right?

Correct. The thing that is of course difficult and frustrating for foundations and for UN agencies (and many of those trying to find a way to counteract these inequities) is that it takes so much time. Even after ten years we can feel like there is still so much that has not been accomplished, but we really feel like we have begun to make a dent. Sometimes it is difficult to say whether the number of people trained is sufficient or whether they just need more time. When you are investing resources into individuals who are mostly between the ages of 18 and 24, it takes years for them to be able to mature and grow into leadership positions.

One of the underlying motivating factors about the work that we do is that we believe young people are agents of change. We don’t have a huge number of resources but we feel very strongly about our desire to invest what we have into the next generation. This next generation is a large one and they have not yet made all the choices that will impact the economic and political issues of their time and thus trying to influence them while they are young seems most sound to us.

7. How has the landscape for funding evolved over the years in relation to children and equity in your organization?

I think that it has gained a lot of traction. Foundations and UN agencies, for example, have begun to view young people not just as clients or beneficiaries of programs, but also as agents of change themselves, as active participants and even as sources of the intelligence for what can work. I think that is a major shift. They have realized that once children enter adolescence there is an evolving capacity there. You don’t want them to be forced into a fully adult world before they have reached at least the age of 18. Yet, all the while doing this, you want them to develop the sense that they can have much more of a protagonist role in issues that are impacting their lives.

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Kathy Hall is Senior Program Officer for the program Empowering Youth: Girls’ Equality and Adolescent Reproductive Health at the Summit Foundation in Washington, DC. Summit focuses the bulk of the program’s resources in four Mesoamerican countries and the rest on accelerating global and U.S. momentum on international girls’ and SRH issues. Kathy was previously Deputy Director of Women and Population at the United Nations Foundation where she focused on initiatives related to adolescent girls, U.S. leadership on reproductive health, and violence against women. Prior to UNF, she was Co-Executive Director of Just Detention International in Los Angeles, a human rights organization that seeks to end sexual abuse in detention.  For nine years prior to that, Kathy helped build and ultimately directed the International Legal Program of the Center for Reproductive Rights which expanded its UN and human rights advocacy work, U.S. foreign policy focus and regional programs. She also worked for private law firms in Pittsburgh and Washington, DC, served as a law clerk for a federal judge in New York, and was a board member of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) from 2004-2011 and chair of its CEO search committee. She is a graduate of Princeton University and Columbia University School of Law.

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