Women, Faith & Development
Seva Helps Launch New Alliance to End Poverty

An international campaign to reduce poverty by investing in programs that will empower women and girls was launched at Breakthrough: The Women, Faith and Development Summit, held in Washington, D.C. in April.

Seva's Executive Director, Mark Lancaster, was among those invited to serve on the Leadership Council charged with planning the Summit.  The gathering has set in motion one of the most far-reaching anti-poverty coalitions in history. 

The Breakthrough Summit, a new project of the recently formed Women, Faith & Development Alliance (WFDA), is the first event to bring together leaders of faith, development, and women's organizations and the philanthropic community to tackle the issue of women in poverty.  WFDA is launching a campaign that will increase investment in programs for women and girls by governments, non-governmental organizations, corporations and individual donors.

Co-chairs for the Summit included former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Queen Noor of Jordan, along with Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland), Nobel Prize-winner Dr. Muhammad Yunus, and several other prominent Leaders.

By the conference date, WFDA members had secured commitments of over $1.4 billion to fund new initiatives focusing on the empowerment of women and girls.

"Increasingly, people are recognizing that no government, no corporation, no non-profit organization will ever be large enough to fix all the problems out there," Mark says. "It’s only when we come together — as women and men, both from the developing world and the developed world, from across religious traditions, from different political systems — that we can really change the world in the way that it needs to be changed."

Why Support for Women Helps End Poverty
According to the Breakthrough Summit Report, extreme poverty falls most heavily on women. Of nearly 3 billion people who live on less than $2 a day, over 70% are women and girls. Health services are disproportionately unavailable to women, as Seva has found, with over 65% of the world’s blind being women, the result of unequal access to care.

Investing in women and girls, the Summit Report concludes, is the best way to improve conditions of poverty, child mortality, environmental sustainability and development management.

When women improve their own lives, their children and communities change, as well. "I remember seeing a sign on a girl’s school in Africa," Mark recalls. "It said, 'When you educate the boy, you educate the boy. When you educate the girl, you educate the world.' For me, that’s really what this is about."

When women have five years of primary education, the Summit Report states, their children are 40% more likely to live beyond age five. If women had equal influence on decision-making as men, an estimated 13.4 million more children in South Asia and another 1.7 million more children in sub-Saharan Africa would be adequately nourished.

Introducing Seva’s Unique Perspective
“Seva has always had a special interest in those who are disenfranchised, and we've made a point of including women in solving the problems of their own communities,” Mark explains. “With one foot in the foundation world, and one foot in the development community, we also know that lasting solutions take more than money. We recognize that our assistance must be invited by the communities we serve and must include their participation. That's why we work in close partnership with local community organizations. There is also a spiritual tradition here at Seva, with core values that have spiritual import. So we have a unique history that positions us to make significant contributions to the work of the WFDA.”

Mark will continue to serve on the Leadership Council steering committee, as it moves the Breakthrough agenda forward. “It’s a great opportunity to be of service,” he says, “and now we have a whole new network to invite into partnership with us to do the work that we all consider so important.”

For more information about the WFDA and the Breakthrough Summit, please visit:

You can help empower women with an online donation to Seva.




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