Catbird Giving Fund Spotlight: The Adventure Project and Founder, Becky Straw
The Catbird Giving Fund has proudly partnered with The Adventure Project since 2017, supporting the training of local female leaders to become health care agents in Uganda and Kenya, which allows them to earn an income and care for the people in their community. We admire TAP for their dedication to creating new infrastructure within communities, by working with local organizations to build systems and create jobs within them which will ultimately benefit the population as a whole and create lasting impact.
We asked The Adventure Project’s founder, Becky Straw a bit (a lot!) about how TAP came to be, and what their future plans are. Read on!
Tell us about your philanthropic career. Where did you first start and what has your path to founding The Adventure Project been like?
I was drawn towards nonprofits because my parents modeled giving-back really well. We attended a social-justice-minded church, outside San Francisco. They would send us into the Tenderloin to make meals for the homeless, and push us to think globally and progressively. They ensured we understood that even as children, we could make a difference.
After college I volunteered in a group home for children in Romania and worked with homeless families in Denver. Then I headed to Columbia University in NYC to get my Master’s in Social Work for International Development. It was there, while interning at UNICEF, that I connected with Scott Harrison. He had just launched Charity: Water and I practically begged him to let me join him. I volunteered out of his apartment for a few months and then became the third employee. I wore many different hats, but mainly directed our water projects around the world. It was a very formative experience and shaped my vision of starting The Adventure Project a few years later.
The model you use allows The Adventure Project to work with on the ground, locally run organizations to serve the communities they operate within. Why do you support this approach?
We work this way because, quite simply, it’s the most empowering and effective way to help. Flying over people to “help” isn’t a long-term solution. A doctor might fly over to volunteer, but what happens when she leaves? Imagine if you are a mom in the village and your child gets sick the next day, then you're out of luck? That’s heartbreaking.
It takes a bit more muscle, but it’s always better to train people locally with the skills to care for their communities. We intentionally built our organization to support local organizations. They are the experts. They have the cultural expertise to help on a deeper level. When skills stay local, children are more likely to survive and thrive.
What are entrepreneurial driven solutions? And how is this key to TAP’s mission?
Our philosophy is that you can end extreme poverty faster and more effectively by creating good jobs. This way, parents learn a skill, increasing their incomes so they can provide for their children. And because the jobs we create are focused on reducing child mortality, communities begin to flourish. We are supporting “ventures” that “add” lasting impact (see what we did there?). ;)
One example of what we do is training women to become Community Health Workers. Most children die in developing countries of preventable illnesses. The treatments to save their lives cost less than a cup of coffee (malaria medicine, for example). By training women to become skilled health workers and building a supply chain to get meds into their hands, you can drastically reduce child mortality.
What is your 10 year goal for The Adventure Project and how has Catbird’s partnership been a part of this?
We are very honored to have received support from Catbird’s Giving Fund over the last few years. When I pitched our idea for a Women’s Fund, Catbird was the first to raise their hands.
The concept of the Women’s Fund stemmed from what we observed in the field. There are incredible female-founded organizations doing phenomenal work in Africa. Yet, they can struggle to receive the same level of funding as male peers. (Much like what we see in the US with women-led start-ups only receiving 2% of VC funding). The irony is the majority of the poor are women. So we believe women are uniquely qualified to solve problems locally. We want to ensure female-founded organizations have the support to succeed.
Over the next ten years, we hope to grow our Women’s Fund to hundreds of members. Together, we can channel millions of dollars strategically to local organizations led by women in Africa. In turn, helping millions of people out of extreme poverty in the process.
What have been the biggest challenges and milestones over the last few years?
I think the pandemic has hit everyone hard. But what struck me the most was realizing we had spent the last decade creating good jobs, but now those jobs had a name: essential workers. It has been incredibly inspiring to see those workers fearlessly carrying on, taking care of their communities.
We pivoted a bit and went to our supporters and shared, “these essential workers now need some PPE.” Thousands of incredible people joined us in giving. Some people gave even though they had personally lost their jobs or struggled financially. It’s been incredibly humbling to see the outpouring of generosity.
Even though I’ve been incredibly encouraged, unfortunately, things are getting worse. Last year, over 250,000 children died in East Africa of starvation (a staggering 16% increase). Climate change, the pandemic’s economic toil and famine are pushing millions of people into extreme poverty. 2020 marked the first time extreme poverty increased in 25 years. So now is the time for historic action.
Talk a bit about Catbird and TAP’s 5 year history together!
Over the last few years, Catbird’s generosity has helped hire 23 women in East Africa and 13 in Togo, West Africa. Those women are providing critical health care to over 9,600 pregnant moms and children now.
Catbird’s support is now focused on a district in northern Togo, where only 9% of people have access to any sort of health care services. It’s a region with one of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in the world. Catbird’s generosity has helped educate and train women to become licensed healthcare workers, who are focused on caring for pregnant moms and children. Catbird’s support is also providing medicines and prenatal services.
What I am most inspired by is Catbird has pledged $500,000 to help over the next ten years. This is huge! By focusing on this area, we will be able to witness women delivering healthy babies and keeping children healthy. My wish is Catbird’s Giving Fund is an inspiration for other companies and individuals to join us. If you are interested, please reach out here: www.theadventureproject.org/womens-fund