Saundra Pelletier profiled as a New Champion for Reproductive Health by the UN Foundation.
Since childhood, I have been inspired by a series of extraordinary women to be an advocate for other women and girls who may need a louder voice, a broader shoulder to lean on or the courage to go against certain societal imposed norms. I grew up in the small town of Caribou, Maine, a rural northern outpost in which there was a lot of poverty and singular thinking about the role of women. As girls growing up in this farming community, we were told that we had two choices in life: who we would marry and how many children we would have.
When women put themselves first and become leaders, everyone is better served.
My mother felt oppressed by this polarized way of thinking, and therefore she set aspirational goals for me. She refused to teach me to cook or clean house. She said to me at a very young age, “Domestic skills will never get you out of Caribou. I will teach you what’s really important.” Instead of tasks like dusting and cooking, my household duties included balancing the checkbook, educating my brother and organizing all family activities.
Those lessons helped me understand how powerful women can be and how much potential they have. I am passionate about women’s independence, and the basic right to carve our own path. When women put themselves first and become leaders, everyone is better served. It has been proven time and time again, that women will make the best choices for themselves, their families and their communities.
At Husson University in Maine, I put myself through school by working four jobs. After college I got a full-time job with Searle Pharmaceuticals, the company that launched the first birth control pill and had a reputation for being a leader in female health. That got me really interested in the business side of women’s health. After 15 years of climbing the corporate ladder I knew I wanted something more, so I took some time off to listen to my voice and reconnect with my purpose.
When I was approached with the opportunity to become CEO of a new non-profit called Woman Care Global, I saw it as an opportunity to fulfill that purpose. There are 225 million women in the world today without access to modern methods of contraception. I also saw an opportunity to change the standard model of a non-profit by utilizing strong business practices, focusing on strategic partnerships and pursuing a goal of self-sufficiency.
I can proudly say that we are now a successful hybrid model working in more than 100 countries worldwide. We create reliable supply chains for the reproductive care products, training and information that women still desperately need. I understand that the supply issue doesn’t sound exciting to a lot of people, but it is such an overlooked and important piece of the puzzle regarding the overall global unmet need and it is crucial to providing access and choice where there has been little or none.
At Woman Care Global we are a small and nimble operation that has built expertise in supply chain management, regulatory and quality assurance to better serve women in a global market. We created a sustainable model where we generate a modest profit, in places like Turkey, Mexico and Puerto Rico, in order to subsidize areas in great need, such as sub-Saharan Africa and India, where we have to operate at a loss. In some of these countries, men are often the decision-makers, so we have to appeal to them and sometimes work through a variety of cultural, religious and legislative hurdles to ensure that women’s needs are put on the agenda. We deeply believe that reproductive health is not about gender, it’s about everyone.
Often times it comes down to a power issue. A famous feminist once said, “When men are oppressed they call it a tragedy, and when women are oppressed they call it tradition.” This illustrates the importance of teaching that it’s not about giving up power, but about the world being better off when women are also empowered. We have seen time and time again examples of how microcredit, women’s education and investments in healthcare make a society richer, and violence and oppression make it poorer. We need powerful leaders, both male and female, who are willing to step up and make the point that reproductive health is truly connected to all the environmental and social issues people care about.
Saundra Pelletier is the CEO of Woman Care Global, a global nonprofit organization that improves the lives of women by providing quality, affordable reproductive healthcare products through a sustainable supply chain. She is also CEO of Evofem Inc., a privately held biotechnology company that develops prescription and consumer products in the areas of contraception, feminine care, and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. She has dedicated her life and career to empowering women and has brought a significant attention to the need for women globally to have access and choice when it comes to reproductive health supplies.
Read original profile here.