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Enabling Change? Priceless

Enabling Change? PricelessReeta Roy, new CEO of the MasterCard Foundation, discusses a career's worth of world-changing innovation.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [10.20.08] When looking at the myriad challenges faced by developing countries, Reeta Roy (F'89) seeks to provide more than tangible goods. She seeks to provide a sense of self-worth.

"When I think about poverty alleviation, it really is about ensuring people have respect and dignity, and to realize they have options and choices," Roy says.

Roy is the newly appointed CEO of the MasterCard Foundation, an independent, private charitable foundation that intends to broaden access to the global economy for individuals in developing nations through microfinancing, and to increase access to quality educational opportunities.

Roy is returning to campus on Oct. 30 for a discussion on "Foundations, Enterprises, and Market Solutions to Poverty," hosted by The Fletcher School's Center for Emerging Market Enterprises. She will speak at the event with Kathryn Fuller, chair of the board of the Ford Foundation.

Roy's passion for international work began during her graduate school career at The Fletcher School, which she had learned about from a college professor who had given her some literature on the school.

"I thought, what a fantastic community," Roy says. "The whole approach seemed very interdisciplinary, very much focused on looking at issues holistically, so that attracted me to it instantly. When I applied my senior year and had gotten into The Fletcher School, I was thrilled to pieces, because I had come and interviewed at the school and I loved the notion of half the student body being from everywhere."

After graduating in 1989, Roy went to work for the United Nations Secretariat, dealing with non-governmental organizations and human rights. She then moved on to the New York-based pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb as a member of their issues analysis shop, a part of their public affairs organization.

"That was my first foray into the intersection between international business and public policy issues," recalls Roy.

Roy, who started at the company in the early 90s, says it was an interesting time working for a company doing business in South Africa in during the post-apartheid era. According to Roy, Bristol-Myers Squibb was coupling their business priorities with programs to address the needs of black employees, such as housing.

"We were doing a lot of work with not only our employees, but the communities," Roy says. "Schools, water and sanitation, domestic workers' rights-a whole lot of things that we were doing as part of our corporate social responsibility, though it wasn't called that in those days."

Roy was also involved in formulating Bristol-Myers Squibb's marketing practices in developing countries, determining what was appropriate and how the company could educate and ensure responsible use of their products.

Leaving South Africa, Roy moved on to Shanghai, where she spent three years working on strategic planning for the company but also found herself faced with interesting questions of human rights.

"I was brought into issues around organ transplants, and even though at the time we were not a company that dealt with drugs around organ transplants, people reached out to us because of concerns around illegal executions and harvesting of organs for patients in the West, which brought up a whole host of issues around the role of corporations as actors in very sensitive space," Roy recalls. "If you have good programs for your employees around addressing critical issues of child care, the rights of womenand so on, at the end of the day you become a much more diverse and attractive organization."

Roy then took a position with Abbott Labs, another global pharmaceutical and nutritional product company, where she was "responsible for over $300 million in cash, product or some kind of intervention going out the door [to developing nations], which is quite exciting when I think about it in terms of people and the lives it touched."

Having taken on her role at the MasterCard Foundation in April of this year, Roy says she has already had the chance to travel to several countries and see firsthand how the programs they fund are significantly impacting community life.

"During one of my trips to Bangladesh, I remember meeting several women who had gone through a particular program and I said, 'Tell me the difference between your life today and a year ago,'" Roy recalls. "And this woman spoke in such eloquence and she said 'Today my children and I eat three times a day. We have a roof, my children are going to school, I have a piece of land, three cows and I had four goats, but I sold the other two to buy land.' Suddenly, here she is on her way, which is powerful."

Roy says the top thing from her Fletcher education that continues to stick with her in her professional life is the need to see the world from multiple points of view.

"To really think about something holistically, and have understanding about the impact of our own decisions, I think that is the most important thing."

Profile by Kaitlin Melanson, Web Communications.

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