Michelle Nunn brings power name, depth of leadership skills to CARE

The new president and CEO of Atlanta-based CARE USA, a global humanitarian organization, is known for her dedication to public service and as a bold innovator.

Her name doesn’t hurt either.

Michelle Nunn, who unsuccessfully ran for a U.S. Senate seat in 2014, will assume the helm of CARE on July 1, succeeding Dr. Helene D. Gayle, who announced earlier this year that she would be joining the McKinsey Social Initiative as its first CEO. The nonprofit was created last year by the management consulting giant McKinsey & Company to address some of the most challenging social issues using public and private solutions.

“I’m really thrilled about the opportunity to work with the CARE team, which I think has a critical and compelling mission,” said Nunn, 48, the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn. Since the election, Nunn said she explored what to do in the next chapter of her life, considering ways to find the most meaningful way of offering service and making a difference.

When CARE, which turns 70 this year, came knocking on the door of the former head of the Points of Light Foundation, she was ready.

The humanitarian organization, which is focused on alleviating poverty and empowering women and girls, currently employs more than 5,000 people. About 200 people work out of the Atlanta office.

“I hope to offer a fresh perspective to CARE,” she said. “I have a lot of learning and listening to do. I’m totally dedicated to this chapter.”

The hunt for a new top executive was global in scope, and Nunn was selected from a “robust pool,” said Martha Brooks, a member of CARE’s board and part of the search committee.

“She had a pretty extraordinary depth of leadership skills that fit what we know our challenges will be,” she said. Those challenges include looking at varied funding models, forming partnerships with governments and organizations, addressing the needs of the poor around the world and finding sustainable ways to empower people.

“It’s a massively changing landscape,” she said. Nunn’s field of resources, ideas, entrepreneurial bent and leadership skills were “really attractive.”

Tracy Hoover, CEO of Points of Light, has known Nunn since the mid-1990s when both worked at Hands on Atlanta.

“She’s a great innovator, a really smart strategist and effective coalition builder,” Hoover said. “She’s always been really focused on creating healthy vibrant communities and eradicating poverty. I see her work with CARE as a natural step.”

In an unrelated trip, Nunn recently traveled to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and was able to see firsthand some of the work being done in those nations.

Nunn, said Dennis Young, former director of the nonprofit studies program at Georgia State University, “has a hard act to follow.”

Gayle was recently named by Forbes as 78th among the world’s 100 most powerful women.

“Helene was always on an airplane and always talking to different groups,” said Young, a professor of public management and policy at GSU’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.

Nunn, he said, is up to the task and is no stranger to the nonprofit world. She co-founded Hands on Atlanta and grew its volunteer engagement model nationally. Nunn also oversaw the national Hands on Network’s merger with Points of Light, which became one of the largest organizations in the world dedicated to volunteer service.

“She has an understanding of the government point of view that I think will be very helpful,” Young said. “She can walk into a room of high donors and draw people sympathetic to her cause.”

The only downside for Nunn coming off a Senate run is whether people consider her to be a partisan figure, although “she certainly isn’t an extremist. She’s the kind of person who strikes me as someone who reaches out to different people with different points of view.”

Spokesman Brian Feagans declined to release Nunn’s compensation because she has not yet started the job, but he did say it was in line with comparable organizations and “falls within the middle range.”

She takes the helm of an organization that has made strides globally in the areas of alleviating poverty, emergency response and empowering women and girls.

  • When Cyclone Pam hit the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu in March, for instance, CARE, in partnership with local governments, distributed 30 tons of food and 15 tons of basic building and households items to isolated communities.
  • CARE is also credited with pioneering the Village Savings and Loans concept, which began in Niger nearly 25 years ago. Groups of 20 to 30 people, many of them women, pool their money, earn interest and take out loans to start small businesses. Recently, the program surpassed 4 million members in 26 countries throughout Africa. VSLA groups in Liberia and Sierra Leone proved to be a financial safety net for families during the recent Ebola outbreak.

 

CARE, like other nonprofits, was negatively affected by a decrease in donor contributions during the recession and was not immune to staff cuts.

But since then, the economy and financial outlook have improved, Feagans said. CARE relies largely on government funds, support from the public and institutional donations.

Gayle said CARE today is not the same organization meeting the same needs of seven decades ago.

“We survived because we were good at remaking ourselves to be relevant and innovative,” she said.

Nunn, she said, is up for the challenge.

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