Cravero-Kristoffersson has always had one objective: to improve lives, especially for women. Sometimes this has meant putting her life on the line.
Now president of Oak Foundation, a private family foundation headquartered in Geneva, she is focussed on issues of social and environmental concern, particularly those that impact on the lives of the disadvantaged.
In 2015, Oak made 326 grants to 308 organisations in 39 countries, totaling US$201.87 million. Grants ranged from $25,000 to $21 million, averaging $617,000. Projects aim to target the root causes of problems. Along with funding, Oak provides project design, financial control, management and outreach.
“Philanthropic organizations provide a special opportunity and freedom, often not found in international civil service organisations”, says Kathleen. Nevertheless, she is a strong believer in the principles and values of the United Nations (UN) and its organisations.
Starting out in New York as an academic, earning a Ph.D. in political science, she quickly realised she was more interested in being a “practitioner” and so completed a masters in public health at Columbia University while working for UNICEF in New York. She took all the field-based opportunities that UNICEF offered, working in Chad as a health and education programme officer before heading its offices in Uganda.
Just as the UN was expanding its system of coordination in country offices in 1998, Kathleen was selected as UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator in Burundi, a position which proved not only challenging, but dangerous. Kathleen and her team were ambushed at gun-point resulting in the tragic death of two of the team. The UN, its staff, its vehicles, usually a source of protection, were increasingly a target. Kathleen described it as “a life-changing experience, that showed once again how vulnerable UN workers are.”
The years she spent at UNAIDS (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS) called on Kathleen’s diplomatic and negotiation skills as she coordinated UN interventions on HIV, and worked to influence policies and actions in developing countries on a disease fueled by behaviour considered illegal in many of these countries. She describes with pride her creation of the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, a group that builds awareness of the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on women.
As we walk through the lovely Marais park in Grand-Sacconex, fittingly filled with oak trees, Kathleen talks about her move back to New York in 2005. This time she was part of the UN Development Programme heading its Crisis Prevention and Recovery Bureau as Assistant Secretary-General, setting up the Stop Rape Now initiative aimed at ending sexual violence in conflict. “Not only as a humanitarian issue”, explains Kathleen, but also as a “political and security” issue.
Despite her strong bond to development and to the UN, however “imperfect” it may be, she was drawn to Oak Foundation, feeling an alignment with its priorities and values. It provided an opportunity that has grown significantly under her leadership, particularly the number and size of grants. After moving to philanthropy, she sees the UN from another perspective. With philanthropy, one can be “more innovative, take risks, choose clients and be nimble…” There is however a need for the two to work together, each to value the other. Failing to see this mutual value, is a loss for development, for people, concludes Kathleen.
So what’s next? Kathleen would one day like to return to her earlier passion of “helping train the next generation of practitioners”, back in her initial stomping ground in New York City.
Central Park here she comes!
By Renu Chahil-Graf
Renu is a Geneva-based writer and former international United Nations civil servant.