Helene has an extensive history of serving that has enabled her to become successful in her career as CARE’s chief executive officer. Prior to joining care, Helene has had the opportunity of leading other global organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (where she worked as the director of the HIV, TB, and Reproductive Health Program), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. During her tenure in these various organizations, Helene was able to fully maximize her service and lead the organizations to operate in their highest potential.
Due to her amazing leadership qualities and inspiring work in the area of HIV/AIDS treatment, poverty elimination and environmental protection, Helene has been a recipient of numerous awards and recognitions. She holds at least 30 awards, the most notable being the Woman of Valor and the Desmond Tutu Awards. Helene has been included in several popular lists all throughout her career, including the most recent Forbes list of the 100 Most Powerful Women in the World. Helene also holds five honorary degrees—a true testament to her skill and ability. It also shows how much she has become an inspiration and an influence throughout her career.
Known widely as one of the top female leaders and global thinkers in the world, Helene’s work in the area of women’s rights and empowerment is greatly inspiring and encouraging. Helene knows the kind of potential each woman innately have, and as such believes that a flourishing and prosperous society can only be achieved if the men and the women of the country work together. For Helene, women bear the greatest potential for ending global poverty because they can feel it in the most basic areas of day to day living.
And yet, in spite of this vast potential, women around the world are often subjugated and kept down. In a lot of countries, women are often kept indoors and are not allowed to meddle with the affairs of their society. Because of this, the vast potential of women to become strong and productive members of society is often hindered, and the women become illiterate, thus never get out of poverty. This is what Helene is fighting for—to empower women to rise up and change her society by changing her life. Since philanthropy became her profession, Helene has never ceased in working to change the lives of women around the world. Helene believes that if you change the life of a woman, you are changing her nation.
What Helene Says in Interviews
Helene said in an interview:
“No matter how you measure it, women and girls bear the brunt of poverty. But it's also clear that women are also our greatest hope for ending it. We at CARE have long believed that if you change the life of a girl or woman, you don't just change that individual, you change her family and then her community. By doing so, you begin to turn those grim statistics around. Consider that for every year of education you give a girl or woman, she's more likely to have good health, to give birth to a child who survives and to send that child to school. Investing early, when that woman-to-be is a girl, only amplifies the impact, unlocking potential earlier in life and yielding greater returns for her and everyone around her.”
Aside from advocating women’s rights and empowerment, Helene is also a supporter of combatting climate change and environmental degradation. Throughout her career in CARE, Helene was able to witness a number of positive changes in how society has realized that what affects their environment also affects them. However, throughout all the achievements, Helene believes that there is still more room for improvement. She said in an interview made with her:
“There is room for improvement. The environmental movement could do a better job incorporating the message about the connection between poverty and environmental degradation, and building that message at the grassroots level. That will help environmental advocates see the human face of environmental issues—internationally as well as domestically—and understand how that connection shapes priorities.”
Helene Gayle Biography
Helene Gayle was born 1955 in Buffalo, New York. She is the third of five children of Jacob Gayle, Sr., an entrepreneur; and Marietta Doris, a social worker for a psychiatric clinic. It was through her parents’ guidance and encouragement that Helene would grow up and develop a passion for philanthropy. Both Jacob and Marietta often told their children that making a positive contribution to the world is one of the greatest things that they can do. This statement echoed throughout Helene’s life, subtly guiding her into the road that she is in today.
Growing up during the time of the civil rights movement was both difficult and fulfilling for Helene. Described as the family’s ‘free spirit’ by her brothers, Helene learned at a young age about the difficult life that she and her fellow blacks were having. Until the late fifties and early sixties, black people were always treated inferior, and were often targets of racist remarks and abuses. As the civil rights movement went underway, Helene saw her first chance of contributing something positive and significant to her fellow Black Americans by leading African American student union in her high school.
As a student, Helene was smart and brilliant, which often led to her being named as ‘exceptional’ by her teachers (not only because she was black; but rather, she was among the only few black people to show amazing intellect and brightness during that time—a lot of African American children were not given the privilege to go school, and to those who did have the opportunity, they were often targets of bullying and discrimination, which led them to either quit school or be extremely depressed). She was also a fighter, not letting the racists in her school keep her down. Because of these qualities, Helene became a powerful inspiration for her fellow African American students. Helene graduated from high school with high remarks.
Becoming a Doctor
Because of her experience during the civil rights movement years, Helene developed a desire to understand why the racists thought the way they thought. And so, upon entering college, Helene applied at Barnard College, one of New York’s most prestigious colleges, to study psychology. While she was still an undergraduate in Barnard, Helene heard a speech that was made by D.A. Henderson, a well-known doctor, on the efforts that were being made worldwide to counter smallpox. Way back, smallpox was a highly contagious and deadly virus that caused dread to the human population until a vaccine was developed for it.
Hearing this speech developed a desire in Helene to take up a course in medicine. And so, after graduating from Barnard College and earning her bachelor’s degree, Helene enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania and took up a medical degree. She graduated among the top students of the university and went on to pursue a master’s degree in public health at the John Hopkins University. Helene’s experiences in both medical schools opened her to the social and political aspects of medicine, which in turn developed her desire to be able to help others through her profession. She became an intern at the Children’s Hospital National Center in Washington D.C.
Helene Helps Prevent HIV, STD, and TB
After leaving the university, in 1984, Helene’s amazing skill in medicinal study enabled her to be accepted in the epidemiology training program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. She was assigned on the team that focused the AIDS virus, and quickly rose among the ranks in a matter of a few years. By 1995, Helene had done an extraordinary work in the governmental branch that she was appointed as the director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention. Prior to that, in 1992, Helene was also appointed as a Medical Researcher for the AIDS Division of the United States Agency for International Development. Helene’s time in the CDC was among the organization’s most productive years; in fact, according to David Satcher, CDC’s director:
“Dr. Gayle exemplifies the best in public health leadership. For over a decade, she has made significant contributions to the international and domestic study, control, and prevention of HIV and AIDS and other infectious diseases.”
Under Helene’s leadership, the National Center for HIV, STD, and TB Prevention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promoted the awareness of how dangerous AIDS was, especially to the black community, where AIDS was most prevalent. In an interview made with her during that time, Helene stressed the importance of dealing with AIDS:
“AIDS presents a challenge to deal with problems we’ve been twiddling our thumbs over. We haven’t talked about important issues like sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy and drug abuse in recent years. It’s important that we have equitable health care. AIDS has pushed that need to the limit.”
Directing Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s HIV, TB and Reproductive Health Program
All in all, Helene served in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1984 to 2001, until she left the organization after she was approached by Bill Gates to become the director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s HIV, TB and Reproductive Health Program. When she took over the role of director, Helene saw this as an opportunity to work with governments and find more ways to make people more aware of the dangers posed by AIDS and work on its prevention and care for those who were already affected.
Working with CARE International
In 2006, Helene got an opportunity to work with CARE International, a worldwide organization that focused on eliminating global poverty. Helene was appointed as the organization’s president and chief executive officer, a post that she serves up to today. Even before Helene joined CARE, she had already admired the work of the foundation; being invited to work with them was an honor for her that she truly appreciated. Helene said of CARE in an interview:
“I admired and supported CARE before I joined, but seeing it from inside and up-close still gives me a regular source of wonderment, even after five years. CARE's breadth and depth is amazing. More than 12,000 people working in 70 countries. And the dedication of CARE employees to their mission is just astounding. Some 90 percent of CARE's employees are from the countries where they work, so when the devastating earthquake struck Haiti last year, nearly everyone on our staff 133 was Haitian. It's easy to stay motivated when you're surrounded by such incredible people.”
Mothers Matter, Power Within, and Access Africa
One of Helene’s greatest advocacies since she became the president of CARE has been the empowerment of women so they can bring lasting change to their respective communities. In fact, it was under Helene’s leadership that CARE launched three of its signature programs: the “Mothers Matter” program, which aims to improve the health of children and mothers by providing them access to safer pregnancy and delivery services; the “Power Within” program, which aims to empower girls by providing them access to quality education and developing their leadership skills; and the “Access Africa” program, which aims to help the poor to gain access to basic financial services by focusing on microfinancing.
Partnering with the Rockefeller Foundation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and ONE
Aside from her work with CARE, Helene has also been privileged to sit as a board member on various well-known organizations such as the Rockefeller Foundation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and ONE. But Helene’s work is not only comprised of non-governmental organizations—when Barack Obama was elected President of the United States, he appointed Helene to be the chairwoman of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, which proved just how much influence she has garnered all these years. Currently, Helene serves as a member of the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships.
Throughout her career, Helene has received a myriad of accolades and awards that reflected her passion and dedication towards promoting the goals of the organizations that she has worked with. For three years, (1990, 1993, and 1994), Helene was included in the Who’s Who Among Black Americans, a list that showcased the African Americans that greatly contributed to the advancement of society. Forbes recently included her in their list of the 100 Most Powerful Women; her accomplishments over her years of service have earned her the privilege of being called one of the top female leaders and global thinkers.
Helene Gayle works with Nicholas Kristof, Author of Half the Sky
Because of her dedication to women advocacies, Helene has partnered with many distinguished people in the realm of philanthropy and activism. One of the people she has closely worked with is Nicholas D. Kristof, husband of Sheryl WuDunn and a decorated journalist. He has co-authored an award-winning book with his wife, "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." Helene and Nicholas have been speakers in women-related symposia. Helene is a staunch supporter of the Half the Sky Movement, which was inspired by the book Nicholas and his wife, Sheryl, has written.
Today, Helene continues her advocacy in helping women around the world. Aside from this, she also effectively promotes CARE’s other advocacies, such as environmental protection and preservation and eliminating global poverty. And while the road is long and at times difficult, Helene never lets the challenges keep her from continuing her passion. She draws strength not only from seeing lives change, but also from those who voluntarily give their time, effort and money in supporting the foundation. Helene’s life is a constant reminder of what it means to be a philanthropist—helping people so they can help others.
“What keeps me motivated is going out to the field and seeing programs that incorporate a focus on both people and the planet, and seeing how mutually reinforcing they can really be. I don’t regret having placed a high priority on a career that enables me to make a contribution to humankind. At some point there may be reasons why I would want to shift those priorities. In the meantime… my life is very full.”
Philanthropic and Medical Career
- 1981-1984: Pediatric Resident, Children’s Hospital National Medical Center
- 1984-1986: Resident with Epidemic Intelligence Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- 1984-1995: Medical Epidemiologist, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (HIV/AIDS Division)
- 1992-1995: Medical Researcher, U.S. Agency for International Development (AIDS Division)
- 1995-2001: Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention)
- 2001-2006: Director of the HIV, TB and Reproductive Health Program, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
- 2006-present: President and CEO, CARE International
- 2007-present: Member of the Board of Trustees, Center for Strategic and International Studies
- 2007-present: Member of the USAID Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid
- 2009-present: Member of the Board of Trustees, the Rockefeller Foundation
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Rockefeller Foundation
Awards and Achievements
- 1990: Included in Who’s Who Among Black Americans
- 1993: Included in Who’s Who Among Black Americans
- 1994: Included in Who’s Who Among Black Americans
- 1996: Awarded the Medal of Excellence by Columbia University
- 1996: Awarded the U.S. Public Health Meritorious Service Medal
- 1997: Received the U.S. Public Service Foreign Duty Service Award
- 1998: Received the Women of Influence Award from the Atlanta Business League
- 1999: Received the Service Award from the National Coalition of Black Women, Inc.
- 1999: Received the Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- 1999: Received the Woman of the Year Award from the 100 Black Men of America, Inc.
- 1999: Included in the list of The Women Looking Ahead 100s List
- 2000: Received the Scroll of Merit Award from the National Medical Association
- 2001: Received the Secretary’s Award for Distinguished Service from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
- 2002: Received the Health Science & Technology Awards
- 2005: Received the Leadership in Global Medicine Award from the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health
- 2006: Received the Woman of Valor Award
- 2006: Awarded the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal
- 2006: Included in the list of the 50 Women to Watch by Wall Street Journal
- 2008: Received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from Cable Positive
- 2008: Received the Innovator in International Development Award from the Americans for Informed Democracy
- 2008: Received the Coca-Cola Leadership Award
- 2009: Received the Desmond Tutu Award
- 2009: Won the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize for Social Courage
- 2009: Received the Women of Excellence Award from Business to Business Magazine
- 2009: Included in the 100 Most Influential Atlantans
- 2010: Received the Ethics Advocate Award from the Georgia State University
- 2010: Received the AARP Inspire Award
- 2010: Included in the list of Power and Influence Top 50 by The NonProfit Times
- 2011: Received the Katharine Hepburn Award
- 2011: Included in the list of 100 Most Powerful Women by Forbes Magazine
- 2004: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Jackson State University
- 2004: Honorary Doctor of Science from the Pennsylvania State University
- 2007: Honorary Doctor of Science from Smith College
- 2007: Honorary Doctor of Science from Meharry Medical College
- 2008: Honorary Doctor of Science from Duke University
- 2008: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York University
- 2008: Honorary Doctor of Science from Morehouse School of Medicine
- 2008: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Brandeis University
- 2009: Honorary Doctor of Science from Agnes Scott College
- 2009: Honorary Doctor of Laws from Columbia University
- 2011: Honorary Doctor of Science from Oberlin College