While working in International Development, Reeta Roy saw that opportunities and conditions for female farmers in African countries were disturbingly unequal to men’s. Ms. Roy is now President and CEO of the MasterCard Foundation, which guarantees that at least fifty per cent of program participants are women and girls.

For her efforts, Ms. Roy is receiving a YWCA Woman of Distinction Award this evening at the Carlu. The proceeds from this event help girls, women and their families escape violence, move out of poverty, and access safe affordable housing.

We chatted with Roy last week.

Reeta Roy - Woman of Distinction: Lifting Women Out Of Poverty

SDTC: What is the best thing the average person can do to help lift women out of poverty?

RR: Learn, engage, challenge and advocate. Champion organizations that align with your vision of the world. Support leaders in whose leadership you trust. Above all, listen and elevate the voices of women worldwide who are fighting for better lives for themselves and their families. Ending poverty is about providing opportunities that can restore dignity, hope and confidence so that people can activate their own agency – and change the world.

Who have been the most inspiring women in your own life?

I would never have followed this path for myself if it wasn’t for my mother. She fought for me, for my education. And she fought for herself. The daughter of a man who did not value a girl’s education, my mother fought for her right to learn. As a mother, Mum knew that my brother and I would have to leave her to broaden our horizons. And when the moment came, my mother cashed her stocks, remortgaged our family home and set me on the path to an education a world away in America. The greatest lesson Mum inspired: with education and knowledge, a woman is set free.

What is the best piece of advice given to you?

The best advice I received about becoming a leader was to always listen and be curious. Don’t rush to judge a situation. Get the facts, then go deeper. Ask why something is the way it is. Listen with purpose. Listen to the young woman’s story about the barriers she has overcome to set foot in the classroom, to the young man who works several jobs to keep himself and his family afloat, to the woman who has scraped and saved to improve her family’s chance at a better life. When we listen, we learn and when we learn we can find solutions to the most challenging problems.