Kate Schecter, PhD, had a passion for international development long before becoming president and CEO of World Neighbors – an Oklahoma City nonprofit that works to address poverty, disease and hunger in 13 Asian, African, Latin American and Caribbean countries.
When Schecter was a child, her family moved to Moscow, where she learned to speak Russian. In college, she researched healthcare in various countries, eventually earning a doctorate from Columbia University. Schecter later returned to Russia to work with the American International Health Alliance for nearly 14 years.
In 2014, Schecter discovered World Neighbors after receiving a recruitment letter from the organization. World Neighbors has served over 28 million people in 45 countries since its establishment in 1951. However, its holistic, big-picture approach is what caught Schecter’s attention.
“We never give away in-kind donations of food or clothing,” says Schecter. World Neighbors doesn’t focus on one particular problem, either.
Instead, the organization relies on the feedback of the communities it serves to better understand their needs. Based on their feedback, World Neighbors provides training and education in sustainable farming, gender equality, reproductive and community health, and resource management.
“I saw that this methodology was really addressing a lot of the issues that I had seen as problems before,” says Schecter. “That’s what attracted me to the job.”
Since joining World Neighbors, Schecter has made many adjustments to further its mission. Early on, she proposed and adopted a business model that has streamlined the organization’s administrative costs and expanded its field work.
In 2016, she raised funds for the organization to become independent, and in 2018, she secured two grants from the Starbucks Foundation. These grants enabled World Neighbors to help 3,000 families in Guatemala.
During her tenure, Schecter has traveled to all countries served to observe the impact of the programs firsthand. She says that World Neighbors has especially made a difference for women living in these remote villages.
“World Neighbors is very focused on … helping women to have their own incomes, to have a voice in the community, to become leaders, to become literate,” says Schecter.
Under her leadership, World Neighbors has established a federation of women in India, which has grown to over 4,000 members. It also helped a community in Timor-Leste save $30,000 to invest in their community through its savings and credits program.
World Neighbors has placed equal emphasis on improving community and reproductive health around the world. Some of its efforts include helping install bio-sand water filters and clean toilets in villages, along with organizing health fairs where people can get medical treatment and vaccinations.
Now, the organization is looking at expanding into another African country, Malawi. Schecter says World Neighbors has received multiple requests for assistance there, and the nonprofit plans on providing support in agriculture and business development.
Anytime World Neighbors expands into a new community, it stays there for an average of 8–10 years with the intent of promoting sustainable, long-lasting change.
“I’ve been in international development for 25 years. I’ve seen what works and what doesn’t,” says Schecter. “I believe this is the right way to help people.”