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Rosemary McCarney

President and Chief Executive Officer, Plan Canada

By: Alison Palkhivala

Rosemary McCarney’s professional life began on Wall Street as a corporate lawyer. Even then her call to contribute to the developing world was strong. In 1985, while the world was focused on the plight of Ethiopia thanks to the efforts of Bob Geldof and his seminal Live Aid concert, McCarney was quietly volunteering her time at a clinic in West Africa. She was on the frontline of a new battle – against HIV and AIDS, and she saw firsthand how it could destroy lives and families.

Through her volunteer involvement, McCarney was inspired to eventually bid Wall Street farewell to become a leader in global humanitarian efforts. More than six years ago, while running the NGO Street Kids International, she was recruited by Plan International Canada Inc. when they were looking for a new CEO. Today, she is president and CEO of the organization commonly known as Plan Canada.

Founded in 1937 as Foster Parents Plan, Plan International is one of the oldest and largest international development agencies in the world. Plan’s vision is to foster a world in which children have the opportunity to reach their full potential in societies that respect people’s rights and dignity. They pursue this vision by working directly with communities in more than almost 70 countries in the developing world to improve education, build important infrastructure such as schools, provide vocational training, innovate to improve crop yields, provide loans for small businesses, and much more. To date, Plan has worked with more than 119.3 million people worldwide.

McCarney brings a world of experience to her role at Plan. In her extensive work in law, business, and the not-for-profit sector, she has had the opportunity to work in more than 100 countries. She is a recognized expert in the area of public policy, particularly as it pertains to children, and frequently speaks on the topic for both radio and television. Rosemary McCarney was the keynote speaker at the Deloitte Women of Influence Luncheon in Ottawa on November 3, 2011, sharing her wisdom on the topic of achieving global impact.

McCarney also puts her experience as a world traveler to good use at Plan. Meeting new people and cultures means that she is able to quickly develop a positive rapport with governments and groups all over the world. Then, she comes home to share their experience with Canadian donors or generate partnerships with NGOs to promote investment in those parts of the world that are most in need.

In order to convince Canadians to get on board with complex projects simultaneously in multiple countries, McCarney has learned to act as a kind of cultural translator.

To help promote her message about bringing aid to those in need, McCarney is a regular blogger for The Huffington Post. In that capacity, she has written about myriad topics relating to the developing world and the work of Plan Canada. These include the need to secure girls with access to technology, the spread of cholera in Cameroon, ongoing famine in Africa, and the positive impact that investing in girls can also have for boys.

During her tenure at Plan, McCarney’s many accomplishments include sector-leading growth in revenues, expanding the organization into Darfur, and acting as a driving force behind their “Because I am a Girl” initiative, which advocates for girls’ rights and opportunities as part of lifting them and their families out of poverty.

Responding directly to criticism that the “Because I am a Girl” campaign neglects boys, Plan Canada has been quick to point out the ripple effect that helping girls in the developing world can have for boys. Lifting women and girls out of poverty improves the economy of entire villages. Also, Plan recognizes that improving the lives of girls and women involves teaching boys and men that traditional practices such as those condoning the abuse of female members of the family or forcing them to give up all autonomy can have a negative impact on entire communities. Their latest report has revealed that children are happier seeing their parents share both chores and decision-making responsibilities.

Looking forward, McCarney’s publicly stated goals include seeing the G20 Summit result in firm commitments and accountability for both maternal and child health. She points out that such a goal should not be interpreted as charity but rather a means of developing good, solid economic and social policy. She has also reported for The Globe and Mail about the need to continue to support Haiti. While apparent lack of progress and disasters elsewhere in the world have taken the international focus off this earthquake-ravished island, McCarney reports that the magnitude of the disaster means rebuilding must be expected to take a good 10 to 15 years. Her own visit to Haiti reassured her that the locals are beginning to regain their hope and that conditions have improved.

Having received her law degree from the University of Western Ontario and her MBA from Case Western Reserve University, McCarney has taught both international and constitutional law. She has also worked on international economic development issues with organizations that include the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, USAID, and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

Having been a member of 15 boards for the private sector, not-for-profit, and community organizations, McCarney shares her expertise widely. She is currently a board member of The Humanitarian Coalition, and the Advisory Board of the Canada US Law Institute. McCarney has won nine awards, including being named Chatelaine’s 2011 Woman of the Year.

Despite all her success, Rosemary McCarney never forgets that caring for children begins at home, and even with her busy schedule and many responsibilities, she prides herself on maintaining a close relationship with her own three children.