CRS CEO Visits Capitol Hill as Advocate

By Patrick Carney

Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo sat patiently in the Washington, DC, office of Catholic Relief Services, poring over her notes. The new president and CEO of CRS was heading to Capitol Hill to meet with members of Congress to advocate on behalf of the poorest of the poor around the world. She was confident and ready but didn’t know exactly what to expect.

After a day of meetings with members of both parties in the House and Senate, she was upbeat.
“As this was my first meeting to engage a member of Congress, it was an extremely positive experience,” she says. “They were very gracious. They really wanted to listen. They wanted to learn about our work. And, clearly, their support for the foreign operations appropriations is deeply appreciated. It’s good to see [that] these programs for the very vulnerable—whom we care a lot about—also resonate with our representatives and that it also leads to actions on the part of the government.”

As she dashed up and down 1st Street between the House and Senate sides of the Capitol, Dr. Woo reflected on her first day working with the CRS team dedicated to advocacy, a sometimes misunderstood activity.

‘This Type of Give-and-Take Is Powerful’

“It is less difficult than people think,” she says. “Our representatives want to hear from us. If we are clear on the message and we are ready to share what we know, I believe that they are ready to listen. We may not always have the same perspectives or ideas, but I think this type of give-and-take is very powerful.”

Still, Dr. Woo realizes that some people are skeptical about the effect of advocacy. Many view lawmakers as partisan and political. During her visit to the Hill, it was clear that many members of Congress are willing to work together to help poor people around the world.

“If the skepticism is about whether advocacy works or not,” says Dr. Woo, “I think the key really is, if we never do it, it will never work. The more we do it, the better we are at it and it has a better chance of succeeding. If we care deeply about the poor, this is something that we cannot just leave on the sidelines. We did reach across different parties. It’s just good to see that bipartisan collaboration can happen and does happen.”

Bill O’Keefe, CRS’ vice president for government relations and advocacy, has seen the power of advocacy at work, and he was thrilled that Dr. Woo could spend the day meeting with lawmakers.
“Carolyn making the time to come down and work with us in support of the funding for the poorest people around the world shows how important this is to CRS,” he says. “She is looking forward to getting the support of Catholics around the country to work with her to do the same thing, because the more of us who — out of our faith commitment — can bring the concerns of the Church about the poor to our elected officials, the greater the difference it’s going to make.”

Patrick Carney is a CRS writer, editor and web producer. He is based in Baltimore, Maryland.

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