By Dan Edelen
A million African women saved from countless hours scouring barren landscapes for firewood. Thousands of Australian aboriginals and aquaculturists who can now watch their farms and fishing grounds prosper. Hundreds of small town folks who know their children will play in backyards free of mining waste. A dozen artists in Philly who may receive funding for their soul-stirring work. All have found their benefactor in one man, Henry “Hank” Cauley ’77.
Cauley, a senior officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts, has been changing the world one life at a time since he first stepped into the sandblasted plains of Somalia 29 years ago.
“I’m a sucker for mission-driven organizations,” says Cauley. “I’m working on big, complex problems with no neat solutions.”
After joining Pew in 2006 to help Australians conserve 400,000 square kilometers of some of the southern oceans’ most spectacular features, Cauley recently moved to strategic planning in the executive office and the health group. Now he tackles everything from FDA reform to developing culture and arts programs in Philadelphia.
“Young people come to me and ask how they can make a difference,” Cauley says. He recalls what worked for him: “Get on a plane and go someplace.”
For Cauley, a chemical engineering graduate with a master’s in chemical engineering and a Harvard MBA, that someplace was Somalia.
Bored with a lack of engineering work coming to his employer, Cauley connected with VITA, Volunteers in Technical Assistance. A church organization asked VITA to provide an engineer to help the Somali people build health clinics using an adobe-type of brick instead of rapidly disappearing trees.
“It took me just two weeks to get the brick cooperative up and running,” he recalls. “I then saw a need for more fuel-efficient stoves, because these refugee camps were like a lunar landscape, denuded in every direction for 12–15 kilometers. Women collected the firewood and were spending two to three days walking out, collecting wood, and coming back.”
Cauley established a national program to develop a better stove, eventually putting 100 Somalis to work. One of those men was Mohamed Hassan Nur ’90.
“Mohamed was by far the best technically,” says Cauley. “I made a deal with him when he came to work for me: I would try to get him into a U.S. university when I returned to the States.” Lafayette got the call and so did Nur. The College provided a full scholarship. Nur, a civil engineering graduate, holds a master’s and is with AECOM, Chantilly, Va., a global engineering, design, and program management firm. Cauley and Nur remain close to this day.
Today, the project has translated into millions of fuel-efficient stoves sold in northeast Africa, each consuming half the fuel of the old-style predecessor, saving forests and easing the lives of people living in harsh conditions.
Cauley also serves on the boards of Root Capital, a funding intermediary between large investors and small businesses in Africa and South America; Aquaculture Stewardship Council, a global fish-farming certification group; and Center for Science in Public Participation, an advocate for small communities near mining operations. He also presided over the Forest Stewardship Council, which he saved from insolvency, thanks to his network of generous peers.
Though his wife, Michelle, who braved Somalia with him, and his children, sometimes wonder about dad’s risk-taking, Cauley has a comeback: “Playing it safe and doing what is right from a career standpoint is not always right for an individual. Sometimes, a risk can pay off big.”