Director of Corporate Social Innovation, Caterpillar, Inc. and President, Caterpillar Foundation
Foster College of Business
Area of Impact:
Community or Social Impact
Michele Sullivan believes everyone deserves an opportunity to prosper, regardless of their circumstances. As president of the Caterpillar Foundation, she champions causes that invest in girls and women and target extreme poverty in the U.S. and abroad.
As president of the Caterpillar Foundation, Michele Sullivan championed a shift in Caterpillar’s philanthropic philosophy from that of a contributor of donations to a strategic and influential change agent. Today the foundation partners with organizations to combat the root causes of poverty and to invest in girls and women.
At Sullivan’s urging, the Caterpillar Foundation also began investing in advocacy and policy, advocating to create healthy and safe environments for children worldwide through access to safe drinking water, usable toilets, and proper hand-washing. Studies show that for every 1 USD invested in water and sanitation, 4 U.S. dollars are returned to the economy through productivity and decreased health costs. With the Caterpillar Foundation’s shift in investing, it has moved from the 50th percentile on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) to the 94th percentile in four years under Sullivan’s leadership. The DJSI is a well-respected benchmarking index for social investing.
Sullivan led the foundation’s first public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of State to create the first women’s entrepreneur center in Zambia. The African Women Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) aims to empower African women entrepreneurs to become voices of change in their communities and families by equipping them with the tools and opportunities to grow businesses, become community leaders, and drive social and economic progress.
Several thousand women came through the center in the first few months and it continues to grow. At the ribbon-cutting event in Zambia, Sullivan met an entrepreneur who was creating a small construction company to lay water pipeline, and they walked through the entire business plan. Caterpillar, Inc. often works with all levels of government to encourage funding for societal infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and the like. The foundation uses the same engagement on the human infrastructure through partnerships like the AWEP center. While the AWEP center is a social investment, there is still a strong sense of business acumen.
Sullivan is personally invested in alleviating poverty. She is a member of the ONE Campaign board, an international, nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy and campaigning organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease. Sullivan uses her vast global knowledge on extreme poverty, as well as her diplomacy, to work with governments to make changes to create sustainable communities.
Sullivan also works hard for those in poverty in the United States by serving as a board member of the Greater Peoria Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC). Peoria, Illinois, has one of the top 100 regions with the highest poverty. Sullivan uses her knowledge and influence to make significant changes in the development of Peoria’s blighted neighborhoods.