The phrase “like mother, like daughter” can refer to common physical traits or hobbies, but in the case of Paula and Caroline Bertolin, it is their shared passion for development work that best applies.
March is National Women’s History Month, a time to reflect on the countless women who are making a difference in the world. For Paula, it is through her work at USAID. She believes in the Agency’s mission of humanitarian assistance. “USAID does what needs to be done for countries that need it,” she explains. Paula is an officer in the Office of Food for Peace, working on issues of food security for Ethiopia for the U.S. Government’s longest-running and largest food assistance program. These initiatives respond to short-term relief and long-term development. Before working at USAID, she served over five years in the Peace Corps in Cameroon, and has worked for Catholic Relief Services in Burkina Faso and in Kenya.
Caroline, 30 years old, followed her mother down the development career track. She recently became a member of the Foreign Service where she is a Contracts and Agreements Officer, overseeing the execution of contracts and assistance awards. She works on the business side of USAID, in partnership with recipient governments and organizations to make USAID assistance as effective and efficient as possible.
“My parents were very proud and excited,” she says of their reaction when she decided to work for USAID. In the career choice, she has also emulated her father, a 30-year Foreign Service veteran. For Caroline, it’s not just a career, but a lifestyle. She believes kids who spend a part of their childhood surrounded by different cultures, languages and people develop excellent skills of observation and adaption. She acknowledges that when growing up, her best answer to the “where’s home” question was: “wherever my family happens to be at the moment!”
Although Paula has spent most of her career working in the Africa region, Caroline is ready for assignments in any region of the globe. She explains: “Part of the beauty of being a Contracting Officer is that you are a true generalist. You get to work with a variety of programs from any and all technical sectors at USAID and you are always wanted—and needed – everywhere!”
Reflecting on National Women’s History Month, Paula believes that women in the work force still have “a long way to go, particularly if you choose to take time out for childrearing.” She cites that women, especially with interrupted careers, are victims of the pay gap, which was recently cited in a White House report.
The younger Bertolin gives her mother’s generation credit for breaking into USAID’s male-dominated Foreign Service Corps. However, she states, “the women of my generation need to produce more representation at the top levels of USAID — we need more women in high-level leadership roles. This will affect how girls at home and abroad think about women and their role in development.”
Like mother, like daughter.