Meet Mary Tidlund

If someone asked me five years ago what it meant to give with a gender lens, I would have assumed it meant giving only to “women’s issues.” I used to focus my work and my giving more traditionally, more broadly. I wanted to help everyone. I’ve since come to understand that every issue is a women’s issue. If we want to have impact in health, education and poverty alleviation, we must integrate women and girls.

I always understood gender dynamics intimately. I used to work in the oil and gas industry and at that time it was a male-dominated industry.

I started my own company because I knew that despite my hard work, I would most likely be doing the same thing in my career for many years. Even when I became the president and CEO of an oil company, I stood alone as the single woman and woman of color in a leadership position.

I just needed time. It wasn’t until a trip to Angola with my foundation that I really began to reflect. This was where I had my “aha!” moment. At the time of my visit, the war had just ended and what was left of the population was largely women and children.

We were funding a microfinance program, and I remember seeing how those women used their money for their families and to grow their own small businesses. It was incredible. The loans changed the dynamic of the community and helped to build the women’s confidence, self-esteem and leadership skills. That’s when I realized the impact of women’s empowerment.

In 1998, I founded the Mary A. Tidlund Charitable Foundation. My BIG + bold $1 million gift came from my community and went to funding our organization’s work globally in health education and the alleviation of poverty. One of the organizations we funded was DESEA Peru whose mission is to provide clean water, health and education for Andean communities.



Sandra McGirr Describes the Impact
Vice President, DESEA Peru 


DESEA Peru’s mission is to improve the health of impoverished communities throughout the Andean region by training and empowering women as community health workers and delivering clean water through biosand water filters. When I first met Mary in 2009, the reach of our organization’s work was very limited. We wanted to expand and offer more extensive programs to more communities but did not have the capacity. Our organization had just received news that an important grant we applied for in Canada had been denied.

Mary knew that integrating women and girls was key to advancing community development, so she invested in them, and us. In the areas where we worked, the concept and culture of machismo is extremely prevalent. Men are usually the community leaders. They are the ones taught Spanish, and they are the ones most often trained as health workers. The problem is, men don’t participate in family or community health. It is the women who run the families.

They know the details of life in their village. They know who is sick, who is pregnant, who is a victim of abuse. Women are the ones that come to the clinics and they are the ones who bring their children.

Mary understood the untapped power of women. Her gift of funds and the mobilization of Canadian medical workers helped us expand our programs and build a team of female community health worksers to bring greater healthcare education and resources throughout the Andean region.

Her contribution to the work of DESEA has helped to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, and improve health outcomes in the DESEA communities.