Why we’re lovin’ CARE International (and what we did about it)

On behalf of AutoTempest, our used car search engine, I recently decided to make a charitable donation. We had $10,000 to donate and just needed to find the right cause to put it towards.

As you know, here at Tempest, we’re kind of obsessed with quality. We’re on a mission to bring you the best search results, for Craigslist through SearchTempest, for used cars through AutoTempest, and for movie listings through MovieTempest. So when it came to choosing a charity, it was very important to me to take the time and effort to ensure that we chose a top-notch organization with a similar commitment to quality.

I started by doing some internet research, and I also read The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier while I was considering this stuff. (Great book by the way; I definitely recommend it.) From all that I came up with a list of questions to pose to various charities. In the end, I decided on CARE International. They’re doing some fantastic work in developing countries worldwide, and I particularly appreciate their focus on building skills for the long term, rather than providing ‘band-aid’ solutions.

If you’re interested in finding out more about CARE and the work that they’ve been doing for the past 65 years (the organization started by sending care packages to Europe post WWII) check out their websites: International; United States; Canada. If you’re looking for an excellent charity to support, you should definitely check them out.

And of course, if you’d like to help out AutoTempest, it’s as easy as spreading the word!

You can also read the official announcement about our donation here.

And finally if you’re interested, you can read the full set of questions I sent to CARE and their answers below!

So, the challenges that I’m interested in… beginning at a small scale:

  • Q: Singling out individuals (or individual families or even communities) for aid can cause jealousy and resentment from neighbours, potentially resulting in more harm than good. However, it seems some singling-out is necessary since aid spread too thinly is unlikely to make a lasting difference.
  • A: CARE works with the local communities to identify the most marginalized beneficiaries: often women and girls. Decades of experience has shown that empowering women and girls positively affects entire families and their communities. CARE adheres to the principle of impartiality so that we provide assistance on the basis of need regardless of race, creed or nationality. I should also highlight that CARE also upholds the principle of working independently of political, commercial, military, or religious objectives.
  • Q: Even aside from that, aid given to (for example) one family or business can make it difficult for others to compete, in the worst case actually causing more poverty than it alleviates.
  • A: Instead of providing long-term handout, CARE helps people help themselves, for example through small business assistance and agriculture rehabilitation. Through our programs, the people receive the skills and knowledge themselves so they can be agents of change in their communities ie: women have been taught to be plumbers and how to more effectively farm, therefore providing them not only with as source of employment but also dignity. A perfect example is our work with Village Savings and Loans (community-managed groups in which the loan capital comes from the group’s accumulated savings) where we work with an entire group of people to provide skills on how to do basic math, save funds, determine membership responsibilities, etc.
  • Q: On the surface, infrastructure projects (one of the most commonly publicized being wells and other sources of clean water) sound fantastic as they have the potential to make a lasting change. However, often such infrastructure will fall into disrepair and disuse, basically making the investment wasted. Also, although clean water is obviously a necessity, in the absence of other necessities (food, medicine, etc.) it may not end up having a ‘bottom line’ effect on mortality. (How does Care ensure that such projects have a real, and lasting effect?)
  • A: Absolutely agreed. CARE take a comprehensive approach to development. It’s not about just the bricks and mortar but about ensuring that you have complimentary components. When CARE builds a school, we also ensure that teachers are hired and paid, that there are latrines, that the community participated, and all children are encouraged to go to school. CARE has more than 65 years of experience and long term presence in over 80 of the world’s poorest countries around the world. This experience has shown that it is essential to work with local communities and through local partners to identify solutions to poverty. Communities are full participants in planning, implementing and evaluating our programs. I also wanted to mention that our overseas staff of more than 2,500 – 97% of them are citizens of the countries where we work because they understand the cultural, issues, and language. By partnering with local aid agencies and community groups and hiring local staff, we tap into the knowledge of a community language and culture, develop a deeper understanding of the people we are serving, and make effective use of local expertise. We place a lot of focus on building local capacity and long-term resilience.

More generally,

  • Q: In many (most?) countries with high poverty rates, government corruption is a serious problem. Some would argue that poor governance must be solved before a large-scale improvement to living conditions is possible; at the very least it would help. First, is Care able to do anything to foster good governance? (I know there are many pitfalls there too, so it’s entirely possible that any such attempts would do more harm than good. Regardless I’m interested in the reasoning.) Second, how does Care ensure that aid actually gets to those who need it, rather than being absorbed by government mismanagement and corruption?
  • A: While it is true that change in governance is the best way to a permanent solution, many of the world’s poorest cannot wait. While CARE cannot interfere in country politics, we do require acceptance on their part to implement our programs. There is no point in teaching, for example, women to grow new products and market their wares, if the local community leaders will not allow them to sell. Therefore, we do work with community leaders. The central government must also want CARE there and assure our worker’s safety for us to proceed. CARE has a strict policy against paying bribes or taxes to the countries in which we operate. By providing “skills” over a hand-out in most cases, and by using local resources, we reduce risk of mismanagement as much as possible.
  • It has become very popular to rank charities based on ‘efficiency’ by measuring what percentage of donations goes directly to programs. I used to be 100% on board with this, as on the surface it seems quite logical. However, I’ve come to believe that it may be a somewhat naive point of comparison. Different types of intervention require different amounts of oversight and administration. Aid in the presence of extreme corruption – where it may be most sorely needed – will surely carry higher administration costs. How does Care reconcile the desire to give aid where it will do the most good with the need to keep administrative costs low in order to rank highly and continue attracting donations?
  • A: CARE’s work is made possible with the support of our donors, which include private individuals (like yourself), foundations, corporations, United Nations agencies, and national governments. Our partnership with CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) and other donors allows CARE to maintain a low overhead cost with much of the donations going to support CARE’s programming. CARE holds itself accountable to accepted international humanitarian principles, standards, and codes of conduct including the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership principles. We also adhere to Imagine Canada’s fundraising Code of Ethics.
  • Q: Finally, some argue that aid in general is not helpful in the long-term. It can skew the economy of a country, making it focused and dependent on continuing aid. It can also result in ‘Dutch Disease’, making it difficult for local businesses to prosper. Given these dangers, how does Care ensure that it is making a positive contribution?
  • A: CARE buys local materials where possible rather that flying in supplies, thereby, supporting the local businesses. This ensures people get the aid they need and it stimulates the local economy. CARE also provides skills so that self-management and self-reliance becomes the next natural step instead of handout after handout. CARE’s focus is on long-term development, not a drop and run approach. We help to build local capacity to effect real change.