Interview – Will Day and Marcos Neto: Getting the best of both worlds?

To date CARE International has had a fairly traditional structure of head offices in the north and country offices which are effectively sub-offices in developing countries.[1] All 11 of the northern CAREs are members of CARE International (CI), and they may well be joined by two southern organizations, one in Thailand and one in Brazil. Alliance talked to Will Day, CEO of Care International UK (CIUK),[2] and Marcos Neto, Director of CARE Brazil, about the process of ‘organizational evolution’ that CI is now undergoing.

It seems that some CARE offices around the world are considering whether they should change the way they are managed and governed to reflect greater local governance and ownership. A few years ago CARE’s presence in Thailand came up for review. Should CARE still be in Thailand, which at that stage was a booming economy, and showed every sign of beating the acute poverty that afflicted it and its neighbours?

A new organization in Thailand …

At this point, the staff of CARE Thailand began to think about setting themselves up as a Thai organization. They felt that there was still plenty of poverty in their country that they’d like to get to grips with, but they wanted to stay part of the CI structure. The new Raks Thai Foundation has now been established, with its own Thai board and registered as a Thai NGO. It’s been running in parallel with the CARE Thailand office, with Raks Thai developing its own local capacity while CARE Thailand gently winds down. During this phase CARE Thailand and Raks Thai have shared a director. So at present CARE Thailand still exists as a conduit for CI resources, but has been initiating fundraising, contacts, corporate support, donor base, on the basis of its local registration and local ownership.

A similar conversation is just starting in the Philippines about future choices, which could include a possible shift from being a CARE sub-office to being a Filipino organization, but benefiting from its existing relationships.

… and in Brazil

Another example of this organizational evolution comes from Brazil. As Day explains, CARE has not been active in Brazil for many reasons, but has now decided that it wants to be, given the growth of poverty in urban Brazil and in the north of the country. But it didn’t seem right simply to open a traditional sub-office. The Brazilian economy is ranked as one of the world’s most unequal, with a vast gap between rich and poor, and it was felt inappropriate to be subsidizing an economy of that scale and wealth. So CARE has been encouraging the establishment from scratch of a Brazilian organization, called CARE Brazil. When it reaches a certain level of financial stability and some sort of track record, it will apply to become a member of CI. ‘So that’s a different method of organizational evolution: in new territory you don’t start a traditional model up, you start from scratch with what you’d eventually like to end up with, which is a locally owned and locally governed organization.’

Although starting up a new sub-office costs £700,000 or £800,000, both Day and Neto are emphatic that the decision to set up CARE Brazil wasn’t really about saving money. ‘If we had felt that the poverty in Brazil was pressing enough,’ says Day, ‘we would between us have found the money.’ ‘Brazil is not a poor country,’ says Neto, ‘but rather a country with a lot of poor people, mainly owing to bad resource distribution. Fundraising locally to invest in local poverty eradication programmes is one way of contributing to income redistribution.’

In fact CI is considering setting up traditional country offices in Nigeria and Pakistan, and there seems to be no suggestion at the moment that they will be established as locally governed, locally owned NGOs. Why open an independent office in Brazil and sub-offices in Nigeria and Pakistan? Neto explains: ‘Under CI rules any member must be self-sustainable. So there are countries in which CI wants to have a presence and implement its mission but it will not be possible to have a self-governed organization. The option then will be to open a sub-office. In the case of Brazil or Thailand, or maybe India one day, local circumstances are favourable for the creation of self-governed local organizations.’ ‘Organizational evolution doesn’t mean we stop doing anything in the way we’ve done it before,’ says Day. ‘What it does mean is that there are different ways by which we can achieve our vision and mission statement than by simply plonking CARE offices into countries we think we ought to be working in.’

What will joining CI mean for CARE Brazil?

CARE Brazil has from the beginning adopted CI internal rules, regulations and standards so there won’t be any change there. But joining CI will cost CARE Brazil money because it will have to share the costs of the global structure, of maintaining the standards, audit and peer review, etc. ‘It’s not a franchise quite,’ Day explains, ‘but organizations perceive that they will gain value in their home territory by joining a club and becoming part of a global organization.’

On the other hand, CARE Brazil is likely to be able to gain access to funds that are locally available but which are not available to an international organization, especially as they have a very high calibre Brazilian board who are well connected into Brazilian social, political and economic structures. ‘They see clearly that improvements in Brazil are going to require not just funded programmes, but influence, the ability to affect decisions.’ So there may well be added value to them in combining local ownership and governance and an understanding of their national setting with membership of an international structure. They will also have access to funds raised by the northern CAREs, as well as the support that comes from membership of the CI network. As regards raising funds, Neto explains, CARE Brazil will have ‘the best of both worlds. We can fundraise in Brazil and access the CI donors network at the same time.’

In Day’s view, the next couple of years are likely to see an increasing number of country offices looking at their role in their local setting and starting to think about alternative models. ‘I suspect increasingly we may find local governance of some kind – local programmes, advisory committees, whatever it might be, to better engage local people and local organizations in the identification of priorities.’[3]

A new model

Day sees it as quite a significant shift to have ‘donor’ CAREs joined at the CI table by recipient CAREs. At the moment the only people that sit on the CI board at a global level, apart from the 11 northern CAREs, are five non-CARE individuals who are called ‘public members’.[4] All the southern CAREs except CARE Brazil are sub-offices with locally employed staff so they are not eligible to sit on the board.[5] The decision to open or close traditonal country offices is made by CI, whereas CI couldn’t make the decision to close CARE Brazil – that would be the responsibility of the Brazilian board. If any CARE is in breach of membership rules, then all CI can do effectively is take away use of the name. CARE Brazil will also be unique in that it will be both a fully-fledged member of CI and implementing programmes in its own territory – which the northern CAREs do not do.

As CI becomes a larger and more diverse global organization, Day feels that its general assembly will increasingly emerge as the decision-making body, which would reflect and represent everybody, with a working board elected by the general assembly and delegated to make executive decisions between assembly meetings. But, he emphasizes, the CI board is very concerned not to develop two levels of membership, an ‘A grade’ for fundraisers and a ‘B grade’ for fund recipients. ‘If we do encourage local organizations to join CI, either by creation or by evolution, it’s important that they are recognized as full-blown members of a global organization.’

As Neto points out, all this is a major challenge. If CARE Brazil is to benefit fully from being part of a well-established global organization and if CI is to benefit from having a new and broader perspective on poverty and development challenges, ‘we will all need to review current procedures and current philosophical beliefs, and our capacity to do that is at the moment our biggest challenge’.

1 The sub-offices are managed by the three largest CAREs, in the US, Australia and Canada. There is a secretariat in Brussels and other central costs, which the members pay for.
2 CARE International UK (CIUK) provides support to the 65 country offices. In addition to the traditional type of support – human, technical and financial – it increasingly offers information, networking, lobbying and advocacy of policymakers and grant-givers.
3 CARE country offices do already play a significant role in identifying policies through a regular long-range strategic planning process known as LOSP.
4 They include one from Belgium because CI is registered there, and one from Zambia.
5 A representative of the CARE overseas expatriate staff association does attend as an observer.

Will Day is Director of CARE International UK. He can be contacted at
Marcos Neto is Director of CARE Brazil. He can be contacted at

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