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Moving CARE Forward: A Conversation with Michelle Nunn

Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE USA, recently joined the Failing Forward podcast to discuss the future of CARE in an era of seemingly endless global crises. During the conversation, Nunn spoke of CARE as both an organization and as a broader ecosystem driving meaningful change.

“The world is moving at such a fast pace,” said Nunn of the converging factors – from conflict to climate change to the lasting effects of COVID – that have been exacerbating humanitarian needs. “The things that worry me right now are that pace of change, and whether we’re keeping up with it. I think it’s hard to be a global organization, a 78-year-old organization, that has the agility to keep pace with the world at this moment.”

With this rapidly evolving context top of mind, Nunn emphasized the need for self-reflection, where CARE looks at “some of the things that really are not working right now and face them square.” As part of this process, according to Nunn, the organization, along with partner NGOs, must continue to strengthen their capacity to “pivot, evolve and even dramatically transform.”

“I think that localization work is so critical and will be a hallmark of our success or failure over the next few years in terms of our growth,” said Nunn of the model CARE has adopted, one that shifts agency and decision-making to local partners and community members in the 111 countries where it operates.

To fully realize this vision of a “globalized, locally led network” Nunn explained that CARE should listen to and empower local leaders, and continually ask itself: “How can we change ourselves versus asking others to change, in order to evolve to the place where we are a more lean, next generation network for impact?”

As a case study in how CARE has been able to pivot and move quickly following unexpected global events, she pointed to examples from Eastern Europe – following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022 – where the CARE confederation returned for the first time since 1970.

“We really did move forward in our work in Ukraine and Poland and Romania and the region…in completely different ways than we would have 10, 20, 30 years ago. And I think we obviously have moved through a partnership modality. We built upon local civil society. All of our work is facilitated through local organizations,” she said, adding, “and I think that has enabled us to be nimble. I think it will hopefully enable us to be more sustainable as we go forward.”

Nunn concluded with a call to action for staff, partners, donors, and participants to view CARE as a platform to drive change: “I would love for all of us to think of ourselves as social entrepreneurs, social innovators, change agents…to take big bold ideas and turn them into reality.”

Failing Forward is a monthly podcast hosted by Emily Janoch, CARE USA, Associate Vice President of Project Design and Thought Leadership. The full series can be found on Podbean and Apple Podcasts.

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