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Becoming a better partner: how CARE is turning pledges into reality

Two hands clasped together

Photo: John Hewat/CARE

Photo: John Hewat/CARE

What is CARE doing to be a better partner?

CARE has made some big commitments to localization, decolonization, and anti-racism. We’ve signed the Pledge for Change to drive more decision making and resources to the places that are most affected by crisis and poverty. We believe in being locally led, and globally connected, which implies changing the way we think about partnerships.

As everyone knows, pledges are (relatively) easy to make. Having a vision for equitable partnerships is a great place to start, but the devil is always in the details. To live out our commitments, we’re going to have to make major changes at all levels of the organization. So what are we doing to get there?

Pledge for Change logo
  • Think about operations. One place we’re starting is in our policies, systems, and procedures. It’s all well and good to have a commitment to equality, but if our accounting systems don’t match our vision, we won’t get where we need to go.
  • Ask partners what they want. In August, CARE launched a survey asking our partners what they most wanted us to change. 69 partners answered an anonymous survey to tell us what we should be doing differently. Their requests focused mostly on ensuring they don’t have financing gaps and on making our systems simpler. The full results are here.
  • Be ready to hear the unexpected. here’s what’s especially fascinating about the survey: if CARE had made the calls ourselves, we would have been wrong. At the same time we sent the survey to partners, CARE staff answered the same questions. And we came up with the wrong answers. While we had 3 of the top 5 in common, the piece partners wanted most didn’t show up in CARE’s top 5. It shows how very critical an exercise like this is—because even when we’re trying to do it right, we still don’t know what partners want unless we ask first.
  • Stay humble. Partners want to us to act like equal partners, not donors who control their behavior. We have to let partners make more decisions, give more space to partners to lead. In fact, partners want CARE to train our own staff in how to act like a mutual partner who learns together.
  • Put words into action—beyond commitment. It’s great we did a survey, and now we need to ACT. We are picking two systems partners highlighted as challenges and working to make significant progress by the end of June 2023. In our Ukraine response we work only with partners. We are working in the Philippines, Nepal, and Malawi to establish partnership platforms for humanitarian response. In the Pacific Islands that are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change, we work only with partners.
  • Advocate for broader change with donors and peers. Often, we feel bound by donor compliance requirements. While we abide by those requirements, we should can also use our voices and our knowledge—plus the requests our partners make—to the whole system towards one of transparency, equality, mutuality, and trust. We know these are critical steps, and we will only make progress if we prioritize them.


Men unloading boxes from a truck
CARE Lebanon hands over food parcels to local partner Rifaq el-Darb following the Beirut port explosion on August 4, 2020. Photo: Milad Ayoub/CARE

We also need to hold ourselves accountable and be held accountable. the survey we did is a first step, we intend to enable our partners to provide confidential feedback to us on a regular basis because we value their advice and we want them to be the judge of our progress. The Pledge for Change is one cornerstone to getting there. We’ll also report what we learn from the next steps in this journey by writing another blog in a few months based on what we tried and how it went.

CARE’s not going to do this alone, and we shouldn’t. We need to be accountable to listening to the local partners we work with. But we also need help from other actors in the system. What do we need from you, if you’re reading this?

Ukrainian refugee woman with children steps off a bus with suitcases
Ukrainian refugees cross the border into Poland near the town of Hrebrenne on April 11, 2022. Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH), a CARE partner, meets them with food, water and other forms of assistance. Photo Laura Noel/CARE
  • More flexibility: CARE’s donors, advocates, and partners can all help by being more flexible with the way they think about supporting local partners.
  • Keep us accountable. Ask us hard questions about what we’re doing to put more power and resources in the hands of local partners. Support us to do that. Check in on how we’re performing our commitments in the Pledge for Change.
  • Look at your own power. What is your role in the system, and how can you listen more to what local partners are asking for? How can you cede power to partners doing the work?
  • Influence the system. Where can you advocate for more changes that put the people closest to the problem in charge of the solutions?
  • Let us know what you are learning. We know that one of the best ways to change is to learn and we want to learn from your successes and failures in partnership. Write us a note to share what you’re working on.

Emily Janoch is CARE’s Senior Director of Thought Leadership, Knowledge Management, and Learning.

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