Local to global advocacy at CARE

by 11th Oct 2012
A woman selling products as part of JITA. © Kathryn Richards / CARE A woman selling products as part of JITA. © Kathryn Richards / CARE

As NGOs gathered in London last week to begin discussing ‘Make Poverty History Mark 2’, an Indian colleague neatly summed up what he felt CARE needs to focus on if we are to make significantly more progress towards poverty eradication.

  1. Address unequal global power structures
  2. Improve governance in developing countries
  3. Secure better market access for poor people

A healthy potential recipe for a post 2015 MDG framework if ever I heard one.

Over the last decade many INGOs have quite rightly focussed their advocacy efforts on ingredient number 1, and have been mobilising the public and politicians in the north to address some of the global power structures that keep people poor. Think efforts to reform the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to change unfair global trade rules, and dropping the debt;  think binding emissions targets;  think tackling impunity for crimes against humanity with the establishment of the International Criminal Court.

Currently, all INGOs are going through some welcome soul searching – working out how to adapt to a changing world. Be it tackling poverty in middle income countries, or working with new, non traditional donors such as Qatar and Brazil, be it understanding how to influence the G20 not the G8, or how best to engage with large and growing social movements in the south.

The financial crisis hitting Europe and the US has put northern aid budgets under significant pressure, and perhaps seen a lessening of public support for overseas aid. For more on all this read this excellent Trocaire and IDS report.

CARE's Approach

So what is CARE’s approach? Arguably CARE has focused much of its advocacy efforts in recent years on ingredient number 2 – governance.

Through our extensive programming in 80+ countries, we have been developing a ‘bottom up’ approach to advocacy through our governance work that adopts rights based approaches.

Empowering poor people (particularly women) to claim their rights. Where possible working in parallel with governments to enable them to deliver on their responsibilities. Our efforts to reduce maternal mortality in Peru were realised because we encouraged indigenous Andean women to demand equal access to services, and to monitor and report on their health services. In Rwanda, (a country not known for its open approach to citizen consultation) we have managed to build trust between local populations and local government to engage in a process of participatory budget planning.

In conflict affected countries we find that these approaches are perhaps even more effective. Too often governments fail to secure ‘inclusive political settlements’ and peace agreements fail. We have supported women affected by the conflict in Nepal to advocate for their rights to be respected in the post conflict constitution.

Empowered rights holders tend to become champions for other causes – in one food security project in Bangladesh 653 women went on to be elected into local political structures.

Profit with social benefit

So what about ingredient 3, market access? Many NGOs are rightly focused on trying to redress the global economic system, looking to establish international financial transaction taxes and the like.

CARE’s approach is focused on piloting innovative new approaches to convince the private sector that they can both make a profit and have a social benefit. The establishment of a groundbreaking social enterprise in Bangladesh now owned by CARE and Danone is one pertinent example.

Our challenge in India was to work out how CARE’s systems and structures can be better maximised for collective action on advocacy. How do we ensure that our local level efforts influence national and international processes via multilateral organisations and northern capitals? The opportunities to strengthen our advocacy strategically with some of our key country offices is immense – maybe we will be spending more time doing advocacy in Addis at the AU, in Brasilia and in Delhi, as well as Brussels and New York.

Either way, the advocacy journey for CARE is essential given the changing global landscape, and it is one we need to embrace with vigour.

Alice Allan

I lead CARE’s policy and advocacy on women’s economic empowerment which includes influencing the private sector. I'm passionate about the social and economic benefits of savings-led financial inclusion.

I've been with CARE International UK since 2011 and have spend a big chunk of that time working with Barclays and other banks to responsibly link savers to their services. Before CARE I spent nearly 20 years working both ‘inside’ government – as a Human Rights Advisor at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and as a researcher in the UK parliament – and ‘outside’ at supporter-led organisations, Amnesty International UK and Saferworld where I helped push for the Arms Trade Treaty. Before that I was a journalist in Colombia and Mexico.

My current interest is how to tackle the unpaid care economy and balancing being a mother and having a career.

One good thing I've read

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (1958). An all-time favourite book that sums up how change can go so wrong. Generally, however, I am an eternal optimist.

Email: Allan@careinternational.org