For charities, even large, well-established ones, working with multinational corporations can often seem to be a process fraught with pitfalls. The corporate world has for decades been seen as entirely separate—and sometimes even antagonistic—to that of civil society organizations and humanitarian assistance. To NGOs, even simple transactional relationships—the giving and receiving of money—can carry risks, as companies’ motivations can often seem counter to the best interests of communities we serve. While businesses do represent a source of financial support, the imbalance in resources between the private sector and the NGO sector can lead to an imbalance of power within the relationship.
These concerns—that NGOs’ missions could be subsumed under corporate objectives, or that there will be irreconcilable differences in interests of private sector and civil society—are entirely understandable. However, the relationship that CARE has developed with Cargill over nearly 60 years has demonstrated that, with the right approach, the right relationships and the right ambition, these risks can be mitigated and indeed, partnerships can extend beyond simple financial transactions to really drive an NGO’s desired impact at scale.
CARE’s relationship with Cargill began in the late 1950s as a straightforward donor-recipient one. Cargill gave CARE money to send CARE Packages to impoverished communities around the world. They continued to support CARE’s work for decades, even as both organizations’ scope and scale changed. Then, in 2008, CARE and Cargill bravely entered a global strategic collaboration that took our partnership into a deeper and more complex phase.
The Rural Development Initiative was a five-year, $10 million commitment aimed at addressing some of the toughest and most persistent challenges facing rural agricultural communities. Cargill recognized a business imperative to support producers in their supply chain and communities near key operations. These communities, among the most vulnerable in the world, are the focus of CARE’s mission to end extreme poverty. Together we worked on designing and implementing programs that delivered long-term, sustainable solutions to rural poverty in areas where our interests overlapped—where we had strong local teams, and where Cargill had a business presence.
The partnership worked to increase the quantity and quality of production by smallholder farmers, increase access to equitable markets by linking farmers to formal, private-sector supply chains, improve food security and nutrition of farming families, and cultivate local governance to continue and sustain gains.
The scale, scope and longevity of these programs go far beyond what would have been possible under traditional, case-by-case transactional approaches. For example, in India, the Kutch Livelihood and Education Advancement Project linked nearly 5,600 milk producers to formal dairy markets. That led to the farmers selling more than 5 million liters of milk, increasing their incomes by 182 per cent. The project improved the quality and accessibility of primary education for more than 40,000 children and introduced new economic opportunities for 9,000 rural families.
Having met its original goals, the Rural Development Initiative has been extended twice and our global partnership continues today. Over the last decade, we have reached more than 2 million people in 10 countries and invested more than $25 million.
For CARE, what Cargill can offer is more than just one-off corporate donations. The company has offered us multi-faceted, sustained support in the pursuit of specific objectives over a long period of time. Cargill has brought to our programs its commercial expertise, helping to establish business development strategies that make initiatives more economically sustainable. Perhaps more importantly, the company also offers greater access to markets for farmers, which enables them to invest in increasing production and expand the profits of small-scale agriculture, which leads to improved livelihoods and better food security.
In West Africa, for example, Cargill helped CARE to better understand the commercial and market context in which cocoa farmers operate, and partners were able to work together to create strategic approaches to addressing their challenges. For its part, CARE brought insight and expertise in how empowering women, who were historically unrecognized in the cocoa supply chain, can result in exponential gains of communities – ultimately strengthening the supply chain. Over time, Cargill has become one of our fiercest allies in promoting an agenda of women’s economic empowerment.
Cargill has also helped CARE and the communities it serves access networks, such as suppliers, partners, governments and the company’s own employees. These networks offer invaluable access to information, insights, knowledge and advice. Employees from corporate partners can often become volunteers, professional experts, advocates, advisors or even future board members.
The voices of large corporates also carry great weight in international policy forums, and they can amplify the message of an NGO like CARE, taking it to new audiences and helping us to drive change.
Our partnership with Cargill has helped us to achieve new scale in programs that are transformational for the communities where we work. However, it has not always been easy. Any partnership of this kind has challenges, but what we have learned is that, firstly, charities need to be very careful in protecting their core mission at all times. They need to establish red lines to divide what they will and won’t do. There has to be a clear and transparent process to engage with all stakeholders on the scope and limits of a collaboration.
Clear, open and honest communication is essential throughout this kind of a relationship. With teams and individuals of different backgrounds and motivations, it was vital to establish strong communications mechanisms that made sure that both partners had a deep understanding of the other’s culture. We invested time in developing trust-based relationships and set aside safe spaces for constructive criticism and robust dialogue on risks and reputational issues. Strong communication necessitates coordinating on external communications, leveraging each other’s networks and channels, and advocating together on shared priorities and wider, systemic challenges.
In conclusion, the partnership that we have developed with Cargill has been transformational for us, and hopefully for them. Making the partnership work has required time, commitment and a willingness to learn from each other. What we have found is that if NGOs look beyond a company’s cheque books and think of bold, innovative ways to collaborate, build shared equity and create shared value, we can amplify our impact to the benefit of everyone.