In December of 1958, in lieu of sending out Christmas cards for the holidays, Cargill made a charitable contribution to CARE, in support of their aid packages to families in poverty-stricken countries.
It was the beginning of an association that has endured for more than 60 years, and which has latterly evolved from a relatively narrow and transactional philanthropic relationship to a far broader and deeper one that has become a model for how the private sector can work with civil society.
Building this partnership has not been straightforward. It has required a long-term commitment to a shared vision, as well as patience and empathy. But it has resulted in profound impacts on communities around the world and on Cargill as a company.
The current phase of the journey together began in 2008, when Cargill and CARE embarked on a new, strategic partnership. Aware that the two organizations’ goals and values were increasingly overlapping, both partners were keen to explore how they could expand their collaboration beyond money, and to find ways to leverage their respective capabilities and knowledge to empower communities in the developing world.
Together, Cargill and CARE committed to the five-year, $10 million Rural Development Initiative, which aims to find sustainable solutions to some of the toughest challenges facing rural agricultural communities. The initiative targets communities where Cargill has a business presence, and where CARE has strong local teams, focusing on building the capacity of smallholder farmers to increase the quantity and quality of their production, grow their access to equitable markets by linking them into formal private-sector supply chains, and to improve food security and nutrition in their communities. Due to its success, the partnership was extended in 2013 and in 2016. Over a decade of operation, it has reached 2.2 million people in 10 countries, and invested more than $25 million.
For example, in Central America, the Nourishing the Future program has helped to increase farmers’ household incomes by up to 50 percent, improved crop yield despite climate change pressures and improved the lives of more than 800,000 people directly and indirectly. The partnership delivers food security and nutrition training with smallholder farmers, their communities and schools, whilst connecting microentrepreneurs and farmers to markets. In addition, Cargill and CARE collaborate, in partnership with national and municipal governments, to help ensure a lasting positive impact.
Over the course of this collaboration, the partners have found that engaging in a structured and strategic way has significant mutual benefits.
Working with CARE has helped Cargill deepen its relationships with local communities, and better understand the complex issues facing farmers and their families. This partnership has allowed the company to think more holistically about the places and social contexts in which it works, and to advance its priorities around corporate responsibility and sustainable development.
The collaboration has also enabled new ways of partnering between the two organizations – bringing together in-country, regional and global teams to design and execute programs, creating and reinforcing relationships at multiple levels.
CARE has helped Cargill to create a more targeted set of initiatives in the countries where it operates. For example, Cargill has often invested in farmer training with the aim of helping smallholders to integrate with the company’s supply chain. Working together with CARE, Cargill’s interventions have expanded to include the establishment of farmers’ cooperatives, business skills training and programs to advance sustainable agriculture.
At the same time, Cargill brings to the relationship a deep understanding of agricultural supply chains and the global markets. Together, the two partners are able to conceive and design interventions that address the most pressing challenges, and to find sustainable, market-led solutions to improve livelihoods. Cargill’s reach and size has helped CARE to scale up projects and programs. In addition, the two organizations have worked together to raise awareness of the lessons learned and amplify those in policy discussions and in multinational forums.
This collaboration has been enormously enriching, but it is complex. To create and operationalize a partnership of this kind requires understanding and commitment on both sides and solid relationships.
Together the organizations have identified several key pillars to building successful partnerships. First, the participating organizations need to clearly define the purpose of the partnership, so that the right partners come together to create a shared, long-term commitment to achieving a specific outcome.
Second, there needs to be a genuine and clearly-articulated sense of purpose and ambition. All partners need to be open and honest about how partnership aligns with their business or organizational goals and values. They need to come together to understand the socio-economic context in which they will be operating, to identify the root causes of the challenges that they hope to address, and to develop the monitoring and evaluation frameworks that they will use to measure and report their success.
Third, they must create a process that embeds the partnership into the participating organizations, but which leaves space for innovation—one which acknowledges the partners’ respective capabilities and competencies, and which allows for flexibility and agility.
Finally, communication is absolutely critical. Partners need to be able to communicate internally between program teams and also externally, to share successes and lessons learned with other stakeholders.
Cargill’s partnership with CARE has taken time to build. It has been a journey that has relied on both partners taking a long-term view and maintaining their commitment to stay the course. Partnerships are challenging. They require a shift in thinking on both sides, but the outcome more than justifies the complexity, leading, in this case, to a profound and positive impact for millions of people.