From Europe to Everywhere
CARE International is one of the foremost aid organizations in the world. It has a long and distinguished history, having been established in 1945 to help survivors of World War II in Europe. Today, CARE operates in more than 90 countries, runs 1,033 projects that serve more than 80 million people, and holds more than $584,161 in financial resources.
The beginnings of CARE were very different than the organization that exists today. Many people today may not realize that the term care package, now part of the everyday English lexicon, began as a registered trademark of CARE—an acronym that originally stood for “Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe.”
But CARE—which now stands for “Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere”—has changed dramatically over its more than 70 years of operation. Not only has it grown in size, but it has also changed focus. While CARE started by sending commodities to hungry people in Europe, it has evolved into an organization that is both more global and more local, both broader and more focused.
International and Local
One of the biggest changes CARE has undergone since its inception is a change in scale. In 1979, CARE changed its name to Care International and transitioned from a U.S. organization to an international organization with 14 branches around the world. While the largest branch is CARE USA in Atlanta, CARE International’s central headquarters is in Geneva.
At the same time, CARE International has moved away from one-size-fits-all aid, like the CARE package, and toward locally focused aid. It makes an effort to hire employees from the localities that receive the benefits of aid projects, so the people tasked with implementing programs have a deep understanding of local needs and obstacles.
In the words of CARE USA’s previous CEO, Helene Gayle, “Now instead of just focusing on the consequences of poverty and lack of access to basic needs, we also focus on the underlying causes… We look at how you have a longer-term impact on the lives of the communities in which we work… and we work not only on relief and emergency situations but continuing from relief to recovery to development, and building resiliency so communities that are affected from time to time by emergencies are able to respond and bounce back better.”
Helping Women and Girls
Gayle, as CEO of CARE USA, ushered in another major change, this one a change of focus. Under her leadership, CARE starting focusing its efforts on women and girls.
This is because, in Gayle’s view, “Girls and women bear the brunt of poverty around the world.” She explains elsewhere, “if women and girls have an opportunity, there’s this catalytic effect. A girl who is educated is more likely to marry later, have fewer children, have a greater economic future for her children, get them into school, etc.”
CARE’s focus on the wellbeing of women and girls has generated impressive results. For instance, in one CARE program in Bangladesh designed to reduce malnutrition in children, aid workers realized that the program was most effective “when households also participated in activities that contributed to women’s empowerment.” CARE began by creating programs to increase educational access to women and fight domestic violence, and the nutrition benefits followed.
CARE International is a storied organization that could have continued along the path it started in 1945. In order to have an impact on a changing world, though, the organization decided to change. In the process, it has provided a lesson in flexible, dynamic global aid work in the 21st century.