SAN FRANCISCO — When Dar Vanderbeck joined CARE as chief innovation officer two years ago, she spent the first six months trying to understand where innovation was already happening, and what stood in the way. A survey revealed that 86 percent of staff felt they had transformational ideas, but only 16 percent felt CARE was a place that could support them in this. Taking stock of this, the Innovation Team at CARE USA launched with two main objectives: To experiment with changes to its core operating model, and to make innovation easier for everyone at the organization.
Chief innovation officers at aid agencies and NGOs are tasked with changing the way development is done. How can these organizations make their work more efficient and effective, and can they keep up with the rapid pace of change in this technological revolution? Throughout 2018, Devex will be meeting the people doing this work to explore what they’ve learned along the way, and where we go from here. Follow the series, or keep an eye out for more of our innovation coverage.
“The international NGO mindset tends to focus on scarcity, and when there is scarcity, we tend to double down on what we know,” Vanderbeck told Devex. “We’re at this really interesting inflection point at CARE where people realize the world is changing at a terrifying pace, and we need to ride this wave in a different way, and it’s important to have people who can understand the challenge and can develop a process of turning ideas into experiments and breakthroughs.”
CARE is a global humanitarian organization focused on saving lives, achieving social justice, and ending poverty. One of the benefits of being one of the last INGOs to invest in innovation was that CARE was able to learn from its peers, Vanderbeck said. And what she decided to prioritize was leadership development so that CARE’s country office staff could develop solutions closer to the problems they were trying to solve.
Vanderbeck has faced some pushback in the way she built the innovation team. “A lot of people believed it should be a firewalled team creating the future,” she said, but she felt it was important for everyone at CARE to feel a sense of ownership.