The power of collaboration: 6 success factors for private-NGO partnerships

By Marcela Hahn, Penny Studholme 23 June 2015

Cargill train cocoa farmers to help them increase their yields while adopting sustainable practices. In partnership with CARE, Cargill is also improving access to education and healthcare for rural cocoa farming communities to make a positive difference to the lives of cocoa farmers and their families. Photo by: Cargill

Organizations from different sectors are increasingly recognizing the potential of greater cooperation to achieve positive change and improve the way that individual organizations can approach their work.

This new outlook finds nongovernmental organizations identifying opportunities to work with private sector companies and, in turn, companies are seeing the benefits of greater engagement with civil society and NGOs to build a more strategic approach to development.

Cargill and CARE go back a long way in this space. The two organizations started collaborating in 1958, and as Cargill, a global provider and marketer of food, agricultural, industrial and financial products and services, expanded and grew its business across the globe, so it broadened and deepened its contribution to the work of CARE, which itself had grown in influence and impact. 

Since these early years, the partnership has evolved, becoming more strategic in addressing development challenges around the world, cemented with the five-year $10 million Rural Development Initiative launched in 2008 and further extended in 2013 with a three-year $7.5 million program.

As Cargill celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2015, it has reflected on its heritage of working in partnership with others to address issues of food security and poverty eradication. Together CARE and Cargill are proud to share their learning and perspectives on the importance of collaboration to achieve scalable, sustainable impact.

The Rural Development Initiative has been guided since its inception by a shared conviction that rural families in the developing world will be successful when they can:

● Optimize farm production in a sustainable way.
● Effectively engage with and benefit from markets.
● Have access to adequate, nutritious food to lead active lives.
● Live in growing, well-governed communities.

So what would both CARE and Cargill recognize as the top six success factors for private sector-NGO partnerships?

1. A common objective.

Cargill’s work with CARE is rooted in a deep, shared commitment to lifting people out of poverty in a way that is self-sustaining. Both organizations are committed to reducing chronic hunger, improving nutrition and empowering rural communities, while at the same time protecting our planet’s resources.

We also share similar points of view on how to create greater food security, which is reflected in our plans for this extended phase of our partnership.

2. Different, yet complementary skills and goals.

We respect one another’s areas of expertise and have distinctive, yet complementary goals. Each organization is able to bring different skills to bear. Cargill brings global agricultural knowledge and experience gained by operating in 67 nations. In turn, CARE offers decades of success in community-led rural development where people in the communities take a leading role in identifying problems and developing solutions they can sustain for themselves.

3. Different levels of the organization working together.

In addition we’ve learned to work at all levels of the company, which in some cases has been a very new experience for colleagues in country offices — but one that they’ve embraced.

Cargill’s vice chairman and chief risk officer is on the board of CARE USA, creating a partnership structure from the top that enables all levels within each organization to contribute to the goals of the relationship. Cargill employees are an essential part of the partnership: In every country where we are working together, Cargill employees are volunteering their time, expertise and passion — working with people one-on-one to help lift individuals and families out of poverty so they can thrive.

4. Shared advocacy efforts.

CARE and Cargill also share similar positions on international food security policy, and both organizations bring an important voice to this debate. Ultimately, we are both focused on ensuring that program participants have better access to markets, that we help them boost their agricultural productivity while protecting natural resources, that communities have improved access to safe and nutritious food, and that we are helping communities thrive.

5. Special focus on gender.

CARE really helped Cargill put a special focus on empowering girls and women, who bear the greatest brunt of poverty, but who are also the greatest hope for bringing long-lasting prosperity to their families and communities.

In Honduras, for example, CARE worked with the mothers of children in the schools where Cargill implements education and nutrition programs to form small enterprises. One group of women started a tortilla business; the income it generated has enabled the members to purchase their own homes, pay school fees and keep their older kids in school.

6. Recognizing the intangibles of partnership.

Our collaboration has not just been about achieving the “tangibles” like schools, or meals or training programs, but the intangibles too, such as the dignity that comes with the ability of individuals to start new businesses and better provide for their families, or the positive impacts of higher yields for farmers. For example, through our collaboration in India we helped to re-establish the government’s milk collection routes so that rural families had a fair and accessible means to sell their milk. We also established services to help boost their milk production. Most of the dairy farmers are women: this fundamentally changed how they were able to contribute to their families’ income and has begun to transform their role in their communities, giving them a voice in the broader decisions of their villages.

We all recognize the complex social, economic and environmental issues facing our world. Because of the complexity of these issues, we need to form partnerships with others to provide meaningful impact and acknowledge that we can’t tackle these issues alone.

Indeed, we see many of the solutions to improving nutrition and health of communities — from fostering sustainable economic development to promoting responsible business practices in our supply chains — being best implemented through collaboration with others.

Through the relationship both CARE and Cargill play to their strengths — using the best skills, expertise, and unique attributes of both partners to directly change the lives of more than 100,000 people and, indirectly, countless more.

That to us is the power of collaboration, and the beginnings of solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. We can — and must — do more. 

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About the authors

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Marcela Hahn

Marcela Hahn is executive director, strategic partnerships and alliances CARE USA. She leads CARE USA's strategic partnerships team, which elevates CARE as a leading partner of choice for professional foundations and corporations in a bid to build long-term and sustainable partnerships, generating diverse resources for CARE's mission.


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Penny Studholme

Penny Studholme is vice president, corporate affairs, Cargill EMEA. Cargill recognizes the complex social, economic and environmental issues globally and aims to form partnerships with organizations to provide meaningful impact in the nutrition and health of those in their communities, and foster sustainable economic development and promote responsible business practices in their supply chains.


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