15 Minutes on the evolution of the CARE Package®

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi (00:00): Hello, and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World, where in 15 minutes or less, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it for the better

Lama Alsafi (00:22): My name is Lama Alsafi and I’m the host of this podcast. You’ve likely heard the term ‘care package’ before, but did you know that it originated with CARE? Seventy-five years ago, the first and original CARE Packages® were sent to Le Havre, France to provide essentials to those who had lost so much during the Second World War. From once providing to today empowering, CARE has come a long way in 75 years. Marking this special anniversary with us today is CARE International Secretary General, Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro. Sofia has worked with care for 27 years in various rules and reigns dedicated to transforming power relations inside and outside of the organization. Her unshakeable commitment to women and girls is drawn from many years of working alongside some of the world’s most marginalized communities. Sofia joins us remotely from Ecuador today. Sofia, we’re thrilled to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much for taking the time to be here with us today.

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (01:22): It is me who is thankful. Thank you so much for inviting me to join today.

Lama Alsafi (01:27): Thank you. Sofia we’ll dig right in. Can you briefly explain the CARE Package® please, and how care first got its start 75 years ago?

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (01:37): Yes, of course. CARE, and you mentioned it already, it was started at a very turbulent time exactly after the end of World War II, where in the United States a group of citizens came together, and they, after negotiating with multiple government agencies, they took possession of 2.8 million food rations, and they became the CARE Packages® and the CARE Packages® were sent to war torn Europe really as a helping hand. And it became sense then the symbol of hope and solidarity. So that’s when CARE was born. To be precise, it was on November 27, 1945 and CARE stood at that time for Co-operative for American Remittances to Europe. Since then we have evolved to become one of the largest poverty fighting organizations in the world, providing relief to people, hit by disasters and emergencies, but also contributing to economic empowerment, strengthening livelihoods over the long-term, not just the short-term and in all of our work, we place special focus these days on women and girls and on gender quality in the poorest countries in the world. Currently, we are present in over a hundred countries, 104 to be precise, and we also use our influence to represent the most marginalized communities and advocate on their behalf in global policy debates. So, you know, we’ve come a long way, but that’s the origin of the CARE Package®.

Lama Alsafi (03:27): And Sofia, you yourself have been with CARE for 25 years. Can you tell our listeners, please, a bit about the different roles and experiences you’ve had in this time?

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (03:38): Sure. Yes. I started actually 27 years ago, so even longer. So I started in 94 in July 94 in, as a project manager in rural Cambodia, it was the sexual reproductive health project. I went from managing a project to supporting the Asia region. I was then still based in Cambodia to do impact assessments for another three years on whether, our projects, our programs, our humanitarian assistance, was having an impact on the poorest and most marginalized people in the world. So that was a very important opportunity in which I really learned that it was not only important to show that and make a case for the work that makes this difference and to be also scrutinized and be held accountable for it, but then take this case-and that was then my next role-to influence national policy because if projects-CARE projects, humanitarian and long-term development projects-find solutions that actually make a dent on poverty, it is then our responsibility to influence also national policy changes, education policy.

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (04:52): So I became Global Advocacy Coordinator to insert more policy influence in all of our programs. At that time, that was the year 2000. My son was born and I had a very global job. By the time he was 24 months, my son, he had traveled to 24 countries with me, so that as an aside, as an anecdote. And after that role, I became Program Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. And since 2012, I joined the CARE International Secretariat first as Program Director globally to shape our program strategy: what should be CARE’s impact? What are we committing to globally? What difference do we want to make? And for the last 11 months, since June of last year, I’ve now been Secretary General for CARE. So it’s been a long journey, an amazing journey. I’ve had the opportunity to visit and work in over 70 countries in which CARE has a presence in these 27 years, met amazing colleagues that have taught me everything I know today.

Lama Alsafi (05:54): Sofia, throughout your journey with care and these 70 countries that you’ve worked with and in, I wondered what are the biggest changes that you’ve seen with CARE as an organization, but also in international development and humanitarian work in general. What’s been the biggest change you’ve seen over this time?

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (06:12): Fortunately many, fortunately many. I’m from Uruguay from South America and I was a young 25-year-old woman when I arrived in ’94 in Cambodia. And I was actually struck because I didn’t expect this to be this way when I joined this line of work, which was always my dream and passion as an adolescent. I read Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and I really wanted to join this. And I was, to be honest, quite, quite impacted by the power imbalances and, between those in particular that allocate the resources, the donors, the global North, and those that receive them. This was always obvious to me, now it’s more openly acknowledged and I think we’ve come a long way, but we also have a long way to go. I mean, for me, the urgency has for this change has always been there. And fortunately, especially in the last year, this agenda has become more urgent and pressing in the context of the call to decolonize aid and dismantle white supremacy in our sector.

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (07:16): I think this is a very welcome pressure for change that is honestly long overdue. So we are certainly still in the process of also unpacking what it means in our sector and in CARE. I’m proud to say that CARE and, and all staff are really rising to meet the challenge of how we redefine ourselves and the sector and I think what should be a new era for international NGOs. Then another critical topic I would mention is we’ve become more accountable and transparent about our strengths and also about our weaknesses. In fact, just a few weeks ago, we released a score card report where we self assessed our own commitment to the Grand Bargain. That is how many and how much of our funds are channeled through women’s rights and women-led organizations, and we’ve noted clear gaps and that we can really be much better partners to women’s rights organizations. So there, I’ve also seen a much greater commitment to accountability and transparency that personally I’m very, very excited about.

Lama Alsafi (08:31): Considering Sofia, considering the movement towards decolonization of aid and localization, I wonder as you see it, what are the biggest challenges and opportunities as we look to redefine ourselves as care and as well within the sector?

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (08:46): Well, I think in the future, CARE will be less about CARE as an organization, and will be hopefully much more inclusive of the network of local partners that we work with. So I’m thinking that in future, you know, we want to really support much more locally led development and humanitarian response that is led by others. And I like to think of locally led, but also globally connected. I also believe that there is a role for a global organization to support locally led development and humanitarian response, but also to look at that in-between inequality between global North and global South and to address that and to use the learning from locally led development and humanitarian response, to be a strong voice for more equality globally and not just within the borders of one country. So I think that’s where I see CARE’s future that we play, you know, that very critical role of supporting locally led and connecting globally and promoting global solidarity for justice and for equality.

Lama Alsafi (09:57): What about the CARE Package® that the world needs now, what would be a CARE Package® that would ensure that we build a more equal world?

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (10:05): It’s a really good question, actually. I, you know, the CARE Package®, of course, as a symbol of hope, solidarity and courage, I think that essence remains relevant. And in today’s complex world, when actually so many are suffering from the ongoing impact of the pandemic and the looming threat of the climate crisis and also war. So, you know, that it remains relevant. But the CARE Package®, and I think that’s important too, was not only that symbol of hope. It was also a very practical solution to a complex problem, which I also think lies at the heart of how we work at CARE. We do not always need to reinvent the wheel to move forward. There are many frameworks like the Sustainable Development Goals being the most obvious that offer also blueprints to how we can move forward during complex times. And these must not get lost in the various debates around building forward that are currently, you know, held worldwide.

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (11:11): So, you know, we have an unprecedented opportunity right now, as governments are set to spend millions on recovery, we need to ask pointed questions about how and where that investment is best made now, and in the future. Also by including and encouraging the donor community, to be less obsessive with compliance and more comfortable with risk, both of which are key barriers to locally led and globally connected and to gender equality. So I think it requires the will and motivation of those in power to think beyond own borders, to understand that no one is safe until everyone is safe as is often said these days, and to work together with hope, courage, and solidarity to do so.

Lama Alsafi (12:06): And finally, Sofia, how can our listeners support and encourage dialogue and positive change in international development and humanitarian work?

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (12:14): In many, many ways. You know, encourage the people nearby-your, your friends, your neighbour-to really look beyond your national borders, anywhere you sit, and look at the importance of a global solidarity chain. I think now that is more critical than ever, and COVID has shown that. And COVID is also a concern because, you know, since it has impacted all of the world, there may be a tendency to look more kind of in-house, you know, into the most immediate issues. But again, we will not be safe until everyone is safe. I think, you know, if you can, and if you are in a country where it’s possible to also reach policy makers, be a voice for those most marginalized and most discriminated against. And at CARE on our website, you can see plenty of information that will provide you with ammunition, for, you know, with truly telling the stories of those most in need. And then again, just always go back to your heart and what really matters to what you truly believe in, which I am sure those listening today is precisely a world of justice, a world of equality, where poverty has been overcome, and people live in dignity and security.

Lama Alsafi (13:40): Sofia, it’s been wonderful chatting with you today. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us for this discussion and thank you for your dedication as well, on a personal note, I’d like to add. Thank you for your dedication and work with CARE’s mission.

Sofia Sprechmann Sineiro (13:56): Thank you for reaching out. It’s a true honour to be part of CARE and to be part of that wider community that fights for justice.

Lama Alsafi (14:05): Thank you, Sofia, and thank you as well to all of our listeners for tuning in. You can find every episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify, iTunes and at care.ca/podcast.