Nonprofit CARE Takes Hint From Startups With New Accelerator

Akram Ali / CARE


The Atlanta-based global humanitarian aid group, CARE, is taking a page from the startup world.

CARE employees will get a chance to pitch their ideas in Atlanta next week as part of its inaugural Scale X Design Accelerator to get $150,000 in funding to implement their ideas.

Nonprofit Development

Chief Innovation Officer Dar Vanderbeck says the goal of CARE is to “save lives, defeat poverty and achieve social justice,” and there are always lots of new ideas on how to do it.

But, it can take a long time to scale up their ideas: “between 16 and 21 years to move from sitting under a tree in Mali to actually being a world-wide program,” Vanderbeck said.

CARE’s Village Savings and Loan Associations program was launched about 25 years ago and now has 19 million users.

Vanderbeck said CARE is now one of the first large global humanitarian aid groups to create a customized accelerator program to push through quick ideas, just like startups. She said it had to reinvent the model since it was working with teams instead of single entrepreneurs and ideas that already had data on feasibility.

She said for its first Scale X Design Accelerator program, CARE received 73 applications from staff members in 35 different countries, which have been narrowed to 15 teams. They participated in an eight-month program and will be pitching their ideas in Atlanta and New York for more funding.

Krishi Utsho

One of the 15 CARE teams in the competition is Krishi Utsho, which translates to “Farmer Rising.” The team could win one of three prizes of $150,000, for a project that aims to improve the quality of life for small farmers in Bangladesh with small supplier shops.

Right now, CARE has 150 shops in Bangladeshi villages. It’s where small farmers can get high quality supplies.

“The average farm size is only about one acre so improving productivity is essential if Bangladesh is going to be able to continue feeding its population,” said Scott Merrill, senior technical advisor at CARE and member of the Krishi Utsho team.

If the group wins, it wants to use the money to scale up to 500 shops by 2020.

Merrill said the project is already having an impact. The farm workers – half of whom are women – are traveling fewer miles to get supplies and making more money.

Quick Progress

It’s quick progress like this, donors to nonprofits like to see too, said Felicia Joy. She has taught entrepreneurship classes at Emory University and owns a business development firm in Chicago.

“This is actually something that’s not just a trend but is actually going to be cemented and is here to stay,” Joy said.

She said over the past few years, she’s seen more new nonprofits, and old ones like UNICEF, trying to operate more like startups.

Young Men’s Initiative

Another CARE team selected for the program is the Young Men’s Initiative. John Crownover is based in the CARE office in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He says after decades of war in the Balkans, they’ve seen an increase in assaults and restriction of women’s freedoms.

“We know that the predominance of violence in society is committed by men and young men so we really saw that there was toxic gender norms in the region on multiple levels that really impacts how they see men should be and act in society, how they see relationships with girls and young women,” Crownover said.

His team, the Young Men’s Initiative, is made up of 10 CARE employees from several countries. It’s a school-based program and social norms media campaign in the Balkans to promote gender equality.

“We have been working with youth leaders at secondary schools to promote what a young man should be in society,” Crownover said. “A lot of these topics are taboo. Just even ideas of violence against women are often challenging traditional norms of how relationships should be, so for many people, particular power structures, these are ideas they’re not comfortable with.”

Crownover said CARE notices how politicians speak about women and their role in society and is working to find government partners to make the Young Men’s Initiative part of the curriculum of secondary schools in the Balkans.

His team will be one of 15 pitching in front of judges, mentors and investors at the Atlanta Tech Village on Jan. 19 at 6:30 pm. Judges will then choose five teams to advance to the competition in New York City on Jan. 28, where three will have a chance to win $150,000.

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