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Plan Canada

Member Profile September 2012

This month CCIC spoke with Rosemary McCarney, President-CEO of Plan Canada. In this interview, Rosemary talks about the upcoming Day of the Girl, October 11, and the humanitarian crisis in the Sahel. She also comments on how Plan has adapted to changing realities over its 75 year history and on partnerships with the private sector.

Rosemary McCarney

CCIC: To situate where Plan Canada is today as an organization, tell us about some of your greatest achievements and important challenges of the past few years?

Rosemary McCarney: I’ve had the great pleasure and challenge of serving as Plan Canada’s President and CEO for the past six years, and they’ve been years of rapid growth and considerable change for the organization.

As a child-centred development organization working in 68 countries around the globe, we’re faced with an increasingly complex and inter-connected set of factors that impact our work. We have had to become more agile as an organization and adapt to these shifting priorities – scaling up our urban programming as more people in the global South move from rural communities where Plan’s work has traditionally been based, into cities in search of employment and improved opportunities. As the effects of climate change are increasingly felt in the communities and countries where Plan works, we have had to substantially strengthen our humanitarian response capacity and work through the challenges of how we ensure the particular needs of children are met during emergencies. And we’ve also had to find new ways of communicating with our supporters and development partners alike, with Plan Canada’s efforts to grow social movements through online engagement being a particular success for the organization.

One of the challenges that we face as an organization moving into the future is the phenomenon of rapidly developing countries where pockets of wealth co-exist with pockets of extreme poverty within the same country. We are also challenged by ensuring that our financial and technological systems are robust enough to handle millions of small and large financial transactions, and that our child protection measures are stringent enough to keep out online  predators in this increasingly wired world. All these fundamental shifts require organizational resiliency and adaptability, and have spurred Plan to become a more efficient and nimble organization. I look forward to seeing how we continue to evolve to ensure all children have the rights and opportunities they deserve.

CCIC: Could you share a story from the field that illustrates Plan Canada’s work today and that you are particularly proud of?

Rosemary McCarney: I just got back from a trip to Burkina Faso to see first-hand the work that Plan is doing to support those suffering from the food and refugee crisis. Burkina Faso is one of several West African countries that has for months now been grappling with a severe food crisis brought on by drought, failed crops, and rising food prices that families there simply cannot afford. Added to that has been an ongoing and massive influx of refugees from neighbouring Mali, pouring into Burkina Faso to escape the violence and political conflict that has gripped their home country.

Severe malnutrition is obviously a critical issue in the Malian refugee camps but I also met parents in the camp who fervently expressed their desire to have their children receive an education, even if it means going to a school in a makeshift tent or refugee camp. These parents travelled hundreds of kilometres to keep their children safe from being taken as child soldiers, and to escape the random violence perpetrated mostly on civilians in conflict zones today. They want to ensure the trip was well worth the risk by giving their kids a chance at a bright future. In a Plan-supported school for Malian refugee children, over and over I heard young people quietly and insistently tell me how they wished for peace.

I am proud of the support that Canadians have shown the people of the Sahel region during this crisis, and I’m grateful that they have chosen to express their care and concern through the work of Plan Canada. I am particularly proud of the way in which, while providing clean water, food, temporary education and other resources to help people cope and recover, Plan continues to put the needs of children at the heart of our humanitarian work.

CCIC: How do you envision the future of your organization?

Rosemary McCarney: This year Plan celebrated its 75th anniversary around the world. Not many organizations, in any sector, continue to grow over three-quarters of a century. International collaboration, focus on long-term community development and self-reliance, children at the centre and their voices heard – these are all steadfast Plan principles that have held firm over 75 years. What they look like in action has altered considerably, though, as the world has changed and we've learned more about how to do community development well.

At Plan Canada, we’re proud of the fact that more and more Canadians are choosing Plan as the steward of their contributions toward the work of alleviating global poverty and promoting social justice. This support has enabled us to strengthen and expand our work on the ground across Asia, Africa and Latin America. We have significantly expanded our efforts to improve maternal, newborn and child health; help low-income countries achieve universal primary education; and provide savings and loans support and financial literacy training for young people.

A second notable trend is that we’re engaging with donors in new ways. Our popular Gifts of Hope program is giving Canadians expanded options for how they can help alleviate global poverty. Child sponsorship continues to appeal to so many generous Plan supporters, but we’re also inviting families, workplaces, friends and neighbours to make a major donation to a community project – such as building a school or health centre, drilling a well or funding agricultural initiatives. And we’re also connecting with young people in new ways – using social media to engage them on social issues and for them to engage and challenge us. I’m looking forward to continuing this growth and organizational adaptation, ensuring that Canadians can continue to channel their support for children in the global South through the work of Plan Canada and to be a vocal proponent on the policy and advocacy issues that continue to constrain the rights of those children.

CCIC: On October 11, 2012, the UN will be celebrating the first International Day of the Girl Child. Plan International has played a key role in having this adopted by the UN; can you tell us why it is so important for you to have a Day dedicated to girls?

Rosemary McCarney:Plan Canada helped lead the call for the new commemorative day as part of our Because I am a Girl initiative, a global movement to end gender inequality, promote girls’ rights and lift millions of girls – and everyone around them – out of poverty.

In creating a day to celebrate girls, the UN is putting its weight and influence behind global efforts to raise awareness of girls' rights and shine a spotlight on areas where those rights are routinely violated. The day will provide a platform for promoting advocacy and investment in girls as a powerful way to help entire families, communities and countries break out of the cycle of poverty. Girls are over the world told us that this day is not simply symbolic but is a tool for them to use nationally and in their homes and schools to call duty bearers to account for promises and commitments made to them and not kept.

Although the Day of the Girl will bring much needed attention and focus to girls’ rights, our work is not done yet. The Because I am a Girl initiative, launching globally on October 11, will focus on helping girls overcome the barriers to their successful transition from primary to secondary education. In our next phase of the initiative, Plan will be looking closely at one of the major barriers to this goal: the prevalence of gender-based violence in and around schools. Our upcoming report highlights global principles to underlie effective government policy in this area and will make specific recommendations to the Canadian government, alongside Canadian partners working on violence against women and girls. Plan will continue to work to ensure girls – and all children – receive the education, healthcare, clean water, and protection that are their rights.


CCIC: Plan has been involved in a public debate about the value of partnerships with the mining sector and CIDA, for the funding of community development projects. Where do you think this debate is at presently? And what support role you see for CCIC moving forward?

Rosemary McCarney: As I mentioned earlier, Plan celebrated its 75th anniversary this year. When I think about what’s changed in those years, one important thing that comes to mind is how much more focus the international community is putting on multi-sectoral collaboration and partnerships, to meet developmental challenges.

In the continuing debate about the desired role of the private sector in development, two points have emerged: one, that for better or worse, private enterprise is an integral and essential part of national government planning to achieve long-term development goals; and two, that new models of partnership between the public sector, private, and non-profit sectors need to be tried and tested, if we are to meet more ambitious global development goals in the post 2015 agenda.

Plan Canada is piloting an approach from which we hope to draw valuable experience on the practicalities of meeting the needs of an increasingly ambitious development agenda. We believe that non-governmental organizations and the private sector have different but important roles to play in ensuring that major economic investments by Canadian companies translate into a pattern of development that benefits all. Our goal is to see our cross-sector partnerships result in corporate dollars invested in well-designed, responsibly-managed programming that aligns with national poverty reduction plans, and provides significant opportunities for job creation, poverty alleviation and long-term economic growth. By focusing on the constructive contributions the industry could make to social outcomes for a developing country like Burkina Faso, we are working to bring greater alignment and consensus to address poverty reduction, promote and respect human rights, and provide education, skills training and job opportunities for young people and their families.

There has been much healthy debate about the pros and cons of engaging with the extractive industry on issues of international development. We believe a range of views is healthy within the NGO community and for the mining industry as it enables the community to continue to examine bad practice, push for human rights and governance accountability, while engaging meaningfully where there is opportunity. CCIC’s role has been one of facilitation of this dialogue within the NGO community and will help us work together to find common approaches, joint objectives and ways to move forward together, and not apart, as the NGO community in Canada. This is early days for the many NGO’s across Canada who are partnering in a range of relationships with the private sector – we need to give them some time and space to figure out what works and what does not and for them to be then willing to share that back with all of us so we can evaluate these new models and tools to further sustainable development. The NGO community has always been a learning community. Mistakes will be made, lessons learned, adaptations incorporated – let’s assess and debate this when we have some solid experience and good case studies in an atmosphere of respect and learning. CCIC has an important role to play in guiding discussion on issues like this where there is a range of views across the members that is not a simple thumbs up or thumbs down.


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