Phase 2: Before Disaster Strikes

a) Assessing Mutual Organisational Capacity

Assessing our local partners’ and our own capacity is ideally done during “peace time.” It gives us enough time to manage each other’s expectations and identify areas where additional capacity strengthening might be useful.

Partners may be hesitant to assess CARE candidly due to uneven power dynamics particularly in relationships where CARE is perceived as “funder”. Therefore, we must actively counter this status quo and shift the culture to achieve honest and participatory mutual assessments.

Usually, a short visit (2-3 hours) with a partner is sufficient. This can be at our partner’s office or at CARE’s office. For remote partnership, a call or online meeting for 1-2 hours is enough if we cannot physically go to the partner’s office. An assessment may include completion of a mutual capacity assessment questionnaire, direct observation, and participatory discussion with the partner.

Conducting the Assessment

Assessments can be time consuming so keep it short. You may consider the size of the grant, duration of the program and your relationship with the partner to determine the duration and depth of the capacity assessment. The assessment may cover CARE and partners’ capacity on project implementation, rapid needs assessment, sectoral approaches, financial management, advocacy, gender programming, impact measurement, media and communications, etc.

The partner should also be able to assess CARE’s capacity for them to understand more our complementarity. It is important to note that partners may be offering capacity strengthening to CARE as well as the other way around.

As an organisation promoting gender equality and women empowerment, having gender-responsive partnerships is a priority for CARE.

As part of our assessment, you may also consider the following:

  • Do CARE and partner staff reflect a balanced ratio of male and female members, especially at senior management levels?
  • Does the partner adhere to the basic principles of social justice and inclusion, at the very least a commitment that all people (particularly women, girls, and other vulnerable groups) should have equal rights and opportunities?
  • What experience does the partner have in working with women, girls, and other vulnerable groups?
  • What experiences does the partner have in ensuring the protection and/or empowerment of women, girls, and other vulnerable groups in humanitarian or development projects?
  • Do CARE and partner staff express interest and commitment to developing attitudes, knowledge, and skills to better work with women, girls, and other vulnerable groups in humanitarian response?
  • Can we work with our partner to build their capacity or learn from them in gender-sensitive and gender-responsive programming?

Establishing a mutual organisational capacity strengthening and exchange plan

The term ‘capacity strengthening’ can imply that CARE always has the capacity, which is far from always being the case. Increasingly, we are collaborating with organisations with more capacity than us and we have much to learn from them.

Sometimes we have expertise that is useful to and requested by civil society actors and we can act as a direct capacity-builder. Other times, it may be through our role as a connector and broker of relations and knowledge, that we can add value.

In any case we should consider capacity strengthening as a two-way process in which we are also learning to think outside the CARE box.

Developing the Plan

The analysis of the Mutual Organisational Capacity Assessment should be done with the partners. They should also be aware of each other’s strengths and capacity building needs to develop a Mutual Capacity Strengthening & Exchange Plan. If you have many partners, it is good to have a more comprehensive analysis of all their capacities. In some cases, one partner can also provide training to another CARE partner.

The Mutual Capacity Strengthening & Exchange Plan may include the following:

  • Each other’s strengths and weaknesses or capacity strengthening needs
  • Availability of internal/external resources for capacity strengthening, which may include technical experts from both CARE and partners
  • Capacities needed for the project
  • Ideas for types of capacity strengthening activities (workshops, trainings, mentorship, webinars, staff secondment, coaching/mentoring, buddy system, etc)
  • Timeline and required resources for the activities

We also need to invest in sustained and flexible funding to support capacity strengthening and diverse relationships with partners, particularly actors from the Global South. So, when developing your plan, it is advisable to include some budget and timeframe.

A key aspect contributing to the evolution of CARE’s approach to capacity building is the understanding that supporting civil society organisations to be effective development actors goes beyond what we need from partners in terms of compliance and project implementation. In other words, strengthening our partners as true actors in civil society – not only as implementers of our programs – needs to be demand-driven and included in any program design.

Capacity strengthening needs to take a long-term perspective and not only address immediate gaps. Developing capacity in human rights-based approaches, gender-responsive programming civic education, and accountability should be at the heart of our support as our partners, or social movements and activists, whom we support and collaborate with, are taking up a more active – and sometimes political roles. Resourcing capacity development is crucial, hence financial support is necessary to cover partners’ core costs and institutional strengthening.

To decide which capacity development support is appropriate, we need to use participatory approaches respecting the diversity of institutional forms and models that characterise a legitimate and vibrant civil society. We need to avoid creating “small CAREs” by imposing our organisational model on organisations for which it is not relevant.

[TEMPLATE] Mutual Capacity Strengthening Plan

[SAMPLE] CARE Philippines and Partners Capacity Development Plan (2019)


Engaging partners in Emergency Preparedness

Engaging our partners during the preparedness phase is crucial. It helps us better plan and prepare for possible scenarios. Partners are also involved in the country program’s Emergency Preparedness Planning. They should also provide inputs to the scenario-based response plans particularly if a possible area is within their area or expertise.

The country program should work on contingency agreements with local actors to significantly accelerate response time. For instance, in Indonesia, CARE’s Localisation Report shows that signing agreements with local partners at preparedness stage could accelerate response time by 14 days.

What is a contingency agreement?

It is a type of investment made before an emergency occurs (anticipatory investment), it means reaching agreements with emergency response partners (local partners/operational partners and/or service providers) before our response. Usually, the agreements are non-binding and focusing on preparedness and capacity strengthening. It means a new agreement would be needed to formalise a partnership during an emergency.

Benefits of Having Contingency Agreement with Partners

Contingency agreements improve the reliability of responses. Below are some advantages of having this in place with partners:

  • Significantly extends geographic coverage
  • Increases speed and implements adequate responses through existing networks of partners with strong local knowledge of the context
  • Yields considerable time and financial savings
  • Gives more leverage with donors having a more prepared, systematic and concrete plan
  • Gives both CARE and partners better understanding of each other’s roles, responsibilities and expectations.
  • Supports the long-term partnerships with local actors

Preparing with Partners

The best time to establish partnerships is outside of crises. Partnering is complex and requires time, effort, courage and vision.  Getting to know another organisation (its objectives, capacities, and culture), building trust, defining the added value of the partnership, and agreeing on a joint program, can best be done over time, as part of the Emergency Preparedness Process.

Preparing together, before an emergency hits, leads to:

  • More predictability of the joint response (what we aim to achieve together, who will provide what and play which role based on our respective assets and complementarities, how we will conduct joint needs assessments, what will trigger a response)
  • Readiness to kick off or scale up the partnership (partnership agreement existing or pre-agreed, capacity and due diligence assessments completed, risks assessed and mitigated, procedures pre-agreed for fund transfer and programmatic/financial monitoring, pre-agreed and tested tools for response, from pre-costed project proposals to monitoring tools)
  • Localised approach in preparedness
  • Greater readiness of both CARE and partners to respond (key gaps pre-identified and capacity development underway, readiness to scale up, e.g. staff, funding, procuring supplies, managing heighted security)
  • CARE’s enhanced readiness to respond in partnership (updated mapping of local capacities and partners, trust established with identified partners, procedures in place, staff ready and skilled to support partners, simplified compliance and monitoring tools; pre-agreed joint communications and media protocol).

Some Preparedness Measures for Partnering


  • Identifying existing or new partners to include in preparedness planning; it might be possible to identify partners in disaster-prone areas
  • Updating of mapping of local organisations and their capacities

Training/Capacity Strengthening

  • Offering training on emergency approaches and standards to partners (including Sphere, Gender in Emergencies, CHS/humanitarian accountability).
  • Facilitating Training of Trainers (TOT) sessions for CARE and partner staff
  • Conducting emergency assessment or response simulations with partners
  • Providing training for support and program staff on roles, responsibilities and good practices to manage partner relationships

Partnership Agreements

  • Establishing partnership contingency agreements
  • Sharing CARE’s partner funding agreement templates and funding procedures in advance so partners can review and engage CARE in understanding these and tailoring them for emergencies, as needed
  • Concluding contingency agreements that cover collaboration in emergencies

Accountability & Learning

  • Creating space for discussions and mechanism for two-way feedback with partners/local actors to build mutually valuable and effective partnerships
  • Documenting and translating standard program approaches and tools with partners

[TOOL] CARE Philippines & Partner MoU for Preparedness and Response 

[REPORT] CARE Return on Investment in Emergency Preparedness (2017)