Think Inside the Organization: catalyzing internal advisors as consultants

blog icon If you work in international development, you have probably experienced that pressing need for support. You need to conduct an assessment, your proposal design should have started yesterday, and the capacity building for your partners is right around the corner – the list could go on and on. You need short-term support, but you also need the best and brightest, the one who knows the context and subject matter, writes and analyzes thoroughly, and can meet the deadline. You aren’t just looking for someone who is available to do the work – you are looking for the ‘expert’.

Where do you go looking for such support? Usually, we in the development sector turn to consultants.

While it might seem easy to say, ‘bring in a consultant,’ sometimes the program is not suitable for outside work. For many programs and technical interventions, consultants might seem like just the thing that is needed. For more specialized projects though, it may seem like you’ll never be able to find the right person, let alone be able to adequately train them for the task at hand. Either way, consultancy is a challenge: you are bringing someone on short-term who probably doesn’t know your organization, staff, or project very well, and it is often challenging to direct newcomers in a proper and timely manner.

At CARE, we face similar challenges in finding the right support for a specific context. We have stretched our thinking to bring internal solutions to the gender technical support our colleagues require globally. CARE’s Global Gender Cohort harnesses the great gender expertise that exists within CARE to meet our high demand for gender technical assistance (TA).

By creating a model that catalyzes CARE staff as consultants, we can meet our demand for global gender consultants while creating a learning platform for our gender experts worldwide. This peer-to-peer model of gender TA, with CARE gender experts (mainly based in Country Offices in the ‘global south’) is able to mobilize TA across CARE. The Cohort does include a small number of external consultants, who share our values and work with us as members of our community, who are on call when CARE’s global gender cohort are unable to meet demand.

Over the past two years, the Global Gender Cohort has built a group of around 60 gender experts across more than 30 countries with the objective of increasing access to high-quality, cost-effective gender TA, while also building the skills and experience of CARE staff in gender transformative development programming. Here are some of the things that make the Cohort special:

  • It is demand-driven: The Cohort provides services based on demand across the CARE world. We identified TA needs in a variety of areas, including gender analysis, gender project design and integration, gender and monitoring, evaluation and learning, gender training, and workshop.
  • It creates a learning opportunity: We train our Cohort members, review their past work and experiences, and organize learning sessions to enable members to learn from each other.
  • It is sustainable: The majority of the Global Cohort members are CARE staff who share CARE’s commitment to gender transformation and have practical experience with the frameworks and approaches that we use to achieve our commitment to gender justice. Once they finish the work, they are still CARE colleagues, keeping the learning in-house and accessible.

So, what has the cohort accomplished so far?

  • Provision of affordable services: Our clients across the CARE world have stated that the Cohort eases the financial challenges of hiring a consultant.
  • High return on investment to CARE: In 2019 alone, we provided gender technical assistance over $160,000. These are funds that otherwise would not have stayed within a project. Instead, it was invested back into CARE, both to the Gender Cohort member’s offices and to the Gender cohort itself.
  • Challenges to the hierarchies of expertise: We often hear that “our local expertise is not good enough to take us regional or global”. The Cohort enables members to provide support in-country and remote support outside of their country offices, allowing them to expand their experiences.
  • Contribution to gender equality: By providing quality services from people who understand CARE approaches and frameworks, the Cohort is making gender TA more readily available to meet our commitment to putting gender equality at the heart of our work everywhere.

Creating the Global Gender Cohort has not been without effort. It can be difficult to predict the availability of Cohort members far in advance of the assignment, as Cohort members may be busy with other work. Language is another barrier; most of our Cohort members are not native English speakers – and as much as we value skills and experiences and not position and passports; clients often demand perfect English. We know that language does not make one an expert, but we also see the environment in which we operate often defines an expert on the basis of language. We also deal with clients changing their expectations beyond the ToR.

We have found that the gender cohort is an effective way to deliver expertise TA across CARE. Our aim to leverage CARE’s internal resources has allowed us to think outside of the box and find solutions for the greater good of CARE.

To find out more contact the Global Gender Cohort Coordinator via: [email protected]

Ideas from the blog on “A rant about gender (and other) Consultants and how we can avoid them” by Elizabeth Cowan are used in this blog


Kalkidan “Kal” Lakew Yihun is currently an Interim Global Gender Cohort Coordinator with CARE USA based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Kal has more than seven years of experience in the development sector, working in various gender specialist positions both at organizational and program levels. Kal holds a master’s degree in International Development Policy and Human Rights.




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