Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo is the Executive Director of World Renew.
CCIC: World Renew has been successfully working since 1962. Reflecting on your organization’s nearly 60 years of experience, what would you consider as World Renew’s greatest success and how could others in the Canadian international development sector emulate this success?
Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo: If I compare our work with other international development agencies, I would say we have significant expertise in the area of building the capacity of local partners, especially in their ability to sustain their work in communities with quality programs in disaster response, agriculture, food security, MNCH (maternal newborn child health), village savings and loans, peacebuilding and gender justice. We have been doing the partnering model since the 1970s.
We have also developed an effective global volunteer and partnership programs that links volunteers, volunteer groups and/or churches with our partners and communities they work with in the Global South. For an organization of our size, I think it is quite phenomenal that last year and together with our US office base, we placed 468 volunteers overseas, engaged 3,268 volunteers for serving over 279,000 hours and engaged 256 churches from North America in partnerships with communities in the Global South.
CCIC: In December 2018, World Renew published a blog post titled “Where Partnerships Transcends Religious Divides”. In this blog post, you speak to a World Renew partnership that delivers school programs in Senegal that serve both Christian and Muslim populations. What do you view as the advantages and disadvantages of being a Canadian faith-based organization working in international development?
Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo: The most significant advantage of being a faith-based international development agency is that this enables us to be more sensitive to and foster programs that are more effective in integrating people’s faith, worldviews and values for change and development. This is why we find it quite easy and effective to work in multi-faith environments that encourage inclusivity of every faith group in the community development work and humanitarian assistance work we do. Working largely in partnership with faith-based that are local to the contexts in the Global South has the additional advantage of ensuring sustainability in community development programs long after the outside international development agencies has left or ended their contributions.
In every culture, tradition and faith there are beliefs or perspectives that hinder people’s ability to flourish. If these mindsets and foundational barriers are not addressed, even the best programs in humanitarian assistance, health, agriculture or food security, technology, economic development will only go so far or end up failing. I could give numerous examples from living and working in the Global South about how development efforts are either fostered or impeded depending on people’s views on gender roles, their assumptions about other ethnic groups and their own perceptions about their power to overcome forces of injustice and poverty.
The biggest disadvantage of being a faith-based agency is that people and donors, especially institutional donors, may at times misunderstand our purpose and motivations. Sometimes it seems there is skepticism about faith-based organizations with misperceptions that their programs may be more exclusive or coercive than non-faith agencies. There are also misperceptions that faith-based agencies have lower quality in programs or organizational management. This is most unfortunate since funding decisions by donors then become discriminatory and huge opportunities for making an impact get missed. Thankfully, some independent assessments are being done that inform the public that faith-based international development agencies can be just as effective if not moreso at times than non-faith agencies. Of particular note is the recent article from MoneySense where at least three faith-based international organizations, including World Renew, were listed in the top ten international charities for 2019.
CCIC: In 2012, World Renew rebranded from its previous name, Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC). Could you please share with us something that World Renew is currently working to improve, and describe how you envision this improving the organization’s ability to accomplish your mandate?
Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo: One of the things we are seeking to improve is our marketing and fundraising. One of the reasons for changing our name is to acknowledge that an increasing level of our donations, often half of our budget or more, is given by sources beyond our faith community. Thus, we have invested more efforts and staffing in this aspect of our work. As donors start to connect more closely with our work, they often remark that the high quality of our programs and the way we work with local partners is something they appreciate and yet seems hidden as an opportunity for others to also join. Essentially, we are trying to get better at telling our story even as we continue to be known for and keep improving the quality of changing the story with communities. We are also moving forward well in becoming certified in our CHS (Core Humanitarian Standards).
CCIC: Ida, you have been employed at World Renew for several years, and are now the Canadian Director. As a woman leader in our sector, would you have any words of wisdom to share with aspiring young professionals who wish to someday wear a leadership hat?
Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo: In short, I would say “go where the energy is”. Leadership is about managing one’s own energy first and then identifying ways to guide others to use their energy in ways that flourish their lives. Remember, the only person a leader can really control is themselves and all other power is largely superficial or temporary. I get my high level of energy only by God’s grace and wisdom to serve over 30 years in this sector of international development and now 12 years as Canadian Director with World Renew. I have discovered what sustains and grows my energy so I do not waste time on things, including fears, that diminish it. I pursue whatever learning opportunities can continue to develop my skills, direct my energies to priorities and passions that I have prayerfully considered and never assume that I have become the best I can be. God is not finished with me yet and neither is he finished with anyone else I may be connected to. Thus, it is important to extend grace to everyone else as well, always searching to understand and respect them as valuable gifts from God. My greatest joy is to encourage anyone in my circle of relationships, whether they are staff, partners or communities; in their efforts and journey to discover and become all that God created them to be.
CCIC: World Renew is a valued member of CCIC. Could you please comment on what your CCIC membership has meant to World Renew, and identify how you would like to see this relationship grow and improve in the future?
Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo: Our membership in CCIC is valuable because it is a collaboration focused on learning and advocacy with the Canadian government. I have gained a lot of expertise for our work and my leadership role through conversations and events that are organized by CCIC. For example, when there was increased pressure for protecting children and others who are at high risk in our development programs, I learned from other members of CCIC what they were doing and what we could also use in terms of policies and practices to promote this. The relationship that CCIC has with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) has also been instrumental in addressing common issues or challenges that international development agencies face in their partnering or use of GAC contributions.
In terms of how this relationship could grow or improve, I would suggest that CCIC keeps listening to its membership on what the most important issues and opportunities are when designing events or organizing meetings to strengthen collaborative relationships with GAC. So far, the topics have been very relevant to World Renew’s work in international development and we greatly appreciate CCIC’s role in arranging, pursuing and managing these collaborative opportunities when we do not have the resources within our own agency to do this on our own.