Sunday, June 20, 2010

An Interview with Caitlin Carlson from Mercy Corps, Part 1

What You Can Do would not be possible without the amazing organizations that have so kindly lent us their time, wisdom and expertise. One organization that we have worked with again and again is Mercy Corps which, among other things, makes amazing contributions to the fight against world hunger. Our first contact there was Caitlin Carlson. She has since moved on, but before she left I was able to interview her about her experience working with this amazing organization

Interview Caitlin Carlson Mercy Corps Part 1

Jessica: One of the things that seems to be unique about Mercy Corps is that Mercy Corps covers such a wide variety of issues. Why does your organization choose to do this?

Caitlin: Well, we like to work in the way that best benefits the community that we’re in. So say we only focused on one particular expertise, it would really limit our ability to work in many places. As we’ve grown, we have a global staff of 3700 people in 40 countries, so you can imagine that not every place that we work-because we work in multiple places in each country -have the same needs. So if we were only a water sanitation organization, for example, that would really limit where we would be able to make an impact. So we like to take the approach of engaging the community. Because that’s one of our primary tenants of our mission is that we want to make sure to engage the community in their own programs, because we don’t want to create dependency. We want to create the ability for them to continue to improve their town, their city, whatever it is -after we leave. Ideally we work ourselves out of a job.

Jessica: That was actually one of my other questions as It seems like you focus on helping a community sustain itself, and that was a wonderful answer as to why.

And Mercy Corps began that way correct? With the idea of going into a community?

Caitlin: Mercy Corps began initially in response to the killing fields in Cambodia. We were not actually called Mercy Corps at that time. We were called Save the Refugees. It was an organization that was started by our founder Dan O’ Neil. As he realized, working in that environment, that there was so much need in so many other places he kind of started looking much bigger and expanding from there. Each new person that we brought on had their own expertise, and it kind of grew to addressing many other sectors.

Jessica: As for your own person involvement: What attracted you to Mercy Corps?

Caitlin: Our global head quarters is here in Portland Oregon, and we were founded here in Portland. We’ve been here the entirety of our organizational history. And I happen to be a native of Portland.

Jessica: Ah

Caitlin: So I was aware of the organization, via that connection, and I’ve known people that have worked here, and everyone speaks so highly of the organization itself- our team members, the leadership-and just the overall mission. And so I had been aware of the organization and then actually out of college I had applied for an internship, and I got that, and then the rest is history. (laughs)

For more information on Mercy Corps, please visit -

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