Member Profile: Amy Coughenour Betancourt, NCBA CLUSA

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June 08, 2016

Member Profile: Amy Coughenour Betancourt, NCBA CLUSA

Women taking part in a fortified flour nutrition training, part of NCBA CLUSA’s approach to community-building, under the USAID/Yaajeende Agriculture and Nutrition Development Program for Food Security in Senegal.

By Elizabeth Walsh

Director, Communications and Marketing InsideNGO

Member Profile is a series on our blog that features InsideNGO members talking about the work they do and how they manage the operational challenges within their organizations. Here, we talk to Amy Coughenour Betancourt, the COO of International Programs at The National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International (NCBA CLUSA). Celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, NCBA CLUSA provides cross-sector education, support, and advocacy that helps cooperatives—organizations owned and jointly run by their members—thrive around the world.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your current job responsibilities.

A: I am the chief operating officer for NCBA CLUSA’s $225 million portfolio of projects in 20 countries in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Southeast Asia. I am responsible for over 840 staff managing programs using demand-driven, market-based approaches to food security and nutrition, resilience, sustainable agriculture, natural resources management, local governance and civil society strengthening, and developing and strengthening cooperatives and other private sector enterprises.

What are some of the biggest operational challenges/issues you see in your organization on a regular basis?

Strong, clear, and transparent internal communications and information exchange between the field and home offices, and building a unified organizational identity and culture, are always challenges. Domestically, we are the apex organization representing cooperative businesses in the United States, and internationally we implement programs in 20 countries that build resilient communities, promote economic opportunities, and strengthen cooperatives and producer groups. The field/home office relationship is one that all international organizations manage, and one that can significantly impact program and organizational performance. Closing the gaps in information, knowledge, and consistency in quality, policies, and procedures between offices and programs is critical and requires ongoing effort.

What strategies/tactics do you use to respond to these challenges/issues?

Good communication needs to be intentional and doesn’t happen automatically. Regular field visits build relationships that facilitate regular virtual communication around daily operations. We hold quarterly calls with field leadership and face-to-face annual planning and training sessions that involve program and support staff (HR, finance, compliance, and communications).

We are in the process of developing an organizational intranet accessible to all employees, where all operational policies, procedures, and documents can be shared and accessed worldwide. We are also starting to build a knowledge management and monitoring and evaluation platform for agency-level program reporting and knowledge-sharing.

One important strategy has been to engage staff leadership and field teams around understanding and affirming our organizational mission, values, and approaches as part of who we are and how we do our work. These values include teamwork, integrity, and promoting dignity and well-being through service, rooted in our 100-year history of supporting the cooperative movement. This helps build a strong sense of unity, identity, and culture within individuals and the team, which facilitates regular and open communication.

Let’s talk about governance. How do you and your leadership team build a culture of compliance within m2m—both with your own organizational policies as well as with donor funding regulations?

It starts with a clear understanding that mission and compliance need to be in balance. We can’t have one without the other, or problems will arise. Second, there needs to be a clear understanding about why compliance is important, what is being required, and how it all fits together in our operations. The leadership for this needs to start at the top, but be communicated, processed, and owned throughout the organization with clear guidelines, tools, and training. We are currently conducting regional staff retreats where staff are discussing and reflecting on how to achieve balance between the two, and what each of their roles is in being a high-impact organization. There is a need for open communication where questions and concerns can be put on the table in a safe environment. We need to focus on solutions to resolve challenges and be flexible where it allows. We need to reinforce good compliance through performance evaluations and other recognition. It goes back to our values of “working with integrity” and “leaving the organization stronger than when we arrived.”

How do you foster professional growth and development among your staff?

One of our values is “We learn, improve, adapt, and embrace change.” The organization needs to make this a priority at all levels. Beyond giving employees opportunities to attend conferences, training, and other types of professional development sessions, we do regular internal Learning4Impact sessions to foster continuous knowledge and skill development. Perhaps most importantly, staff need to feel valued and that they are contributing to the mission. We achieve this through productive and supportive relationships with supervisors and colleagues that focus on professional and career development for each person.

What do you perceive as the value of your InsideNGO membership for your organization?

InsideNGO is a “go-to” organization for operational and policy issues that all of us face. Particularly valuable to me have been sessions on leading through change. There is tremendous support in InsideNGO’s community for each other as professionals and leaders. Our staff gets invaluable information and training from InsideNGO that targets important areas of changing compliance and policies. It provides communities of practice in various parts of the organization where colleagues can safely share and exchange concerns and information. It is a great platform for professional development that directly impacts our organizational effectiveness.

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