As part of the first IDS Co-op class, Kevin McCort and his classmates felt like guinea pigs. It was a role they took on with pride, knowing their feedback would help shape the program for future students. “There was a sense of excitement and experimentation,” recalls McCort. “And the program was very open to listening to our thoughts and feedback.”
McCort attends a food distribution in Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya where Care staff and refugee workers are feeding close to 500,000 people (2011).
McCort remembers taking economics courses dealing with advanced economies, and geology courses that focused on soils of North America. The students pushed the professors to open up class project parameters and find ways to include international issues. Extracurricular activities, like planning a student-led Global Development Awareness Week for the wider university population helped students gain skills, such as teamwork, that would come in useful in their international development careers.
Looking back, McCort feels his IDS professors were often ahead of the curve. In climatology, the class learned about what McCort now realizes was climate change, well ahead of mainstream awareness about the issue. “I don’t think as students we really got it, but [Anthony Price] was really on the cutting edge of what was happing with the global climate,” he says.
The students in McCort’s cohort also recognized the responsibility of being the first group on placement. “We knew we had to provide value to the employers so that they would welcome more students next year,” he says. It was with that responsibility in mind that McCort travelled to Mali with World University Service of Canada (WUSC).
A rural welcome
McCort’s placement with WUSC in Mali’s state agricultural company brought him face-to-face with nomadic pastoralists, and into their kitchens. Concerned that so much of the country’s livestock was exported, the organization asked McCort to research opportunities for livestock commercialization. His job took him into rural communities to learn local ways of preserving meat, such as drying and salting, and testing to see if those techniques could be used in other communities around the country.
The warm welcome McCort experienced in the small village where he lived on his IDS Co-op placement has stuck with him. “I reflect on that willingness and openness to accept a foreign interloper that I experienced in Mali. You meet lots of people here in Canada, new Canadians, and I feel I have to be at least as warm and welcoming as people were to me in Mali. It’s a high standard to live up to.”
Learning to manage
After graduation, WUSC offered McCort a position in their volunteer program, first in Canada and then Zimbabwe. Organizing meaningful education-related placements for Canadians in Zimbabwe took McCort all over the country. In the two and a half years he was there, he clocked 100,000 kilometers on his car. “I know the back roads of Zimbabwe better than the ones in Eastern Ontario,” he jokes.
McCort joined CARE Canada in 1992 and would go on to become the organization’s President and CEO. His first role at CARE was in the Food Security and Emergency Working Group, travelling to Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans and Africa’s Great Lakes region to tackle humanitarian challenges arising from conflict and human displacement. In 1997, he took over the position of country director for CARE in Zambia.
McCort visits one of the water distribution points Care built and maintains in Dadaab. Care staff and refugee workers are responsible for distributing 10 million liters of clean drinking water per day.
In 2000, McCort returned to Canada and joined CARE’s senior management team before taking over the CEO position in 2007. Shortly before becoming CEO, McCort returned to school while continuing to work with CARE in order to beef up his management skills. He graduated with a Master of Business Administration from Queen’s University in 2005.
Since his grassroots IDS Co-op placement in West Africa, McCort’s career has covered a lot of ground. From a small village in Mali, to the back roads of Zimbabwe, to the CEO’s desk at CARE with programs in more than 30 countries, McCort has applied the problem solving skills he learned in the IDS Co-op program to tackle local development issues: “We learned to think critically, analyze material from several sources, and then, most importantly, apply it.”
Profile written by Kate Jongbloed (Class of 2008)