Our Theory of Change and Intended Impact

Key trends: Economic pressures on government and other funding sources; increase in direct funding to local organizations; demands for greater accountability and scalable solutions

Since the early 2000s, CRS has applied a theory of change grounded in the concept of integral human development (IHD), which promotes the good of the whole person and every person. IHD supports the ability of each individual to realize their full human potential in the context of just and peaceful relationships, a thriving environment and solidarity with others. This goal for individuals and society is a long-term, dynamic process, whereby actors work collaboratively from across civil society and the public and private sectors, operating at different levels—individual, family, community, regional, national and international—to:

  • Protect human life and dignity by caring for poor and vulnerable people
  • Increase resilience by protecting, building and maximizing family and community human, social, political, physical, financial, natural and spiritual assets
  • Promote right relationships between all people, and within and across families, communities and nations
  • Increase equitable and inclusive access to and influence on structures and systems at all levels

What is “integral human development”?

IHD is a holistic approach to development that promotes the good of the whole person and every person. The intended impact of IHD is for people to reach their full potential in an atmosphere of peace, social justice and human dignity.

How We Achieve Our Intended Impact

CRS contributes our unique expertise and relationships to the realization of integral human development through the following actions across the agency to:

  • Build capacity of our partners and ourselves to increase opportunities for people to live to their full human potential by supporting families and communities to move from vulnerability to resilience through equitable and inclusive livelihood strategies
  • Prove and take to scale evidence-based approaches that respond to local needs and foster local leadership
  • Cultivate strong relationships for effective collaboration, mutual learning, joint leadership and local innovation across the global network of Catholic organizations and individuals who share our vision of IHD
  • Build connections across the public and private sectors and civil society to create lasting, positive solutions to poverty and injustice
  • Influence policies and practices that promote IHD

Environmental Scan

The world has made unprecedented progress in reducing poverty over the past three decades. While there is much to celebrate and learn from this success, more than 1 billion people continue to experience the daily deprivations of extreme poverty.

CRS engaged in a comprehensive review of the major trends facing poor and vulnerable people outside the United States, key changes in the international relief and development environment, and opportunities for us to advance our mission in light of these trends and changes.

The world has made unprecedented progress in reducing poverty over the past three decades. In 1990, more than 1.8 billion people lived in extreme poverty. By 2010, that number was estimated to have dropped to 1.2 billion. Although there is much to celebrate and learn from this success, more than 1 billion people continue to experience daily deprivations of extreme poverty that impede their development and potential. At a more macro level, these include the growing numbers of the poor living in countries that are middle income, fragile or in conflict; the more than 850 million chronically food insecure people who go to bed hungry every night; and the high price the poor are paying for climate change as land degradation and droughts lead to increased potential for ethnic and political tensions and conflict over scarce natural resources..

At the same time, the environment in which we work is also changing—including the policies and resources that affect poor and vulnerable people, and the ability of organizations such as CRS to work effectively. Current trends include continuing fiscal and economic pressures on U.S. government and other important foreign aid; an increase in direct funding to local governments and civil society organizations; and emerging new players and new donor models. Donors in general are demanding better accountability and scalable solutions.

With our understanding of the environment, the social mission of the Catholic Church and CRS’ unique organizational attributes, we will benefit from key opportunities to advance our mission in the coming years. Our faith-inspired mission and values appeal to diverse donors and individuals, and our broad and deep network of local partners—especially in the Caritas Internationalis family—provides a platform for scale, impact and influence. Our depth of experience and technical expertise foster innovation and learning.

The challenges of global poverty and injustice are complex and multidimensional, but there are proven ways to address them. In the end, the faces of poverty are as profound and complex as the hopes and aspirations of human beings. But we also know from experience that the human spirit is remarkably resilient, and poor people and countries, in partnership with people of goodwill around the globe, can alleviate poverty and help people to flourish.

Our Aspirations




million people
around the world


Catholics in the U.S.

Over the next 5 years, we will increase our impact and outreach to those in need and aspire to:

  • Empower 150 million poor and vulnerable people overseas through continuously improving programs that respond to emergencies, strengthen the health, well-being and livelihoods of families and communities, and nurture peaceful and just societies
  • Inspire and engage more than 10 million Catholics in the United States to take action in solidarity with poor and vulnerable people overseas as an integral part of their faith