Carolina Biquard is working to strengthen the burgeoning Argentine social sector through a series of activities that introduce to non-profit organizations a new culture of management and institutional development and provide them with the concrete skills needed to maximize their impact.
The New Idea
Drawing upon the philosophy of North American management specialist Peter Drucker, Carolina Biquard is developing and spreading a new model of training and support for Argentine citizen sector organizations. By bringing together non-profits from across Argentina to share their experiences, learn about successful management and fundraising strategies, gain valuable skills, and begin to collaborate with one another, she is tackling an issue–the efficient provision of social services via the not-for-profit sector–that was previously under-recognized and untouched in Argentina. Moreover, through campaigns and seminars designed to build awareness of the growing Argentine non-profit sector, Carolina is helping the public, as well as government and business, to understand and support the vital role that non-profit organizations play in their communities. Through her creative adaptation of theories developed in other countries, she is forging a response to citizen-sector management challenges that is appropriate to the Argentine context.
Until recently, the Argentine State–like its neighbors throughout much of Latin America–assumed full responsibility for all major social programs, while citizen organizations served primarily as shadows of those State-led initiatives. Due, however, to a significant reduction in government services and the failure of market forces to adequately address social needs, a powerful new citizen sector has emerged in recent years and has established itself as a key actor in the daily lives of Argentines. Known as the "third sector," this group is comprised of not-for-profit organizations working in all areas of community concern and providing social services throughout Argentina. Only recently has the "third sector" begun to command the respect, interest, and cooperation of a wide array of citizens, government officials, and the private sector.
As they struggle to improve the quality of life in their communities, these organizations are faced with a number of institutional challenges–often shared by similar organizations around the world–such as fundraising, evaluating their programmatic successes and failures, and defining their missions and goals in accordance with the changing needs and realities of their constituencies. Training programs in Argentina to improve organizational development and management have almost exclusively been introduced in the private sector to commercial businesses. Moreover, the management tools designed specifically for non-profits generally come from the United States, and thereby lack the cultural specificity required in Argentina and other Latin American countries.
Through the organization she founded in 1994, Fundación Compromiso or the "Commitment Foundation," Carolina has designed a multi-layered training and support program for non-profit organizations which enables them to confront the challenges of institutional formation and growth, and to realize their full potential as agents of social change. The Foundation is guided by three overarching goals: (1) to raise public awareness of the importance of non-profits in the country's social and economic development, (2) to strengthen non-profits by teaching members how best to run their organizations, and (3) to facilitate the sharing of experiences and create a social network based on democratic values and civic participation. In addition to its six full-time and three part-time staff, the Foundation is led by a ten-member Board of Directors that includes many prominent business leaders. The Board routinely evaluates each of the Foundation's programs and activities, taking into consideration whether or not they conform to the Foundation's mission and whether or not the moment has arrived when another existing institution could take on responsibility for providing those services. In order to avoid over-extending the Foundation's resources and diluting its mission, while remaining current with the needs and challenges of the non-profit community, the staff and Board of the Foundation try to maintain a healthy balance between old and new programs.
To help non-profits improve their administration and management skills, fundraising capabilities, and communications strategies, the Foundation offers a series of free workshops and round-table discussion groups. The workshops are issue-specific and led by experts in the relevant discipline. The Foundation hosts an average of nearly 200 such workshops per year nationwide. The round-table format of the workshops, in turn, brings together non-profit workers from diverse fields who share similar roles and responsibilities and creates a space in which they can discuss their problems and find common solutions. For instance, one round-table will consist entirely of executive directors, and another will be comprised of administrative assistants. Another aspect of the workshops that addresses the need to adapt training models to fit the cultural context of the NGOs is the use of Argentine and Latin American case studies in the workshops. Through these workshops and round-tables, Carolina is working not only to strengthen Argentine non-profits as institutions, but also to build bridges among them and fertilize a sense of community.
Another key aspect of the Foundation's work is its Self-Evaluation and Planning Program, funded by the AVINA Group and by local businesses. Trying to move beyond the here-and-now perspective of many non-profits, this program teaches organizations how to clarify their mission, evaluate their successes and failures, identify their needs, and devise viable strategic plans. To date, over 30 organizations have benefited from this program. The Foundation also hosts an annual national conference devoted exclusively to the social sector and organized in large part by a team of 25 volunteers. Past topics have included non-profit leadership, fundraising, and cross-sector alliances. The conferences boast an average turnout of 700 individuals representing roughly 400 organizations.
In order to ensure that organizations outside of the Buenos Aires metropolitan area are not left behind in this non-profit management revolution, Carolina is very conscientious about extending the Foundation's valuable array of services nationwide. In 1997 alone, over 900 individuals from the non-profit sector participated in workshops held in the interior of the country–more specifically in the cities of Salta and San Luis, and the provinces of Neuquén and Misiones. Moreover, the Foundation is providing materials and training members of partner organizations, such as the Alleluia Foundation in the city of Rosario, to lead workshops and round-tables for local non-profits. Through a partnership with one of Argentina's largest publishing and bookstore consortiums which is in the midst of a major national expansion effort, the Foundation will organize workshops in communities throughout the country, to be held in and co-sponsored by the new bookstores, on topics related to the non-profit sector.
To date, over 5,000 individuals, representing more than 2,000 institutions, have participated in the Foundation's activities. As the Argentine non-profit sector continues to grow, Carolina's work will ensure that their voices are heard and that their labors prove fruitful.
From an early age, Carolina remembers hearing adults tell one another "don't get involved." She was told that it was the State's responsibility to take care of the community. She describes her parents' generation as passive, in part due to the restrictions imposed by dictatorial rule and the legacy of a paternalistic State. Frustrated by the way people seemed to sit around and not act, Carolina wanted to get involved and do something for her community. After receiving her degree in law, she became involved in a project working with street children in Buenos Aires, called Fundación Marco Avellaneda. While there, she was impressed by the Foundation's desire to build a better community, not simply help children through charitable activities. After three years as a volunteer, she decided to abandon her career as a lawyer and dedicate herself full-time to a new activity: fundraising for the project and communicating its mission to the outside world. In her own words, she hoped to "become a human bridge between this project and the community."
While on vacation in the United States in 1991, Carolina did some fundraising in New York for the street children center's bakery project. The challenges of fundraising awakened within her a new passion which, combined with her lifelong commitment to helping others, pushed her to explore the world of management training, fundraising and marketing. She remained in New York for a year, taking classes and seminars at the Support Center of New York and NYU's School of Continuing Education. While in the States, she made contacts with the Rabbi Marshall Meyer, Peggy Dulaney, and the Kellogg Foundation. Rabbi Meyer encouraged her to follow what he called her "historic vision" to transform the non-profit community in Argentina and beyond. After this trip, she felt that she had found her place in the world, and never doubted herself. She returned to Argentina in 1992 and taught non-profit management and fundraising courses for two years at the University of Belgrano in Buenos Aires. In the meantime, she received a Master's Degree in Non-Profit Management from the New School for Social Research (a program which allowed her to complete the degree in Argentina) and attended several Drucker Foundation seminars in the U.S. She also received a scholarship from the Kellogg Foundation to participate in their Seminar in Philanthropy in April of 1993. She founded Fundación Compromiso the following year.