Cecilia Margarita Suárez Trueba

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Mexico
Fellow since 2000
This description of Cecilia Margarita Suárez Trueba's work was prepared when Cecilia Margarita Suárez Trueba was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000 .

Introduction

By matching corporate donors with non-profit organizations that help children, Cecilia Suárez Trueba demonstrates new ways to reunite Mexico's estranged private and voluntary sectors.

The New Idea

In many countries, the private sector habitually supports the social sector. But in Mexico, this kind of reliable relationship does not yet exist. Cecilia recognized that, in fact, businesses do have the good will and good sense to contribute to social programs. What was missing, however, was an intermediary agent that understood the preferences, needs, and resources of donors and recipients alike.Cecilia strengthens corporate ties to the social sector by specializing in organizations and projects that help poor children. Her foundation was established in Mexico City in 1997, after Cecilia realized that private enterprises were searching for ways to make donations and participate in social programs. Their good intentions were hampered, however, because most Mexican corporations, especially small and medium-sized companies, do not know how to identify and evaluate prospective beneficiaries. Where donors lack the time or expertise to research recipients, Cecilia advises; where projects lack the ability to tap corporate funds, Cecilia makes the connection. Beyond donations, she helps companies establish staff volunteer programs and manages and distributes a stock of in-kind contributions.

The Problem

The huge chasm that separates Mexico's growing private and non-profit sectors is not empty; filling it is a general feeling of distrust and a particular wariness on the part of corporations that have seen past charitable contributions misused or squandered. Nevertheless, the lack of unified effort among citizen organizations, corporations, and government hinders Mexico's development. Poverty and social problems in general need to be tackled by all three with equal intensity, and these efforts must be compatible.

Facilities for poor children are one example of a social service needing help from the private sector. Institutions that care for children in Mexico lack proper space. Many shelters, boarding schools, and orphanages operate with limited resources and are unable to maintain, renew, remodel or adapt their facilities. This affects their daily operation, affects the children, and in some cases it even results in their leaving these centers to return to the streets.

The Strategy

Cecilia offers companies the opportunity to lower the risk and raise the effectiveness of their contributions. But Drawing a Tomorrow, or Dibujando un mañana, is not merely a clearinghouse or middleman for donations. It researches the problems and needs of children's organizations and selects those which stand to benefit most from the program.

When she started, Cecilia sent letters to over six hundred institutions that work with children, inquiring about how they work and what they need. One hundred and thirty five replied and agreed to participate. By interviewing seventy-seven of these, she and her colleagues determined that 80 percent needed help with basic infrastructure and facilities. They decided to concentrate on helping these organizations improve their physical plants, and have chosen to work with two organizations each year. She selects those with new and interesting projects, publicizes their work, shares their experiences, and holds them up as good examples for less experienced or accomplished organizations to follow. Once it has chosen a project, Cecilia's group conducts an extensive needs assessment, evaluates existing facilities, and helps plan the improvements. Recipient projects must raise half the funds needed, and Cecilia works with the private sector to produce the rest.

Cecilia has designed various ways for contributors to participate. They can make donations, host fundraising events, and create staff volunteer programs. If they make or raise in-kind contributions -- books, food, educational supplies -- Cecilia accommodates the goods in donated warehouse space until she can find the best use for them.

The foundation undertakes initiatives at a regional level in Mexico City and surrounding areas as well as the State of Mexico. Long-term goals include reproducing this program in other regions and searching for local companies to become involved in the communities where they can have social impact. Cecilia will also seek government participation.

The Person

Cecilia was born in Mexico City. From an early age she worked as a volunteer with Educational Family Efforts Towards Faith. After high school she wanted to become a missionary, but her family objected strongly. Instead, she joined the National & Autonomous University of Mexico, where she graduated in 1994 with a degree in Nutrition.

After graduation, she worked at the Mexican Social Security Institute while writing her thesis on the effects of malnutrition on women who are breast-feeding. She retained her strong desire to do social work and joined the Juan Diego Center in Mexico City. There she developed a program to teach low-income youths how to open and run bakeries.

At the Center she met a group of private entrepreneurs interested in assisting organizations dedicated to the welfare of children. From this interaction her idea for uniting the private and citizen sectors was born.