Enlace Quiché: Metamorphosis from dot-EDU Project to Guatemalan NGO

If USAID, the Ministry of Education, and everyone else is so happy with the Enlace Quiché project, why is it ending so soon?

That was the topic of discussion in mid-2003 among local staff and key stakeholders who had watched the project grow over three years into a respected local player in educational development, pushing the envelope of educational technology as a cross- cutting tool for improving educational quality in Guatemala. Moreover, they asked what could be done to build on and scale up the pilot experiences. The answer was to create a local NGO . This article presents an overview of the transition, highlighting critical decisions and windows of opportunity.

From Cocoon to Butterfly
As a dot-EDU project, Enlace Quiché was in a cocoon in which its basic needs were met, yet its actions were limited. USAID guaranteed funding, while AED and EDC provided administrative and technical guidance, in addition to credibility. However, the project could not work on activities outside its scope. Further, its legal status as a foreign NGO limited the ability to implement joint projects in which another donor expressed interest in tapping into the local capacity by hiring it for small technical assistance to other projects.

Enlace NGO Team in Guatemala
The staff and stakeholders yearned for the butterfly's freedom to choose its own course, accepting the inevitable vulnerability that comes along with freedom. An idyllic NGO life was imagined, in which projects could be designed as local needs were detected and funding could be sought from a variety of sources. Enlace Quiché would be able to make long-term commitments to other organizations and communities. The challenge was to build a local organization that was strong enough to keep up the high level of work and projection that Enlace had received with USAID funding, AED and EDC consultants, and other high-level support.

Designing a Local NGO
A successful local organization cannot be built from above, rather it must grow from the community. For this to happen, leaders need to emerge who are committed to the organization far beyond seeing their role as employees. In Enlace Quiché's case, the local project director, although American, had been living in Guatemala long before being hired by AED and planned to stay after the end of the project. He made a personal and professional commitment to the NGO, which has given continuity in leadership and smoothed much of the turbulence during the transition. The first steps were to gain support from the project donor (USAID) and the parent NGO (AED). Since both were pleased with the project and concerned about sustainability, it was easy to generate excitement. Senior AED employees gave guidance and helped get the NGO's creation included as a project deliverable. This turned out to be the most important activity, because the NGO's success was now an indicator of the project's success as well. Thereby, it allowed for use of project funds for many of the start-up costs and allowed USAID to direct other resources to the NGO.

The next step was to structure the board of directors. Legal requirements vary from country to country and will influence decisions. More importantly, the organization must decide what it expects from the board. Normally, the board serves as an advisory and supervisory body that does not get involved in day to day operations, but rather provides backing to the NGO by using their spheres of influence to help build the NGO. However, other options are available, such as including senior project employees, who may have fewer contacts, but a much deeper and more direct understanding of the work. Enlace chose a local board of respected partner organizations, with future plans to add to its credibility by creating an international advisory board.

Once the board is formed, it must conceptualize a mission and business plan. Just as a newborn butterfly wants to see the world, a new NGO will have a mission whose scope is far beyond its capacity. This breadth is healthy and offers flexibility for finding funding. The challenge is to develop a realistic business plan. Enlace’s board was overly optimistic that unsolicited proposals to national and international donors would lead to funding. The lesson learned is that an NGO should not rely entirely on grants due to the unpredictability and timing delays. Enlace is now working to complement grant money with fee-for-service income. As a dot-EDU project, Enlace had in-house experience in digital material creation and technical training. Now, Enlace is working to define and promote its capabilities to other organizations. By offering these services to its target population, indigenous peoples and organizations, Enlace can fulfill its mission while generating income.

The transition
Once the NGO begins to have an identity, the parent project must begin to feed it. This should begin one or two years before the project ends. Enlace was legalized just a few months before the end of the dot-EDU project, which was enough to secure donations of office equipment and one of the project vehicles. USAID also helped channel resources to the NGO through another project. A year or more of overlap would have allowed the project itself to begin to hire the NGO for certain technical activities, allowing them to build administrative and technical capacity under project guidance.

In this early stage, the new NGO must develop its administrative procedures, ensuring full compliance with local laws. Also, the NGO must define salary and benefit tables that are attractive enough to retain key project personnel, yet in line with the local market so as to keep the NGO competitive. Enlace took this opportunity to turn the senior staff, who were mostly from outside the Quiché region, into consultants and bring in new local staff, many of whom had been trained by Enlace as project stakeholders.

The NGO must also develop a marketing strategy. For Enlace, this meant changing the perception that Enlace is no longer a USAID-funded project, but instead a struggling NGO. Enlace began to look at project stakeholders as potential funding sources. Some of these organizations began to see Enlace as a competitor. After a year of working to promote Enlace’s new image and model to stakeholders, the NGO has developed its own identity as an independent organization, but with close ties to USAID and AED.

Amidst the strategic planning and search for funds, an exciting activity for the new organization is beginning to define itself as a permanent local partner. Everyone knows that projects come and go, so their role is always temporary. However, an NGO can make longer range commitments to the local community and stakeholders. Enlace immediately joined several inter-agency networks, where it was warmly welcomed.

Perspectives for Enlace Quiché
The Enlace NGO has been received internationally and locally as a new player with a strong niche and much potential. Some of that enthusiasm and good will has already turned into funding, mostly through services for technical assistance to other projects.
Coincidently, the Enlace NGO started up parallel to elections and a new government in Guatemala. This has led to many opportunities and requests for help from Enlace. The challenge has been to get involved and provide assistance, even when no funding is available. As is common in so many NGOs, Enlace has suffered from being over-committed for the amount of resources it has available. The Enlace leadership has tightened its focus to just education-related activities, staying on the margin of many of the government’s new technology initiatives in related areas such as e- government.

Enlace is still in a critical period of defining itself and building a sustainable business model. Despite innumerable short-range challenges, the board and staff and optimistic and excited about the potential that this new organization brings to the development community. Partnerships between international NGOs and local NGOs are clearly becoming more and more the norm for providing cost-effective solutions adapted to specific local conditions. Based on the experience of Enlace and others, indications are that creating a local NGO can be an ideal strategy for sustaining work begun by a development project.

For More Information, Contact:
Kelly Morphy
Senior Program Officer, dot-EDU/Technology Center
Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202 884-8706

Andrew Lieberman
Chief of Party-Enlace Quiche, Enlace Quiche
Academy for Educational Development

Related Resource Partners
Related DOT-COM Activity
Guatemala - Proyecto Enlace Quiche

Guatemala - Transferring Enlace Quiché to NGO Status
Related Links
Click on USAID's logo to visit USAID
Click on Internews Network logo, to visit Internews
Click on Academy for Educational Development (AED) logo to visit AED
Click on Educational Development Center (EDC) logo to visit EDC
Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
© 2002 dot-com-alliance. All rights reserved.
The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government.
Privacy Policy: https://dot-com-alliance.org/policy.htm
Accesibility: https://dot-com-alliance.org/policy.htm#accessibility
Webmaster: [email protected]