Get to know the IAF’s staff and how we work through this series. This month’s interview is with an IAF local liaison, field-based staff who provide key guidance on IAF grants and serve as a link between grantee partners and IAF headquarters staff.
How long have you worked at the IAF?
I’ve been a Local Liaison for 17 years… My youngest daughter was 4 months old when I started working with the IAF. This month, she’s going to be 18 years old. My career with the IAF is almost old enough to vote!
What keeps you working with the IAF?
I love this job. I’ve consulted for non-governmental organizations, multilateral organizations, and governments, and this is the job I like most. For the past five years, I’ve been working exclusively with the IAF because the workload has grown. A lot of the appeal is working with diverse groups, including those in my country who have the least in financial terms but a rich culture, great traditions, and strong social organization. I love meeting people from different cultures.
What do you do at the IAF?
Local Liaisons are links in the communication chain. We’re a source of information, answering questions from potential applicants and encouraging them to apply. Because we’re from the same country as potential grantees, Local Liaisons build confidence with grassroots organizations and provide cultural context to the IAF.
I also participate in preselection visits, where we supplement what grantees proposed in writing with a deeper examination of an organization, because groups often can’t express themselves in the same way in writing. We look for organizational vibrancy that we can nurture: a grantee that’s at a particular place in its development and could be in another place when the IAF grant wraps up. We give the same time—the same opportunity—to all organizations. We try to learn everything about the organization, its history, and its proposed project (desired results, budget) by asking non-leading questions to inform the IAF Programs team as it makes the decision to fund grants.
These preselection visits are revealing and sometimes surprising. Once, an organization in Guerrero sought IAF support for reforestation, and on paper it almost seemed unbelievable, because they’re from a desert. When we visited, they showed us how they intended to plant trees around their water sources for better retention, and they ended up achieving their goals and becoming a strong regional organization. When we invited them to meetings with other organizations, they shared, “We don’t know how the IAF believed in us—we were such beginners.”
What professional training and prior experiences most prepared you to work for the IAF?
I studied anthropology, which basically has to do with knowing other cultures. I’m curious about cultural differences. My first job was with a rural farmer’s organization in the State of Morelos, which gave me an understanding of how grassroots organizations work from the inside. This long experience with community-led organizations helps a lot with my work with the IAF.
Later, I studied social evaluation—essentially economics—at a major business school, Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, where I learned to evaluate the costs and benefits of environmental or infrastructure programs. I apply those insights to evaluating the more intangible costs and benefits of IAF grants.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I would have liked to be a doctor or marine biologist. I always really liked biology and animals, and the sea. That’s the adventurer in me, which relates to what I do now. It’s not adventurous just because we travel and traipse across different terrains: you never know what you’re going to run across.
What’s your favorite part of your work with the IAF?
I love working with rural producers and women’s groups. Here in Mexico, we have a rich sector of cooperatives and large nonprofits, indigenous groups, and community foundations. There’s always something to learn precisely because of the diversity. It’s also rewarding to see how, when we return 10 or 15 years after visiting a new grantee, we find that they have local funding and are still sustaining themselves.
What is your connection with the region?
I’ve traveled extensively in Latin America, both with the IAF and on my own. I prefer traveling with the IAF because I meet and learn from my counterparts. Once, I traveled to Ecuador to learn about a credit system, and took the opportunity to travel with the Local Liaison in Ecuador to see other grantee activities there. Grantees in the Ecuador portfolio were doing things like direct payments for environmental services that I had not seen introduced before by organizations in Mexico. This gave us context to understand the idea when a Mexican grantee proposed it.
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you on the job?
Once, I was in Tijuana visiting a group of Indigenous Mixe internal migrants from Oaxaca who were applying for seed funding from a grantee. I was sitting on a dirt floor in a house built over a landfill. You might assume they would want to invest in improvements to the infrastructure, or at least a bench to sit on. Instead, they wanted to invest in the last instrument they needed to complete their musical group. They knew that with their band complete, they would have an income stream from playing at community parties or festivals that they could then use to invest in infrastructure. Community groups like this teach you life lessons about what’s really important once you’ve earned their trust.
What tool (software, technique, evaluation method, etc.) do you use the most in your daily work?
The tool I use most is what we call “prompting questions” (preguntas generadoras). I try to listen more than I speak, asking things like, “And what do you plan to do about that?” or “Have you thought about doing it differently?” The job is not to give grantees answers but to prompt them to think of solutions.
Thank you for everything you do for the IAF, Azucena!