The view from my desk has certainly changed since last year. After more than four decades in Arlington, Virginia, the Inter-American Foundation packed up in May and moved its offices into the heart of Washington, D.C., where a short walk connects us with colleagues working in related fields.
This year we also completed a new strategic plan that affirms the IAF’s mission of helping communities thrive and charts our course over the next five years. We consulted widely and reflected on the evolving challenges and opportunities facing our grassroots partners. The IAF became the first federal agency to participate in the Center for Effective Philanthropy’s grantee perception survey, and 84 percent of our active grantee partners responded. Their frank and anonymous feedback shed light on a range of issues: the impact of IAF funding on their communities and organizations, the quality of our working relationship, our grant approval process and the acompañamiento we provide while they work toward their goals. The full report is posted on our website.
We have also updated our presence online. Our new site, www.iaf.gov, includes news and articles relevant to our work, back issues of Grassroots Development, an interactive map of all active grantee partners and ex-post assessments based on visits to former partner organizations five years after their IAF funding ended.
At the close of fiscal 2012, our active portfolio included 267 projects, representing an investment of $69.7 million in IAF funding and $105 million in resources contributed by our grantee partners. During 2012, the IAF awarded over $16 million in grants across 18 countries to support the work of 126 partners that committed counterpart resources valued at $23 million. Most of these initiatives aim to improve economic well-being through more productive agriculture and stronger community enterprises. Others expand access to clean water and sanitation or take on social problems such as racism or violence. The organizations represent some of the most disadvantaged people of the hemisphere: African descendants, indigenous communities, persons with disabilities, women and young people.
While they may be poor, our partners are not passive, and the essence of the IAF’s approach is to encourage community agency. When we are successful, our grantee partners are protagonists—not participants— with aspirations and the ability to think beyond a project and shape their future. Importantly, they do not work alone. They are part of an ever-expanding web of connections that radiates from each project and includes partnerships with businesses, government and nonprofits, sometimes in far-flung diasporas. The most rewarding part of my job is the opportunity to visit the places we work—to talk with and learn from a few of these amazing protagonists.
- Last year, Kevin Healy, the IAF’s longest-serving representative, guided me across Bolivia, introducing me to artists, activists, farmers and entrepreneurs, all dedicated to invigorating their cultural identity and mobilizing community assets. In Santa Rosa, a dusty two-hour drive from Rurrenabaque, we learned how a large municipal park can be managed to protect fragile ecosystems and support inclusive and environmentally sensitive ecotourism. We climbed to 15,000 feet, high above Potosí, to meet with a group of indigenous weavers who had banded together to improve their skills and market their distinctive designs. And we met in La Paz with community leaders who are working with experts to regulate communal land and register their title.
- In Rio de Janeiro, skilled female construction workers took me on a tour of the iconic Maracanã stadium, where they are part of a major renovation in advance of the 2014 World Cup. Far to the northeast, in the arid sertão of Pernambuco, I witnessed a community’s efforts to manage scarce water, including by installing catchment systems and dry toilets. Young people in São Paulo told me about their efforts to promote awareness of issues related to the environment and social justice. And in Rio and Recife, I learned about courageous and thoughtful work to expose and address racism.
The IAF’s accomplishments and legacy are built on the vision and efforts of a diverse array of individuals dedicated to working at the grassroots. In September, the development community mourned the loss of one of these individuals, Dr. Sheldon Annis, our friend and colleague, who worked at the IAF in the mid-1980s. Sheldon was an influential founder of our journal Grassroots Development, and he produced Direct to the Poor: Grassroots Development in Latin America, a thoughtful book that became a touchstone for development professionals. His creative energy and incisive questions enriched our work and our lives, and we are grateful to him.
I want to thank the IAF’s board and advisory council for their support and guidance through many changes. The heart of any organization is its people, and it is the dedication and humanity of an exceptional staff that make the IAF such a special place to work, where each of us can help build a better world in which communities thrive.
Robert N. Kaplan