As a graduate student at the Monterey Institute of International Studies working toward a Masters in Public Administration and International management I am utilizing my summer as a prime opportunity to take an internship abroad in Latin America. I have landed in the Yucatán region of Mexico to work with Centro Ecologico Akumal, an organization working to create models for sustainable tourism development in the Mexican Caribbean through research, education and outreach.
Upon my initial meeting with the director of Akumal it became quite apparent that this organization suffers from the same sustainability issues that most social change organization need to address, primarily funding. Although roughly 85% of their income is earned income in the form of their program services and fee’s about 15% of their annual income comes from grants. However, due to the world financial crisis, foundations have reduced the number of grants being offered and this has effected Centro Akumal severely maintain a monthly by monthly basis of sustainability and inability build up reserves.
The director’s first request of assistance was to help him write funding proposals to support their various programs. Although I am capable of providing such a service to the organization, I would like to engage in work that has a longer impact than a few proposals produced over the summer for some funding, rather I would like to analyze their existing funding sources and propose various capacity building workshops given my research and analysis.
A particularly insightful meeting was that with the head of finance and administration of the organization. As finance grant manager for TechSoup Global, it is refreshing to engage in a conversation with a staff member who can realistically provide me with an overall summary of the organizations costs and income distribution based upon their services. An interesting conversation with him lead me to understand that the organization is suffering so much from financial sustainability that he believes that every staff member should fundraise for their own salary. He himself is taking fundraising courses in an attempt to support his own position in the future, as he plans to retire in two years.
However, I thought to myself – that sounds like a huge waste of time and inefficiency. A turtle restoration program manager may be great at managing their program, but that does not mean they have the skills to market their program and fund their positions. I explain to him the value of utilizing everyone’s best skills to suite their job responsibilities – to which he agreed, but the mentality of seeking funds was pervasive, and demonstrates the need for my work to produce a financial sustainability plan for this organization so their staff members can focus on the quality and impact of their programs and not securing their salaries.