At GoPhil, our Learning Networks are an opportunity for our leaders from our partner organizations to come together and share their challenges, lessons learned, updates, and ideas. Our most recent network meeting was with our Guatemalan partners in January 2022. This was their first in-person meeting as they had only been able to meet remotely before due to COVID!

Over the course of three days, the participants attended workshops on the topics of strategic planning with a focus on sustainability, communications, and fundraising – to help them increase their organization’s visibility and diversify their sources of income. These topics were self-identified by the partners, who felt this was a priority after their experiences in the pandemic.

The participants started formulating their sustainability plans (that included a positioning and fundraising plan for their organizations) during the workshop and then worked on polishing it up over the next month. They then presented their plans virtually to the other participants and to one experienced donor who was invited so that their partners could exercise their presenting skills with potential supporters. The workshops and one-on-one sessions were led by the president and co-founder, Alejandro Bonilla, from Nex Fundraising, an International consulting firm that specializes in strategic planning, social marketing and fundraising for non-profit organizations and social enterprises in Latin America. After spending time with the leaders, Alejandro volunteered to facilitate a session before the end of 2022 to evaluate the organizations’ success with their plans!

Our partners are now implementing their plans and have managed to involve other key staff and board members in communications and fundraising. For example, Comunidad La Esperanza has focused on strengthening their external communications, in particular their social media, with the support of their staff and board members. Within the first month of implementing their new strategy, they reached over 20,000 people organically with their posts! An incredible achievement!

EntreMundos has been actively involving staff and board members in their efforts and have continued to develop strategic goals- they are now raising funds to develop a new strategic plan with the support of a consultant, aiming to strengthen the organization.

Aula Mágica has been focusing on growing their supporters’ base and improving their communications.

Although the participants had received training on similar topics before, they all expressed feeling engaged, having learned new things and improving their confidence in these areas. They particularly enjoyed the methodology which focused on practicing, presenting, and discussing throughout the learning process. They ultimately left the workshop feeling empowered to make changes in their organizations to be more sustainable.

“This workshop has shown me that fundraising and communications are not as hard as I have always thought they are. I like the methodology because I am learning by doing and I feel more confident to go back and work on my plan from here”

-Hilda Vasquez, Director, Comunidad La Esperanza.

“I have attended workshops on these topics before but it feels like it doesn’t translate beyond the theoretical part once I get back home. In these workshops we are actually developing our plans according to our context and realities, and when we go back we will know which steps to take. We are leaving this workshop with a good idea on what strategies we can implement in the short, medium and long-term.”

-Sofía García, Operations Manager, Aula Mágica.

Cross-learning was at the forefront of the gathering and workshops. Although the participants knew each other from previous activities and had already experienced the self-care for non-profit leaders series together, the pandemic had prevented them from meeting in person. The possibility to interact with each other without the time constraints that normally come with virtual activities allowed for deeper discussions, one-on-one conversations and sharing experiences.

“There are two ways of learning: from our own experiences and from the experiences of others. One of the most valuable things of this gathering is to be able to learn from our network colleagues and to share what we know with them too. Everyone is an expert in something and I am glad to be able to tap into that knowledge to grow as a person and as a professional.”

-William Escobar, Board Member, Comunidad La Esperanza.

“I am impressed with the openness of this group as it is not always the case that participants open themselves and share their vulnerabilities. This group is collaborative and they feel comfortable sharing their knowledge with each other, offering their opinions and feedback and being transparent about their challenges and where there is room for improvement. The interaction among organizations has been great and I think that the network will be stronger and more consolidated after this workshop.”

-Alejandro Bonilla, Facilitator, Nex Fundraising.

“One of my favorite parts about this experience has been to be able to spend time with all the organizations. I see so much knowledge and potential within the network’s participants and their perspectives are really helping our organization to consider aspects that we have not considered before – this can only be helpful to our growth.“

-Lourdes Aguilar, Coordinator, EntreMundos.

Collaborations were born during the gathering too and the organizations have identified ways they can work together. For instance, Aula Mágica will support Comunidad La Esperanza with pre-school methodologies that they can implement in their extra-school program developed in response to COVID. In turn, Comunidad La Esperanza is supporting Aula Mágica to get their programs validated by the government so that the students can receive a pre-school certification.

The Guatemalan network is working on a list of resources to share with each other, such as relevant information and contact details, etc. They have also identified future workshop topics such as the new part-time employment regulations in Guatemala and its implications for non-profits, risk-management, and the new NGO law and its impact.

Shortly after the gathering, the network received some great news: CIRCULA: Center for Restorative Leadership, the organization that partnered with the network for the self-care series, offered scholarships to the members of GoPhil’s Guatemala Learning Network to participate in their Leadership and Collaboration Certificate in alliance with University for Peace. Hilda Vásquez, Yessica Pastor, and William Escobar are currently representing the network on this course that includes leaders from all over Guatemala and Central America.

The network members are planning to meet soon to visit each organization’s headquarters and see their work first-hand. This is an exciting opportunity for them to continue exchanging experiences and learning! They have also started having conversations about applying for funding jointly and supporting each other as consultants. The topic of self-care and well-being keeps being referenced and promoted constantly.

“Participating in the network has been an amazing experience- my vision for the network is that we can all grow from it. We all have so much potential and expertise, we can all contribute to enrich our knowledge by sharing and exchanging, but we can also be of support to each other, we can help each other secure opportunities, showcase each other’s work and impact, consult on our projects, etc. This will be an excellent platform for mutual support.”

-Yessica Pastor, Director, EntreMundos

“What excites me the most about the network is to meet more people and organizations so we can all support and strengthen each other- my goal for the network is that we grow and invite other organizations to participate so that each organization from their own line of work can contribute to strengthen our communities.”

-Lucía Díaz, Academic Manager, Aula Mágica.

Soon, the network will grow into the Latin America Learning Network as we will invite our new Oaxaca partners to join. We are also looking forward to learning how the leadership training impacts the self–management of the network and what new ideas these amazing leaders come up with. And we are very excited to find out how the partners get on with the implementation of their sustainability plans.

Stay tuned as we continue to develop our community with the network!

If you have any questions or proposals for the Guatemala Learning Network please contact Mae at [email protected].