November 21, 2016 by Debra Gittler


As the holidays approach, we all have the family themes that provoke some angst. For me, it’s the cousin who always asks: “When are you going to get a real job, Debra? Don’t you need to make a salary?”

He doesn’t understand the basic model of a non-profit. Yes. I make a salary. And Yes! I run a business. In ConTextos, we are driven by purpose, not profit.

…But we still need money to make change.

A traditional business attracts clients who purchase a service. For organizations like ConTextos, we have two types of customers:

1) Donors (foundations, individuals) who “pay” us in the form of tax-exempt support.

2) Beneficiaries, which in our case are the teachers, students, young people and their families we serve.

(There should be a number 3 to detail our revenue-generating model, through which organizations or private sector hire us through a more traditional business model… but that’s for another blog post.)

Last week, at our Third Annual Teacher Conference, we were able to see the lines between these two customer bases merge…

Each year we honor a significant donor—someone who gives of their time, their expertise, or their pocket to make ConTextos more effective. These aren’t just donors, they’re real supporters. This year, we named the award.

“Se Da Acá.” The name literally translates as something like “give of yourself here” or “commit yourself here.” We chose this title, though, based on the Hebrew word “Tzedakah.” Tze-da-ka is often translated as charity, but it stems from the word justice. Tze-da-ka is the money we give to create a more just society. It’s the money that we commit to heal a broken world.

So for ConTextos, Se Da Acá honors those donors who don’t give to ConTextos out of charity. They give to create justice. They give to heal a broken world.

This year, we honored the Strachan Foundation, based in Costa Rica, and their Executive Director Miguel Tello. In 2011, Strachan was the first foundation to donate money to ConTextos. They took a big risk on an upstart organization. Since then, they’ve donated well over $150,000 in dollars, support, guidance and opportunities.

But it isn’t just donors that took a risk with us. Or invest in ConTextos as a means toward a more just world.

Hundreds of teachers, too, stay committed to our work. Over 400 teachers attended the conference last week. And every single one of those teachers paid their own transportation costs—ConTextos didn’t pay a single dollar in viáticos (per diem) which is virtually unheard of in El Salvador.

But our teachers went a step further…

Teachers donated a total of $178.75 cents in cash during the conference. Not only did they invest to attend, they invested in the future of the organization. This $178.75 will launch a new fund in ConTextos. Our teachers will be invited to apply for small “grants” to fund their own school-based projects.

Including their transportation costs, teachers paid over $800 out of pocket to invest in ConTextos. And their own professional development.

So this week, when we sit down at Thanksgiving dinner, I’m pretty excited to tell my cousin: “Never!” I’m never going to get a “real” job in a traditional business model. I’m going to continue to work for purpose, not profit. And I’m so, so honored to share this space with so many others who constantly strive for a more just world.

Article published in El Diario de Hoy.

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