July 27, 2015 by Debra Gittler


I’ve been six weeks away. Chicago through Salt Lake City to Los Angeles to Chicago to DC to NY to Nicaragua.

I had plenty to write about in those weeks, but didn’t manage even a single blog entry. For a good while, I had a rhythm to the ConTextos’ blog. And then something happened, and now it’s been weeks and I haven’t written a peep.

I may be making excuses, but my silence wasn’t avoidance or laziness or too-busy-with-other-things-ness…

It was thinking time. Planning time. Perspective time.

This is a time of transition. No longer founding, but managing, running, growing ConTextos.

Becoming a true international NGO. Comfortable in our framework and footprint. Now steeped in the question: from here, where?

We aren’t asking: “Scale vs Sustainability?”

We are asking: “How do we sustainably scale?”

Saw this wall just days before I left El Salvador in May… a good metaphor for where we are as an organization: exposed, trying to keep it clean and well positioned!

We have answers to that:

Starting this month, we’re launching the pilot of iLEER, incorporating e-readers and digital libraries into our programming. We’re pioneering the use of the technology in the schools and region. Growing wide in terms of what we provide in order to take our schools, teachers and students deeper into the learning process.

We are not taking on new schools. At least, not too many new schools. We’ll accept only nine more schools through 2016. Staying a comfortable size so that we can better understand our schools, our work and our results. Investing more and more in our staff. Building our capacity. So that when we do scale—however that might be—it’ll be done to emphasize and maximize impact! (Not just reach.)

We’re also growing Central America Reads (CALee), the regional network of literacy organizations that ConTextos’ leads. Perhaps one of the greatest learnings—(or ideas, really… it’s still just an idea)—is that we can scale in reach without growing our footprint. In other words, how can CALee allow powerful organizations to expand their impact without having to set up offices, put more boots on the ground…etc.

And finally, we’re restructuring. Rethinking our organizational chart, our job profiles.

And I, especially, am (re)thinking the role of the Founder.

We aren’t “finding” ConTextos anymore.

And I spend more time away than I spend here.

The leader, yes. But amongst many leaders.

So I’m back in El Salvador. And my leadership is such a small part of the office—the office runs itself. The staff is smart, passionate, self-motivated, self-learning. They bring in more ideas, connections, vision than I do. They are the sustainability. They are the motor for scale. I don’t even know the routines and policies. They’re teaching me…

So I’m back in El Salvador. But not feeling out of place. Traveling, meeting, raising money, building networks… that’s my job. And my job is bigger than the office now. Bigger than the work in the field.

I’m back in El Salvador. But also realize that ConTextos is at a point now that more and more, to be a good leader, I’ll have to be away…

Debra Gittler
Founder and Executive Director

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