What led you to the work that you do today?
I was born here in Madrid. I had my first experience as a volunteer while I was in high school, and during my last year of high school and first year of university, I spent a year and a half living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I became involved in social initiatives. These experiences left me with a deep sensitivity for the grave consequences of economic injustice.
During my early years at the public university in Madrid, I recognized the possibilities of becoming involved in development and international aid issues through my economics major; I embraced this gladly, since I was mainly involved in economics for its social dimensions. Everything began to seem connected, as my studies started to touch on the deep feelings I had about helping society.
Before I came to Entreculturas, I worked for eight years (1992 to 2000) with another Spanish NGO which also has a faith inspiration; Manos Unidas. For my first four years there, I was responsible for development cooporation projects within the European Union; I then took on a completely different position, working on development education and social awareness here in Spain: encouraging volunteering, research, and advocacy.
During those eight years at Manos Unidas, many things changed within the organization. It was initially quite a traditional, conservative institution, but in the 1980s and 90s, internal changes helped to transform it into a modern, Catholic NGO that was far more actively involved in advocacy issues. The approach was less paternalistic approach, and the staff became more professional. At the end of the 1990s, however, some people, including some bishops, thought the changes had gone too far, and wanted to return to a more traditional mode. With conflict mounting, I realized I wasn't going to be part of the solution because I was too much involved with one faction, and I felt that some decisions the bishops were making were wrong. I needed to clear out so that new people with fresh approaches could enter.
At this point, in the year 2000, some of my friends in the Jesuits were starting up Entreculturas and said: "Why don't you come with us?" And I have been with Entreculturas since that moment, 10 years ago.
How would you say that your work is inspired by your faith?
It is very important to me to work at a faith based institution. It is not just random that I first worked with Manos Unidos, an institution linked to the bishops, and then for Entreculturas, which was created by Jesuits. The faith focus is important because my interest in social justice arises from my faith experience. It is vital for me to work in an institution that combines these two elements: deep feelings of social justice and deep feelings of faith. My personal faith came from my family environment. I got involved with my Parish when I was young, and through that I got in touch with other people within the same church with the same social justice interests. In my later teenage years, I decided that my faith was something that should affect my whole life. It was not apart from my everyday existence, but rather, my faith was for life and for living. My decisions about what kind of life I wanted to live should come from my faith. Personal, social, and community experiences are the main dimensions of my faith experience.
If I were to explain my identity, I would say that first I am a Christian, then I identify as Catholic. I am close to Ignatian spirituality, which is a way of being a follower of Jesus. It is a spirituality very linked with life—very practical, not just theoretical—which is connected with day-to-day existence as well as big decisions. Personally, I find it a very good way getting deeper and deeper inside myself, because it puts one in contact with one's deeper dimensions. It is spirituality for action: one of main ideas of Ignatian spirituality is contemplation in action.
How does Entreculturas work? How it has developed over the years?
In 1985, the Jesuit educational network that is dedicated to education for the poor in poor countries of the global south, Fe y Alegria, created Fe y Alegria of Spain. At first, the mission of this new organization was simply to raise money from the Spanish government to support Fe y Alegria's educational work in Latin America. Fe y Alegria of Spain carried out this task successfully until 1999. Then, at the end of the 1990s, the Jesuits in Spain decided that they wanted to change their international aid system. They realized that they had too many different Jesuit institutions involved in international aid: many small ones, many isolated ones, and some which had been created by a Jesuit, but were not actually Jesuit institutions. International justice and solidarity is rooted in the heart of the tradition of the Jesuits for more than 400 years and they realized that new ways and institution were needed at this point in history to keep that tradition alive. They realized that they needed a clear, unified perspective for the future, so they took the biggest Jesuit international aid institution, Fe y Alegria of Spain, as a central point, and merged all the other institutions into that one, thus creating Entreculturas. Thus the earlier mission of Fe y Alegria of Spain changed, from simply raising money for Latin America from the Spanish government, to something far more extensive. Our development NGO, Entreculturas, currently operates with approximately 70 employed staff and 400 volunteers, with around 25 volunteers in southern countries: mostly in Latin America, with a few in Africa.
In terms of what we do at Entreculturas, we have two main goals. Our first priority is to support educational activities for the poor of Latin America and Africa that aim to at making real changes or transformations of social realities. We work toward this end by giving financial support to local partners, along with plenty of technical support and human resources support, and by accompanying them closely. This is the most important part our activity from an economic standpoint, and we devote more than 80 percent of our resources to this goal. About two thirds of our activities are with Fe y Alegria, but about 20 percent of our work is with the Jesuit Refugee Service, mostly in Africa, and a bit less in Latin America, all of which focuses on providing education to refugees. Our other 15 percent of resources goes to other social and educational institutions abroad. One reason we have other partners besides Fe y Alegria is that Fe y Alegria just started work in Africa, in Chad, but for us Africa has been a priority for much longer, so we needed to find other organizations with which to work in order to fulfil our goals. Our second organizational goal has to do with our aims here in Spanish society. We have a role to play here: not just to raise money, but also to try to promote solidarity and justice values in our own culture and to promote a more fair perspective in our political and economic relations with these southern countries. To this end, we use education here, mainly with young people, because that's where the possibility of changing attitudes is. We work through schools here in Spain. We provide Spanish schools with resources for teachers, as well as programs, that promote participation in solidarity justice education. Right now we are working with approximately 1,200 schools here in Spain! We have different levels of participation with different schools, ranging from simply sending a school our educational materials and website resources, to creating much closer permanent relations.
What are some of Entreculturas's most successful educational and advocacy programs within Spain?
We have a very exciting program which promotes the role of students to advocate for international social justice in their schools and beyond. We give support to students so that they become responsible for awareness-raising in their own schools. We aim to give the responsibility to students, not just to teachers! One hundred and fifty schools in Spain are now involved with this program, and we have a very close relationship with these schools.
Entreculturas also has a volunteering program which promotes volunteering here in Spain, but also offers international volunteering experience. We see this as another way of changing values. And we don't just want to change values;t we also want to encourage advocacy so public institutions deal better with international issues. We want to push Spanish institutions to take this dimension of international justice far more seriously.
We also have a good deal of activity on the research and advocacy side-- mainly networking with others here in Spain. For example, this week we are part of the International Coalition of Education which is a big civil society advocacy organization started in the year 2000 which involves over 100 countries. It was born of the UN conference in Dakar: a conference which created six goals, two of which became part of the Millennium Development Goals. We have a large mobilization week around this international coalition this week and next, and in all the countries involved, people are organizing activities. Here in Spain, we have many events going on. For example, tomorrow in La Rioja, we will gather around 1,500 students with the president of the government of La Rioja. These students have prepared in their schools some activities around the international right to education, and they will present proposals surrounding these issues to the president of La Rioja. He will listen and answer them.
Next week, Zapatero, the Spanish president, will, hopefully, meet in Madrid with a delegation of 20 to 25 of these students from different cities of Spain. Last October we had a meeting with President Zapatero, and he promised as follow up to hold this meeting. We have been in continual contact since then with the president's staff members, who have shown considerable interest in our work. When they meet with the president, the students will present proposals and appeals about international development and the right to education; the president will respond and, we hope, recommit to the Millennium Development Goals, especially surrounding education. Hopefully he will repeat Spain’s commitment to reach the level of GDP support for development of 0.7 percent quickly. Of the Spanish government’s aid to education, we are asking that at least eight percent go towards basic education; there is now an agreement to that end in our National Congress.
We work with two other NGOs on education: Action Aid (a British NGO which is one of the two or three biggest in Spain, called "Ayuda y Accion" in Spanish), and Educaccion sin Fronteras (which is based in Barcelona). We are leading this Spanish coalition, which is part of an international coalition, because we always try to go about our advocacy through promoting networks and cooperation.
How would you characterize the identity of Entreculturas?
There are three main elements that make Entreculturas who we are. First, our main focus is on education: "Education" not just as a sector of activity, but as a principle. For instance, sometimes we support projects that are not classic education projects (perhaps health projects), because we think they have important elements of education in the sense of formation of people. At Entreculturas, our focus on education is very sharp.
Second, we have a very close relationship with the Fe y Alegria network (they created us originally). This means that we have a completely different story from most northern NGOs, which were born in the north and then create southern branches. We are the opposite, because we were born in the south through Fe y Alegria. This means that the kind of relationships we establish with our partners in Latin America or Africa are very close relationships, with a deep common understandings. We do not just give financial support to a partner; rather, we have a real partnership relationship. Certainly we try for that! And we feel we are part of a bigger, international network, which is quite important.
Third, we are a Jesuit institution and NGO, which means our institution is very much inspired by the Ignatian spirituality. It also has many practical implications; for instance our board is linked with the Society of Jesus here in Spain.
Institutionally, our organization is clearly inspired by faith. Note that one of the major elements of our identity is that we are Jesuit. We are inspired by the Ignatian spirituality of the Jesuits and we try to have that inspiration infuse our daily decisions and our daily activity. We have an identity document which was elaborated in a long process, with the participation of many people; creating it was itself an interesting reflection process!
But, athough we have a Jesuit identity that is very important to us, that does not mean that only people with that identity can participate in what we do. We are actively open. Diverse teams are part of what we do. People who share our goals may come from many different perspectives and backgrounds. Although, we want to be a Jesuit institution, we strive to be an open institution so that people from other faiths or no faith backgrounds at all feel comfortable with Entreculturas.
What is your personal role in Entreculturas? How does it operate?
I am the deputy director of Entreculturas. There is a general director, who is a Jesuit, who works with us just part-time. He and I work very closely together, and it is not easy to distinguish what is his responsibility and what is mine, as we work as one unit. We tryto divide the work evenly, and do most things together. It is less a hierarchy, more a structure of working hand in hand.
As deputy director, I am involved in operational responsibilities: to inspire the strategic planning and follow it up, to follow up on our main activities and programs, to address human resources questions, and to work with fundraising. I spend quite a lot of time in establishing and helping relations with other institutions—networking—especially in relation with Jesuits in Spain and with Fe y Alegria in Latin America. We are members of the Fe y Alegria coalition, and have responsibilities as such. For instance, the network is organized around a specific plan with eight international programs: eight fields in which we think it's better to work closely together. We are responsible for one of those programs, "Accion Publica," which has to to do with advocacy. There are 19 members of this coalition, and though each of us takes one of these eight programs to focus upon, coalition countries with larger capacities (such as Bolivia and Venezuela) represent more than one focus.
Decentralization is a major idea in Fe y Alegria. We have a small central office (which is moving from the Dominican Republic to Bogota, Colombia), but our main responsibilities are carried our in the national offices. Fe y Alegria has about about one and a half million people studying in over 2,000 educational centers, but the Federation is run by a central office of just five people!
We have just elected a new international coordinator for Fe y Alegria, Ignacio Sunol, who was the former director of Fe y Alegria in Bolivia.
How are Entreculturas and Fe y Alegria seen in Spain?
In general, Spanish society doesn't know what Entreculturas is and hasn't heard of it yet! We are still not a very well-known NGO, mostly because we are young—just 10 years old—and most well-known NGOs in Spain are much older. While likely around 90 percent of the Spanish population hasn't heard of us, about 5 percent has heard of us but knows little about us. The other 5 percent know something about us, and I believe has generally good impressions.
Now, we are much better known among people or institutions with some involvement in social issues: not just in international aid but in such circles as the government, trade unions, other NGOs, universities, and so on. In this smaller group, Entreculturas is well-known and appreciated. They especially think we are doing a good technical job, and say we have a good focus: a clear focus on education. We are known as an educational institution. We have also heard that people are happy that we express and communicate our identity quite openly. We clearly say: "We are a Jesuit organization for education," and people here say: "We are happy that you expressed what you are openly!" because in Spain, Catholic institutions don't have the tradition of speaking openly about identity.
Fe y Alegria in Spain is known predominantly through Entreculturas, so the number of people who know Fe y Alegria in Spain is less than the number who know Entreculturas. People who have some link with Fe y Alegria say they have very, good feelings and impressions. For example, the Spanish government is very supportive of Fe y Alegria.
In general terms, the Jesuits in Spain have a very good image. Of course inside the Catholic Church, but also for people outside of the Church, Jesuits are seen as the most open side of the Church, the ones that best prepare people. Some Spanish people may say, "I don't like the Church but the Jesuits are something different." But sometimes people within the Church do not much appreciate that kind of comment.
Focusing on the government of Spain, we feel quite supported by our government. Thankfully, we have received the same support from the previous, Conservative government as from the current Socialist one.
Where does Jesuit education fit into Spanish society?
In Spain, Jesuits are quite important, especially in education. Jesuits have about 65 schools in Spain, serving around 60,000 students. They run three large universities in Spain (and another four smaller ones): in Bilbao (which is quite important in the Basque context), in Madrid (which is Spain's largest private university), and in Barcelona (which is more of a business school, and is seen as one of best Business schools in Europe, and one of the top ten in the world). Jesuits also have other non formal education programs such as radio ECCA in the Canary Islands.
But there is one issue: Jesuit educational institutions in Spain work mostly with middle or upper-class people. There are only two significant activities that directly concern education of poor people. First, Jesuits have a network of around 20 schools in Andalusia in partnership with the regional government of Andalusia: the property belongs to the government and Jesuits manage the programs. The second Jesuit educational institution in Spain which deals with the poor is a radio learning program in the Canary Islands called Radio ECCA, which serves 50,000 students a year through educational radio programs, and now also with e-learning on the internet. This radio education program began in the 1960s and was the main instrument of literacy for the people in Canary Islands! Once most residents of the islands had become literate, the educational network moved on to other activities, and has proven to be very creative. They also have some schools in popular areas that include marginalized students (mainly inmigrants). But these places are the only Jesuit educational activities in Spain with social components. The rest are mostly focused on the upper classes.
Where does Entreculturas get its funding?
Currently, half of our funding comes from national and regional governments: 23 percent of our total funding from the central government of Spain and 27 percent from local and regional Spanish governments. The other half comes from private donors: half of those private donations from companies and other private institutions such as Jesuit institutions, schools, and so on, and the other half from individual donors. Therefore, our funding can be divided into nearly equal fourths: National government, regional governments, private institutions and companies, and private individual donors.
To obtain our governmental funding, we submitted a proposal and the government selected us with a small group of others to fund. Now we have negotiated an agreement in which the government has promised us 16 million euros in funding for the next four years for educational programs in different Latin American countries.
It is worth noting the changes in our funding over the years, as we have seen an impressive increase in private donations. In the year 2000, when Entreculturas was born, we were receiving zero euros from private donors, because private donations were not a part of our old mission as a government fundraiser for Fe y Alegria, though we did have 3 million euros from the government. From 2000 to 2005, we increased private donations for Entreculturas to 8.5 million euros! At that time we were receiving very significant support from AVINA Foundation, a grant of around 150,000 euros a year for three years to jump-start our private fundraising. AVINA sees us now as one of their most significant successes.
AVINA supported us in four main activities. First, we wanted to form a network of local offices in Spain. Entreculturas, in 1999, had only had one office, here in Madrid. We made one person responsible for this task, and they traveled throughout Spain, presenting Entreculturas to people and trying to get volunteers to start up a branch. We now have 25 local branches, staffed by more than 300 volunteers and 15 staff members. These local branch offices have the goals of awareness-raising and fundraising.
Second, we set out to build relationships with companies and private institutions. When we got the grant from AVINA, some companies in Spain were just starting to talk about social responsibility, so we got into that discussion at the right moment. We hired a very professional woman fresh from a company and are now collecting 4.5 million euros from companies and other private institutions.
And third we wanted to promote volunteer work, in part to staff our local offices. We also made a person responsible for promoting volunteering, accompanying volunteers, and providing training. And finally we worked to build a fundraising capacity through communication activities such as our website and our magazine.
Another very important source of financial support for Entreculturas in the beginning was the Jesuits in Spain. They decided they wanted Entreculturas to become a Jesuit NGO, and they gave it priority. We are grateful that they helped us find volunteers as well as money in the beginning and thar the whole Society of Jesus in Spain supports the activities of Entreculturas so wholeheartedly.
Where do you see Jesuit education going? What do you see as its future?
Jesuit education here in Spain has three main challenges for the coming years. The Jesuits changed their worldwide mission some years ago. Now, it is to promote faith and justice and inter-religious and intercultural dialogue. This means that social justice is now at the top of their mission. Therefore, the main question for Spanish Jesuit educational systems is: how are we promoting justice with our education institutions? Jesuits have proven to be very successful at educating Spain's high and medium class, but those people usually go on to top staff positions and from there it is not so clear that they are committed to social justice. Therefore, some things should change as Jesuits are taking this question of justice and faith seriously. They will need to look at the way they are educating.
We have fewer and fewer Jesuits here in Spain: currently only about 1,500. In 20 years, this figure will be less than half. So this means that the Jesuits of Spain must prepare and work for the future with lay people. In the coming years, all these Jesuit education systems will almost all need to be carried on by non-Jesuits. Therefore one must ask: how can you have a Jesuit institution with no Jesuits? In fact, this is possible. Just look at Entreculturas! Out of 500 Entreculturas staff members, we have just two Jesuits... but we still truly are a Jesuit institution.
Jesuits are quite well trained, but they are trained to work alone and by themselves. The new challenge for the Jesuits is networking: among themselves, with lay people, with other faith based institutions, and with the whole society.
And what do you see as the future challenges for Fe y Alegria?
Fe y Alegria has just approved a new strategic plan with four main areas of focus:
First, how do we increase the quality of education given to the poor in Latin America? Today, we don't think the problem in Latin America is the number of people studying, so the priority shouldn't be to build new schools because there are generally enough. Fe y Alegria sees that the main problem now is to give good education to poor people. And the challenge becomes how to do this without spending tons of resources.
Second, how do we advocate with national governments and institutions so that they take seriously the responsibility of giving good education to the poor? How can we make public educational systems in these southern countries become good for the lowest classes? We are also looking at how international institutions and international governments are supporting this. How can we shift public opinion in Latin American countries to take more seriously the priority of education? We want society to appreciate that it is worth spending funds on education. We want society and governments to take care of teachers and students.
And how can we ourselves organize in a better way, to be more efficient?
And last but not least, how can we respond to the new challenges of our world? For example, how can we offer the Fe y Alegria model to Africa: the new frontier? In Latin America, these challenges include how we work with indigenous people, lay people, and disabled populations. We are also trying to deal with the massive epidemic of violence in Latin America. One colleague told me recently that in Venezuela, 17,000 people are killed each year, and only 2 percent of murderers are actually caught and brought to jail! There is no doubt that this violence is affecting our students in Fe y Alegria's school network. How can we best address it?
And finally, what are the future challenges and goals of Entreculturas?
I would highlight four. First, how do we increase the support that Spanish people—donors, schools, companies, etc.—are giving to us? How do we become more representative of Spanish society?
Our second future challenge is Africa. We are quite used to working in Latin America, and we have good relations there, but we are still just getting started in Africa. We now have projects in: Chad, southern Sudan, northern Uganda, Kenya, Cameroon, Burundi, Eastern Congo, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and South Africa (where we mostly focus on migrants and refugees from Zimbabwe). Perhaps this is too many countries! But we choose our project countries by asking: "Where do we have network relations? Where is the biggest need? Where is there some interest in Spanish international aid politics from national aid or regional government?" For example, our Zimbabwe priority was established by our partners at the Jesuit Refugee Service, because they said to us, "The situation there is the worst, and we need your support." It is central to us that we listen to our partners, and this is because our identity is centered around the south. Our priorities are the priorities of our partners, and the direction of power is south to north, not north to south. We do not decide our priorities alone, but rather with the input of our partners.
Our third challenge at Entreculturas is networking at the European level. We have done a good job networking here in Spain, as well as in Latin America, and we are starting to network in Africa. However, we have very few relations with other European countries, and that type of partnership should be a priority.
Finally, we are a development NGO, and our field is international aid, meaning we focus on southern countries. That said, now in Spain we have an increasing number of people immigrating here from Latin America and Africa. This begs this question: does this have anything to do with Entreculturas? Should we start projects with these immigrant populations here in Spain? We have said, "Yes, migration and development should be our issues," but what does it mean and what can we do? We are reflecting on this. It will be the new field of action in the next few years. It could also be a point of connection between us and other European countries, as we are all exploring the best ways to work with our immigrant groups.
In a fascinating twist, we have identified that a large number of Latin American immigrants in Spain have actually studied in Fe y Alegria schools in their home countries! We have also realized that there are a number of Latin American fathers working here in Spain who have children currently studying at Fe y Alegria schools back home. For example, the number of Bolivian immigrants to Spain has increased a lot in the last five years, and in Bolivia, Fe y Alegria school networks educate 15 percent of local students. This means that, most likely, 15 percent of the Bolivian immigrants in Spain studied with Fe y Alegria. We have already done research in Bolivia with Fe y Alegria students to see how many have their parents living outside of Bolivia, how many of them are in Spain, and what the implications of this are for the children. In the future, we hope to undertake research from the Spanish side of this issue to see how many immigrants in Spain have children studying in Bolivia, and what are the concerns and implications from this. Is some connection possible between these people and places? At Entreculturas, we imagine ourselves as a bridge, or as a bridge builder. We strive to connect. We are also thinking of even going farther. People from Latin America who have studied in Fe y Alegria and had a good experience can perhaps continue training with us, if Fe y Alegria is a good reference for them. Maybe we can have educational programs for Latin American migrants working here in Spain. This is already being tried in Italy in a very interesting way. Two or three Jesuits who lived in Latin America knew about Fe y Alegria and started working with migrants in Italy, offering educational courses through Ecuador's Fe y Alegria distance learning program for adults. When people complete this course of education, they get their secondary diploma from Ecuador, and the Italian government recognizes this Ecuadorian diploma in Italy, so that the students can then go on to an Italian university. Now, one reason this program is such a success in Italy is because Latin American migrants find studies easier in Spain than in Italy, so such a program may not be of interest here in Spain. In fact, Spain's educational system for adults is quite good, so we are not sure if running such a program is necessary here.
We have several other ideas developing at Entreculturas. We are always looking for ways to improve, innovate, and form new partnerships!
What led you to the work that you do today?