Avina is Born
In 1994, Swiss entrepreneur Stephan Schmidheiny founded Avina to strengthen the initiatives of social and business leaders seeking to create more sustainable forms of development. Schmidheiny chose Latin America as a geographic focus for action because of his close commercial, cultural and emotional ties with the continent, and his belief in Latin America’s potential to shape its own transformation and to inspire the world.In addition, Schmidheiny’s companies under the GrupoNuevacorporate umbrella had already become noted leaders in sustainable development with special expertise in water management, forest products and housing. With its agile and decentralized structure, Avina emerged as a learning organization dedicated to synergistic action.
Leadership and Innovation in Latin America
Avina spent its first four years of operation identifying and building relationships with several leaders in Latin America who were already promoting sustainable development in the region. Avina established strategic alliances with Ashoka, WRI, Endeavor Fund, and INCAE, as well as other organizations operating in Latin America. By building these early alliances, Avina established itself as a broker by supporting and promoting innovations and projects that advanced the sustainable development agenda. At the end of this period, Avina opened its first offices in Buenos Aires, Argentina; Miami, Florida and Asunción, Paraguay.
Avina provided institutional backing for the Association of Universities Entrusted to the Society of Jesus in Latin America (AUSJAL). The investment facilitated the creation of a virtual support center for the university’s network, including 25 Jesuit universities in Latin America. Avina’s collaboration with Jesuit higher education institutions also extended to the area of primary education, particularly through the Fe y Alegría educational movement, among other initiatives.
At the same time, Avina expanded its activities to Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, and began to focus more on individuals than institutions, supporting a dynamic network of leaders in 15 countries in Latin America. This new approach applied business principles to philanthropy and helped to foster the spread of social entrepreneurship in the region. Partnerships operated similar to commercial joint ventures, emphasizing efficient management with a focus on meeting milestones and deliverables. The term “social investment” was used to underscore that specific grants should produce a measurable return.
More information in our 1999 Annual Report.
By the turn of the century, Avina’s social investments had grown to more than 300 projects. Among Avina’s new initiatives were the foundation’s first projects in Spain with community leaders from Extremadura, the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean coast. Avina also promoted links between business and civil society, particularly in Brazil with 29 new projects initiated there during the previous year.
During this period, Avina partnered with community leaders and developed a range of complementary services to support them, having discovered that it was effective leadership more than funding that drove the success of its initiatives. More information in our 2000 Annual Report
Increased Regional Presence
Avina’s presence grew in Latin America and was strengthened by the establishment of local offices in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Patagonia. Its operating structure was distributed among local representations on the ground, a service center in Miami, and an executive council chaired by Mr. Schmidheiny.
Avina strengthened the links between social and business leaders, especially through its support of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement in several countries in the region. Other cross-border initiatives included work with various leaders and organizations in the Gran Chaco region of the Río de la Plata basin encompassing parts of Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. From these and other activities, Avina and its allies built organizational momentum through the success of partnerships among various sectors of society in attracting government attention and influencing public policy.
During 2001, Avina also promoted the creation of the Social Enterprise Knowledge Network (SEKN), a collaboration between Harvard University and several Latin American business schools. At the same time, it launched the Centro Magis, an association that supports Fe y Alegría, the Association of Universities Entrusted to the Society of Jesus in Latin America (AUSJAL), and other initiatives.
More information in our 2001 Annual Report
A Latin American Institution
To be closer to local partners, Avina decentralized its platform of operations and services with 19 offices in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. It also started a gradual reduction of the annual budget, reflecting the founder’s decision to make Avina a permanent institution rather than an initiative with an expiration date.
Mr. Schmidheiny established Fundación Avina in Panama as a separate Latin American institution–independent from Avina Stiftung in Switzerland–to coordinate the activities of Avina in the region. Avina also strengthened its executive board with the addition of several high-profile Latin American professionals and appointed its first executive director.
Avina saw its evolving role as a one of a service organization for its partners, directing its support toward networks of powerful leaders and partnerships between business, government and social entrepreneurs.
More information in our the 2002 Annual Report.
VIVA is Created
To ensure Avina’s long-term sustainability and to preserve his business and philanthropic legacy in Latin America, Mr. Schmidheiny donated all of his shares in the GrupoNueva consortium of companies he operated in Latin America, to the VIVA Trust. He also removed himself from the organization and Brizio Biondi-Morra was appointed as Avina’s new president. Panama was established as regional headquarters, and Avina closed its office in Miami.
Avina continued to pursue its strategy of providing financial and non-financial services to its members through 100 partners working from 22 offices and service centers in the region. Among these services particularly valued by partners was the ability to engage with other leaders through Avina, whose informal network grew to more than 900 partners and local leaders.
More information in our 2003 Annual Report
To better align operations with institutional objectives, Avina sought feedback from partners and collaborators and began to analyze the foundation’s work in a global context. Increasingly its function became more of a partner organization than a foundation, working as a builder of partnerships and a broker of opportunities. Building networks and alliances with citizens’ groups and business leaders became the backbone of its strategy. Avina began promoting the concept of inclusive business as a new field of impact and innovation, simplifying internal processes to maximize operational efficiency and creating closer collaboration with partners in Latin America and the Iberian Peninsula. The foundation opened branches in Colombia and launched a strategy for Mesoamerica, an area covering Central America and southern Mexico. Avina’s president also became its executive director in 2004.
More information in our 2004 Annual Report
Strategic Unification and Indicators
Avina entered its second decade with a commitment to bringing about changes in society on key issues such as equity, democratic governance and rule of law, sustainable economic development, conservation and natural resources management. Its vision, values, and institutional strategy were established through a process of internal collective building. Avina also increased its support for shared agendas for action among a variety of actors as an effective way to build social capital and achieve specific transformations. Avina established a unified strategy for the institution and all of its offices in an effort to reflect on the essential elements of its model of intervention. To more precisely manage and measure outcomes, it also adopted the “balanced scorecard” system of measuring results.
Avina closed its offices in Spain to give way to a virtual platform linking Latin America and Europe. At the same time, Avina opened a new office in Ecuador and strengthened its border initiatives on water and coastal marine resources.
More information in the 2005 Annual Report
New Governance and Accountability
By establishing an independent board of directors, Avina separated the roles of governance and management. It also appointed a CEO to lead the executive team. The new board members demanded new standards of transparency and institutional accountability, including a method for measuring institutional performance. At the end of the year separated the functions of chief executive and chairman. In addition, Avina launched its Becas (Awards) program to support investigative journalism projects throughout the region.
With a team of 148 employees spread among 22 offices in 11 countries and a social investment of US$22 million, Avina supported an informal network of about 1000 members in 24 countries. In an anonymous survey, over 75% of these Latin American leaders said that Avina’s services improved their ability to impact society.
More information in our 2006 Annual Report
Seeking Scale, New Initiatives
To achieve large-scale impact in areas such as recycling, the Amazon, inclusive business and sustainable cities, Avina promoted networking and shared agendas for action among different actors operating in multiple countries. It also supported initiatives aimed at encouraging new forms of political dialogue and accountability in public administration in Latin America. By 2007, Avina was working directly with nearly 5,000 partners and other allies in the region, and contributed to 128 of its allies’ sustainable development efforts in Latin America. Avina estimates that 10 of these achievements benefitted more than one million Latin Americans.
To optimize its operations, Avina continued to implement rigorous international standards for management transparency, accountability and measurement of achievement against its targets. In the 2007 annual survey, 62% of its partners stated that their alliance with Avina contributed to the success of their initiatives and increased their social impact.
More information in our 2007 Annual Report
Five-Year Strategic Objectives
In its first plenary meeting with its collaborators, Avina laid out its objectives for the next five years, modifying its strategy and structure to achieve these institutional goals. It sought specifically to contribute to social transformation in Latin America on a scale appropriate for the cause. New partnerships also flourished. In conjunction with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Avina supported the Latin American Cooperative Movement of Waste Pickers. Avina and the National Movement of Waste Pickers in Brazil joined the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), the Social Development Ministry of Brazil, the Dutch Cooperation Agency (ICCO), and several private sector partners to expand the competitiveness and community outreach of recycling cooperatives in five Brazilian urban centers.
Avina struck another key partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank to launch the Donor Index for Latin America, an innovative database that for the first time profiled philanthropic efforts in Latin America.
More information in our 2008 Annual Report
New Continental Strategies
In its fifteenth year, Avina completed a process of redesigning its operating model and structure to achieve better alignment with its institutional goals for 2012. The new institutional architecture was aimed at scaling opportunities for impact from the local to the continental level. It boosted support to five programs and causes uniquely relevant to South America: Strategy for the Amazon Biome, Sustainable Recycling, Sustainable Cities, Inclusive Markets, and Access to Water. Avina focused its actions on creating opportunities with demonstrable potential impact on the countries where it operates.
Avina reorganized itself into self-regulated virtual teams, permitting a significant reduction of costs while expanding its presence communities it serves. Fundación Avina in Panama contributed to the creation of Avina Americas, a sister organization in the United States that promotes links between international organizations and the regional-scale strategies that Avina supports. The two Avina foundations also enlisted additional corporate support, signing new co-funding alliances to jointly support their network of allies in Latin America with The Coca-Cola Foundation, the Skoll Foundation, and the Packard Foundation, among others.
More information in our 2009 Annual Report
Solidarity with Chile
Avina responded promptly to the earthquake and tsunami in Chile on February 27, convening a coalition of seven civil society organizations and the Chilean business sector to support to the country’s reconstruction. In a period of six months, the coalition coordinated efforts with local governments and communities to build 1,474 temporary housing units, create jobs in 12 municipalities and stimulate local economies in affected areas.
Avina also attended COP16 in Cancun, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, where it organized a series of events and seminars to enhance the voice and visibility of Latin America and to present the Amazon Fund and the Yasuní-ITT Fund initiatives as ways to preserve the continent’s natural resources.
To jointly support the actions of allies in Latin America, Fundación Avina and Avina Americas formed co-investment agreements with eight international organizations. Avina also decreased its administrative costs by more than US$2 million, which allowed the foundation to maintain its share of social spending despite the impact of the global financial crisis. Throughout the year, more than 100 impact achievements were recorded by Avina’s allies with its support. Twelve of these projects benefited more than one million Latin Americans.
More information in our 2010 Annual Report
Expansion and New Contributions
During 2011, Avina expanded its presence in Mexico with the objective of promoting alliances between Mexican networks and allies and those in Latin America. In addition, Avina invested in 735 new initiatives in the region and registered 75 achievements that constitute concrete accomplishments that have benefited millions of people throughout the entire continent.
After more than ten years of contributing to the development, diffusion and refinement of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Latin America, Avina documented its key learning in this important arena. Through interviews with dozens of participants in the CSR movement throughout the entire region, some conclusions and recommendations for the future were compiled into a publication called In Search of Sustainability.
Avina collaborated with other international organizations and participants in the creation of the Global Social Progress Index to improve the way that country performance and development is measured internationally.
More information in our 2011 Annual Report