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Creating Sustainable Operational Systems for Long-Term Growth: The Case of Al ComPAZ 
Colombia
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Creating Sustainable Operational Systems for Long-Term Growth: The Case of Al ComPAZ

Authors: Miguel Ortega (Spain), Mollie Westbrooke (USA)

ABSTRACT

Al ComPAZ is a music-for-social-inclusion initiative that provides a safe space for children to cultivate their musical talents and express themselves through music. The program currently reaches 59 students in three communities in Bogotá, Colombia. This case study recommends that the organization become more systematized in key operational areas. It focuses on the administrative and operative workings of Al ComPAZ and examines how streamlining operations, cultivating community partnerships, and diversifying funding streams might help create a greater growth trajectory. 

FIELDWORK CONTEXT
5–11 June 2017| BOGOTÁ

During our field assignment in Bogotá, we, Mollie Westbrook and Miguel Ortega, were tasked with leading workshops, master classes, lectures, and seminars, and providing administrative consultation to the program Al ComPAZ and its subsidiary organization Somos CaPAZes. We visited all 3 Al ComPAZ sites and hosted workshops for approximately 60 students ranging in age from 5 to 18 years old. We also delivered a workshop for a Somos CaPAZes site in an area on the outskirts of Bogotá, El Mochuelo, for approximately 30 students, none of whom were actively involved in regular Al ComPAZ programming. 

Since we were afforded flexibility in planning our workshop programming, our workshops covered a variety of educational areas. Activities we presented included social “ice-breaker” games, Bucket Band (i.e. basic rhythmic instruction based off an educational model used in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra OrchKids program), saxophone and clarinet instruction, choir, introduction to collective composition (a process that emphasizes democratic access to music composition through group work), introduction to Jazz music and concepts, movement with music, and reflection/debriefing techniques. Often, we briefly covered all of these concepts within a two-hour session with a group of approximately 15–30 students. As this field assignment was designed to introduce us to all students in Al ComPAZ, we typically had only one interaction with each group of students, except for La Escala in Ciudad Bolívar, which we were fortunate enough to visit three times within the week.

This case study seeks to help Al ComPAZ realize their potential to serve more young musicians in Bogotá by steering them towards ideas and deliverables that will position the organization for sustainability and success. A variety of sources were utilized to develop this study, including conversations with key stakeholders, community partners, and children; observation of participants and teachers; and academic publications.

SUBJECT BACKGROUND
AL COMPAZ

Bogotá, Colombia is a city of extremes. Years of drug trafficking, government coups, and other crime-related issues have created a large socioeconomic divide between communities, people, and the resources that are accessible by those parties. The country does not have a great deal of resources, therefore many low-income children are particularly unable to access programs and avenues that will allow them to escape the confines of poverty.

Al ComPAZ was founded by Natalia Jiménez in December 2015. During her tenure as a Piano student in the Conservatory of the National University of Colombia, Bogotá, Ms. Jiménez was inspired to create Al ComPAZ in order to provide an opportunity for students in underserved and under-resourced Bogotá communities to cultivate their musical talents. Students involved in Al ComPAZ live in some of the most dangerous and segregated neighborhoods in the city, which includes one of the world’s largest mega slums, and are exposed to elevated levels of gang activity, violence, and drug use each day (Davis, 2006). Bogotá also suffers from high rates of income inequality—average income for the richest 10% of households is 28 times greater than that of the poorest 10%—and many children in the city are extremely underserved (El Tiempo, 2006). Al ComPAZ strives to combat this inequality by using music as a vehicle for social inclusion, building student skill sets such as respect, teamwork, discipline, and identity.

Al ComPAZ is a subsidiary of Somos CaPAZes, a Colombian nonprofit organization that strives to achieve peace through play-oriented activities. Somos CaPAZes was founded in 2007 by a group of young people inspired by the success of two North American-based organizations, Peace Games (U.S.A.) and Peace by PEACE (Canada), which specialize in conflict resolution and community-building for elementary school students (Peace by Peace, 2018). As of June 2017, Somos CaPAZes serves approximately 1,730 children, works with 52 communities in Colombia, and has served 10,300 people since its inception ten years ago.

Somos CaPAZes believes in using social activities and play as a vehicle to achieve peace in disadvantaged communities. Basic pedagogical principles for the program include experiential learning and play-based activities, and emphasizing creativity, individuality, and teamwork. Their activities cover a variety of socially-oriented topics, including transformational leadership, human rights, and female empowerment. Somos CaPAZes relies on a large network of volunteers to help carry out their activities, and they advertise specific work assignments for potential volunteers to attract people with specialized skill sets or interest in certain activities. Volunteer work assignments include programmatic implementation (teaching students and assisting with program logistics), journalism (advertising the program through print and social media), and music teaching for Al ComPAZ. Students and volunteers can also select the programs and/or communities they are most passionate about working with.

Al ComPAZ is currently located in three communities in Bogotá:  Ciudad Bolívar (Barrio de La Escala), El Codito, and Bosa. Students are provided free instrumental and choral instruction 1–2 times per week, depending on the site, and positive social skills education is consistently woven into the curriculum. In 2016–2017, Al ComPAZ reached 59 students (31 girls and 28 boys ages 5–16) and between May 2017 and July 2017 provided a combined total of 36 music classes to the sites. Students in Al ComPAZ attend programming in the neighborhoods where they live and, other than in El Codito, activities are hosted within existing social service facilities such as churches and community centers. The combination of consistent curricular activities and an attentive, caring instructor has created a positive atmosphere and safe space for children to express themselves through music.

Al ComPAZ’s programming has been widely dependent on the types of instruments that are donated to the organization. At present, there are two levels of programming: Basic (primarily Orff instruments and melodicas) and Advanced (wind instruments—saxophone, clarinet, recorder, and choir). Basic programming is offered once per week at all sites, and Advanced programming twice per week at one site: Ciudad Bolívar. During programming, instructors are asked to use specific language to help students understand the connections between music and “life skills.” For example, at the end of each class instructors have the students reflect on what they have learned both musically and socially.

Al ComPAZ has a staff of two individuals: Ms. Jiménez (Director of Programming and Development) and David Mendoza (Lead Music Teacher). Ms. Jiménez, also the program’s founder, has been with the organization since the beginning, with Mr. Mendoza joining the team within a year of its inception. Ms. Jiménez is, as aforementioned, a graduate of the National University of Colombia, Bogotá (Piano Performance) and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Arts Administration at New York University. Mr. Mendoza is a professional saxophone player with many years of teaching experience in a variety of institutions, including small private studios, music stores, and universities in Bogotá. 

The program relies heavily on donations to maintain its current operational status. At present Al ComPAZ’s revenue streams include individual donations, corporate sponsorship (Whitman, a high-end men’s clothing boutique in Bogotá, is their main benefactor), sales from concert tickets, and financial support from Somos CaPAZes (totaling 20% of Al ComPAZ’s total revenue). Given that all instruments have been donated in-kind to the program, curricular decisions revolve around which types of instruments they have received—hence the strong clarinet and saxophone presence at Ciudad Bolivar.

CASE ISSUE
CREATING SUSTAINABLE OPERATIONAL SYSTEMS FOR LONG-TERM GROWTH

Al ComPAZ is a program of many strengths: dedicated staff, eager and open-minded students, cooperative communities, and unique programming. It provides free access to valuable musical and social opportunities for children from some of the most underserved communities in the city. However, Al ComPAZ has work to do both structurally and developmentally to maintain its current level of programming and expand to more communities in the city. Specifically, three significant issues facing Al ComPAZ must be addressed expeditiously:

1. Lack of basic administrative and operational systems

  • Since the program is young, it hasn’t had the resources or time to create systems, such as instrument inventories, that would increase operational efficiencies. For example, there is no current system tracking which students borrow instruments and no guidelines for families regarding the care and maintenance of said instruments. Thus, if a student decides to stop coming to the program without telling Mr. Mendoza, there is no system of accountability to help the program reclaim the instrument.
  • Similarly, the program does not maintain rosters or databases of information on students, including contact details, age, etc. Especially concerning is the lack of parental contact and follow-up regarding student behavior and musical progress. By comparison, in the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra OrchKids program, parents are contacted weekly via a variety of communication platforms (including text message, Facebook groups, and phone calls) with reminders regarding the importance of consistent attendance and encouraging positive behaviors outside of school, and important information about upcoming events. If OrchKids students consistently misbehave or have poor attendance within a program week, administrative staff are required to follow up with a phone call or a sit-down meeting with the child’s family.

2. Inadequate local staffing for programmatic functions

  • Al ComPAZ relies on one teacher to implement all programming and local operations in Bogotá. Since Ms. Jiménez is pursuing her Master’s in Arts Administration in New York City until May 2018, she is unable to provide on-the-ground support. All of Al ComPAZ’s sites are extremely far from Bogotá’s center, where Mr. Mendoza lives, meaning he sometimes must commute over two hours in intense traffic to teach. Since he is the only Al ComPAZ employee living in the city, he must also occasionally do administrative work for the program. This work reduces his teaching time at certain sites, which leads to decreased enrollment and interest from students in those areas.
  • The reliance on one person to deliver all programming is worrisome because of the possibility of this person leaving the organization. It seems likely that the whole program would fall apart if Mr. Mendoza were to suddenly quit, given that Ms. Jiménez is currently living in the U.S. full-time and would be unable to search for a replacement. Also concerning is the possibility that Mr. Mendoza will experience fatigue and burnout, since teacher burnout has been proven to lead to “significantly less motivation and affective learning” in students (Sapp and Zhang, 2008).

3. Scarcity of high-impact, sustainable funding sources

  • According to Ms. Jiménez, there is a dearth of funding for nonprofit organizations in Colombia and Bogotá. Unlike Europe and North America, the country does not possess large philanthropic donor bases and many nonprofit organizations struggle to attain consistent sources of funding. Al ComPAZ operates on a very minimal budget; Mr. Mendoza is paid the equivalent of $300 USD per month, Ms. Jiménez’s work is entirely pro bono, and all instruments are donated to the program. Without larger, sustainable, and reliable funding streams the program may have difficulty expanding or taking care of basic operational costs such as instrument repairs and administrative equipment. At present, Al ComPAZ is reliant on one big donor (Whitman, the clothing company) for most of its funding. This is not a sustainable model for future growth.

“Since the program is young, it hasn’t had the resources or time to create systems.

ANALYSIS

SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) is an analytical framework that assesses an entity’s ability to provide services and meet goals. SWOT analyses use environmental data to evaluate the status of an entity, particularly “what obstacles must be overcome or minimized to achieve desired results… and where it may be positioned in the future” (Investopedia, 2017). The following analysis and recommendations propose solutions to help Al ComPAZ create a viable, sustainable path for expansion.

SWOT Analysis: AL COMPAZ

Strengths

  • Strong and passionate team
  • Quick, measurable impact
  • Positive partnerships with local community organizations
  • Partnership with Somos CaPAZes
  • Unique, original programming
  • Child-centric and focused on both social and musical skills

Weaknesses

  • Small team
  • Entire program is solely dependent on one teacher
  • Infrequent, possibly inadequate training for teachers/volunteers
    • Not many opportunities for professional development
  • Lack of basic administrative systems
  • Program is not specifically designed to involve families at an important level

Opportunities

  • Growing social media presence
  • Increasing awareness of the program among possible donors, partner organizations
  • More community investment and involvement
  • Large network of musicians in Bogotá

Threats

  • Program is solely dependent on one teacher: burnout and exhaustion
  • Not enough staff means that instrumental supplies are being lost or misplaced
  • Program sites are geographically spread out, not close to the center of the city
  • No large donor base exists in Bogotá

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Streamline operations to create greater efficiencies

Al ComPAZ must re-prioritize and streamline its operations in order to create sustained success and future growth. To provide a higher level of programming for its students, it is recommended that the program hire more teachers and create standard administrative operating procedures.

If financial resources dictate that Al ComPAZ cannot hire additional teachers, it is recommended that the program stop serving Bosa, the site farthest from the city center. This would allow Al ComPAZ to focus on solidifying program structures for the three other sites and reduce pressure on the program’s current single teacher. Bosa is located over two hours outside the city center by car, which creates a significant commute for the site’s teacher. While the Bosa site is located in a relatively new, modern facility, enrollment numbers are low (fewer than 15 children), meaning that Al ComPAZ is using a significant amount of resources without a high return on investment. In addition, while the managers of the Bosa facility would like to have musical activities as part of their community services, they do not provide basic administrative and recruitment support. 

It is recommended that Al ComPAZ find consistent community partners that will help support and advocate for the program… This would create relationships between the program and families in the communities it aims to serve.

Since Al ComPAZ has a small teaching and administrative staff, it is strongly recommended that the program create and implement standard operating procedures for borrowed program inventory (instruments, supplies, etc.). Given the scarcity of instrumental donations and the high loss of instrumental supplies due to student dropouts and lack of administrative follow-through, simple inventory systems for instruments would help Al ComPAZ maintain and grow their instrumental inventory for future students. For instance, Al ComPAZ should maintain a database of its instrument inventory, each instrument should be labeled with an inventory number, and students and families should sign an agreement upon receipt of an instrument.

2. Increase efforts to work with local community partners

The lack of a consistent, local administrative presence in the Al ComPAZ program negatively affects the consistency and strength of programming for all sites. Those sites that seem to be flourishing have community partners helping to support both the students and the program content. It is recommended that Al ComPAZ find consistent community partners that will help support and advocate for the program, and eventually hire those people as program administrators (i.e., as a parent or community liaison). This would reduce stress for the single teaching artist and create relationships between the program and families in the communities Al ComPAZ aims to serve.

3. Diversify funding streams

The largest obstacle Al ComPAZ seems to be facing regarding its planned growth is funding. The program struggles to accrue sufficient annual funding from large donors to solidify its program structures and operations. It is recommended that Al ComPAZ seek partnerships with institutions such as the University of Colombia, Bogotá or with symphony orchestras in Colombia. While Somos CaPAZes provides a great deal of support and funding to the program, an additional partnership with an arts organization may help advance the mission and vision of the program and cultivate a larger annual donor base.

CONCLUSION

Al ComPAZ is a young startup with a passionate team and ambitious goals for growth. The program strives to use intentional music-making to make Bogotá a more peaceful city. The leaders of this organization, Ms. Jiménez and Mr. Mendoza, are committed to seeing the program become a large social force for good in the city of Bogotá, and work tirelessly to see that their students have access to extraordinary opportunities. The work of the program has the potential to attract a larger donor base and more community partners.

Al ComPAZ can make a significant impact on the lives of children, building their self-confidence, helping them to create meaningful connections with others, and inspiring hope via intensive music education and social activities, even given the program’s limited resources. To sustain Al ComPAZ’s current operations and look to a future of growth, it is strongly recommended that the program streamline operations, increase collaborations with local community partners, and diversify revenue streams.

Programs such as Al ComPAZ provide not only music education, but also crucial safe spaces for children to learn and grow in communities afflicted by trauma. Given these high stakes, creating sustainability in music-for-social-inclusion initiatives is imperative. To allow for these programs to grow and adapt to changes in their environments, administrators and stakeholders should use analytical processes, such as SWOT, to examine their operations with a realistic, contextual lens and as key reflection and decision-making tools. It is hoped that other practitioners in music-for-social-inclusion initiatives may learn from this analysis of Al ComPAZ and be inspired to use similar analytical methods to impact change in their own communities.

Note (June 2018): Following this case study, Al ComPAZ has diversified its funding streams, expanded its program to four communities, and hired three additional teaching artists.


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