To steal a quip from Voltaire: If the Women’s Club of Costa Rica did not exist, it would most certainly have to be invented.
While researching the credentials of several secular nonprofit NGOs in this country, I concluded that the Women’s Club leads the field, not only in terms of effectively and efficiently carrying out its objectives, but also in giving aid and encouragement to its members.
Let me explain.
Formed in 1940 mainly to send comforts to U.S. troops, the club gradually evolved, through a couple of name changes, into a highly efficient and responsible social outreach group, currently with 225 members and a virtual army of contributors, helpers and well-wishers. The club has a board of nine members, including a president and a fiscal who represents the general membership before the board, all elected annually by the vote of each member.
The president appoints a chair for each of 12 committees responsible for particular activities, such as scholarships, social services, fundraising, welcoming, special interests (which includes cooking, crafts, book clubs, etc.) and so on.
The committees carry a full load. For example, the Scholarship Program Committee has for the last 30 years operated a program that today subscribes $200 a year to a personal bank account for each of 125 rural high school students, selected on the basis of need and grade record. Each student’s performance is closely monitored and the award extended each year provided he or she sustains a satisfactory record. To avoid problems in years when funding is tight, the club maintains a sufficient reserve to fund each scholarship through to graduation.
Or take the Social Services Committee, which has for the last 27 years supervised a program that purchases and donates only materials and equipment, not cash, to selected beneficiaries, which, in 2006, included 26 schools, clinics and community self-help groups. As with the Scholarship Program, a close eye is kept on the performance of a stated objective.
An experimental “Reading Is Fun” program was recently launched, designed to furnish elementary schools with books intended to be read purely for pleasure. If the results are positive, this program will be extended beyond the present three recipients.
Any new program approved by the board must be voted into being by the whole membership.
We are all familiar with the sometimes spotty performance of charitable organizations: excessive administrative expenses, criminal diversion of funds and, above all, failure to maintain a continuing check on results. I think it speaks volumes for the club that they have no clubhouse, but meet regularly in private homes. There are no administrative charges other than for office supplies, and the results of their charitable programs are regularly checked at the receiving end. The World Bank might well benefit by studying the club’s remarkable record of success.
Though the basic thrust of the club is charitable, membership offers opportunities other than caring for the needy. One of the many problems faced by a woman newly arrived in Costa Rica is that of establishing a circle of congenial friends; regular meetings provide a ready-made forum for choice. And for those accustomed to organizational life, participation in a committee and eventual election to office supply a worthwhile outlet for their skills.
And, of course, there are the simple pleasures of visits, such as the conducted tour of the National Theater in April, and highoctane events such as a recent fundraising gala, Book Club get-togethers and whatnot.
And if you hate committees, what’s to stop you having a few club friends over to lunch?
Needless to say, there is a hiccup now and then; not every project proposed by the board turns out to be a stunning success like the scholarship and social services programs.
For instance, a few years ago a proposal to establish a men’s section of the club was approved. It started well, with regular meetings and lunches, but gradually faded out for lack of support. It was a brave try, and I am proud to boast that I was once a member of the Women’s Club of Costa Rica, but I guess not every male felt the same.
The membership subscription is ¢6,000 (about $12) annually, and to start the ball rolling you may call 282-6801 or 268-6130, either of which will hopefully get you in touch with the chair of the welcoming committee. Have fun!