Creative Associates: 40 Years of Doing Good


Creative Associates: 40 Years of Doing Good

The "Technical Vocational Education and Training Strengthening for At-risk Youth" project in Nicaragua empowers youth in the Caribbean Coast region with access to vocational training and job skills, as seen in the photo above.

By Evelyn Rupert

Writer and Editor Creative Associates International

In the basement of a Washington, D.C. home they had converted into an office, Charito Kruvant and three other enterprising women had a vision to improve early childhood development in the United States. That was in 1977—when the development field was dominated by men.

Forty years since its modest start, Creative Associates International has grown to be the largest women-owned implementer of U.S. Agency for International Development projects and a development thought leader. Its impressive track record includes current and completed work in nearly 90 countries, and its portfolio of expertise has grown beyond education to include governance, elections, economic growth and transitioning communities from conflict to peace.

Today, it has more than 40 projects currently underway from Kabul, Afghanistan to Cojutepeque, El Salvador, thanks to the support of USAID, the State Department, the British Government and the World Bank, among other clients.

Today, Charito’s son, President and CEO Leland Kruvant, attributes Creative’s success to a variety of factors, including a talented staff of more than 1,000 in its 20-plus offices and its ability to adapt in a quickly changing world.

“Creative approaches the world’s most complex issues with innovation, trusted partners, a local focus and compassion,” Leland Kruvant says. “And even though we bring new ideas to each project, the values that the company was built on back in 1977 have never changed.”

First women-owned company in the industry

When Charito and three colleagues formed what would become Creative Associates International in 1977, it was the first ever women-owned company to earn 8(a) status with the U.S. Small Business Administration, a designation that helps minority-owned small firms compete for government contracts. (At right, from left to right: Founders Cheryl Jones, Mimi Tse, Diane Dodge, and Charito Kruvant.)

Starting off with an effort to improve early childhood development in the United States, Creative quickly expanded to take on an international focus. 

In the late 1980s, Creative worked closely with the Ministry of Education in Yemen to design and implement a 10-year overhaul of the primary education system to increase children’s access to learning.

From 1989 and 1992, Creative worked in war-torn Nicaragua to reintegrate ex-combatants into civilian life, developing training programs and establishing rehabilitation initiatives for disabled and wounded former fighters.

Around the same time, it was working with NGOs in South Africa to develop strategic interventions to support the transition out of an apartheid system, particularly in relation to inclusive education and elections.

“Throughout its history, Creative has never shied away from messy problems,” says Leland Kruvant. “The organization realized early on that there are never one-size-fits-all answers, and that untangling complex situations in order to bring about change requires dedication and time, a deep understanding of the local context and creativity.”

Consistent with the founders’ vision, Creative has always kept a strong focus on gender and strived to make local development activities an inclusive endeavor.

In Honduras, where four in 10 women surveyed reported having suffered from some form of gender-based violence, Creative’s USAID-funded crime and violence prevention project Alianza Joven (Youth Alliance) initiated an activity called the Masculinity Program. The program prompted young men and women to think about gender stereotypes and how certain societal pressures on young men can lead to risky and sometimes violent behaviors, reaching more than 2,300 male and female youth ages 12 to 30.

A global reach with local solutions 

Today, Creative designs and implements multi-year and multimillion-dollar development projects around the world – among its largest active projects are education programs for displaced and out-of-school students in northern Nigeria, early-grade reading initiatives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and crime and violence prevention projects in Honduras and El Salvador. (Seen in photo from left to right, below, COO Pablo Maldonado, Charito Kruvant, and Leland Kruvant.)

From supporting local governing bodies to detect and prevent electoral violence to preparing the next generation of skilled workers to achieve their dreams and contribute to their communities, Creative works with local partners, host communities, and host governments to build sustainable systems that improve resilience and advance peace and prosperity.

By combining decades of experience and evidence-based approaches with local knowledge and assets, Creative’s projects are designed to achieve lasting results and leave behind a legacy of local ownership.

Today, Creative’s education projects in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mozambique and Morocco are expected to reach nearly 6 million school-aged children by bolstering curricula, training teachers and establishing non-formal learning centers for out-of-school children.

Ongoing projects to reduce youth risk of engaging in violence in Central America and the Caribbean will connect more than 1,500 youth considered to be at high risk for falling in with gangs with targeted counseling services.

Across the region, more than 70,000 youth have benefitted from outreach centers, where they can access sports and recreation and job and life skills trainings. For young people in some of the world’s most dangerous communities, these centers are a lifeline, offering the skills and opportunities to chart a brighter path forward.

Creative is also at work bolstering vocational training in the Caribbean Coast region of Nicaragua; building integrity, legitimacy and participation in Somalian elections; and counseling Tunisian youth in areas that are facing extremism, among other projects.

Charting the next frontiers for development

Looking forward, Leland Kruvant (seen at right, visiting an outreach center in Honduras) says Creative Associates will continue to grow its core expertise, as well as work to branch out into new territory, including work in rule of law and countering violent extremism.

Creative’s Development Lab is exploring new approaches to development through science, technology, innovation and key partnerships. Its work has included a program to send Zambian children and families short stories via text message to encourage reading and giving teachers and project staff in Afghanistan real-time geocoded data on massive book distributions.

Creative’s newest practice area, Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism, is bringing together the organization’s wealth of experience in conflict and post-conflict settings, along with its network of skilled implementing partners, to take on these pressing issues.

Leland Kruvant says that as the global development landscape changes and communities continue to evolve, Creative will stay on the cutting edge of crafting sustainable solutions to meet challenges around the world.

“This milestone anniversary provided us a valuable opportunity to reflect on how far we've come,” he says. “But it is also a chance to look forward – and I know we will build on what we've learned during the last 40 years and continue to find new ways to help communities bring positive change to their people.”

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