Public Service Innovators -- Nicolas Ducote MPP 1998: New Ideas for Argentina

December 6, 2002
Lory Hough

Argentina in the spring of 2000 was deep in economic and political turmoil: hyperinflation, high unemployment, bank freezes, political corruption, coups, defaulting on international loans, a multi-year recession. Nicolas Ducote (MPP 1998) knew the country desperately needed new ideas.

With a few other Kennedy School alumni, Ducote founded an NGO in the capital Buenos Aires that functions in the way an American think-tank would. The Center for the Implementation of Public Policies Promoting Equity (CIPPEC) is committed to forwarding new approaches to public policy.

In the first year, Ducote says in a phone interview from his office, "We set up the first charter school system in Latin America, which involved changing laws. We promoted legislation for generic prescription medicine. For years, high-priced medications were inaccessible to many in poverty-stricken areas," he says. "And we helped pass legislation requiring flour to be enriched with folic acid, which offers higher nutrients, especially for pregnant mothers."

Ducote while proud of those successes is equally proud that everything the NGO does is above-board and open to the public - the latter not the norm in his country. He believes their authenticity and transparency will help teach the next generation of Argentines not to be so skeptical.

"All of our software is legal. All of our employees have full benefits," he says. "These are things you take for granted in developed countries but that are not a given in mine."

There have also been administrative successes - small but vital to the longevity of any fledgling nonprofit. "We managed to raise funding, $1.5 million, and meet our budget," Ducote says. "We grew from a handful at the table to a staff of 60 employees and 40 to 50 volunteers. More than half have master's degrees or PhDs." The accomplishments, Ducote notes, have much to do with long-term planning, a staff of talented workers and the confidence of individual funders who see CIPPEC's goal as worthy.

As the NGO celebrates its second anniversary, Ducote says he'd like to continue creating a workplace that is attractive to young people who want to make a difference but currently don't have a place to do that.

"We're trying to build an institution where the young and talented in the country can have a platform to work. We purchased the building. We're creating an endowment. These are short-term sacrifices that will make a difference down the road," he says. "Today, I think we are one of the most attractive places to work for young people coming out of public policy programs who want to make an impact in public policy in Argentina. It's like a club: the better it is, the more people you'll attract."

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