Washington consulting firm Creative Associates International Inc. has sent workers for years to overseas trouble spots, helping rebuild communities in El Salvador, Lebanon, Serbia and Afghanistan.
Now the firm, headed by Charito Kruvant, a native of Bolivia and longtime Washington civic leader, can add Iraq to the list. Ten days ago, the U.S. Agency for International Development awarded the firm an initial $ 2 million contract to start rebuilding the educational system in Iraq as part of the Bush administration's $ 1.7 billion reconstruction plan.
The one-year contract could be worth as much as $ 62.6 million, according to USAID, which has the option to extend it for an additional two years. The cost depends largely on what Creative Associates and its subcontractors find when the firm is able to send people into Iraq.
The Iraqi schools contract is one of eight initial awards that USAID is handing out for emergency reconstruction relief in Iraq.
"There's nobody from the West who's been there for some time to know what the state of the classroom is," said Robert Gordon, director of operations for Creative Associates.
Gordon said the first thing Creative Associates must do is assess the condition of the schools and find out what supplies are needed and whether teachers and students are ready to return. After that, Gordon said, the firm will provide furniture, backpacks and pencils as well as teacher training.
"We want them to get away from rote learning," he said. "We want students to be able to ask questions."
Creative Associates is subcontracting with American University, the American Manufacturers Export Group and two nonprofit Iraqi exile organizations, the American Islamic Congress and the Iraq Foundation.
Kruvant started Creative Associates in her basement in 1977. The company is a graduate of the Small Business Administration's development program for minority-owned businesses, and Kruvant now chairs the advisory board of the agency's Washington area office.
The firm has 80 to 100 employees at its Washington headquarters in Friendship Heights and 200 to 300 other employees elsewhere, spokesman Stephen A. Horblitt said. It has 12 field offices around the world.
Last year Creative Associates had $ 50 million in revenue, up from $ 40 million the year before, Horblitt said.
Since its inception, the firm has completed more than 400 contracts, most of them for USAID. Kruvant said the Iraqi reconstruction contract is similar in size to others the firm has been awarded in the past.
The firm has been working in Lebanon and Jordan helping those countries rebuild social and economic structures. In Jordan, for example, Creative Associates is running a program that attempts to bond divided communities by having them work jointly on such development issues as water supply and sanitation. In El Salvador, the firm has a contract to help increase citizen participation in the government. It also worked in Peru to support the electoral process and in Serbia and Montenegro to provide technical support and distribute grants to local organizations for community revitalization.
In Guatemala, Creative Associates is implementing a human rights and reconciliation program under a four-year, $ 4.6 million contract from USAID. As part of the program, the firm is helping create a national commission to reconnect children and their families separated during the civil war. Creative Associates also broadcasts a radio program from "El Trapiche," an imaginary village in Guatemala that serves as the stage to talk about human rights abuses.
Kruvant said the firm specializes in being able to mobilize quickly into post-conflict situations.
"We work in areas where conflict is about to end and turmoil is about to begin, and we love it," she said.
In addition to USAID, the company said it is working on contracts from the government of Jordan, the U.S. Marine Corps and Goodwill Industries. In the past, it has worked for UNICEF, the World Bank, the government of El Salvador and Inter-American Development Bank.
The firm heads a coalition that recently won a $ 16.5 million contract for educational reform in Afghanistan through competitive bidding.
Kruvant is well known in Washington business circles. She is a member of the Board of Trade and sits on the boards of Venture Philanthropy Partners, Calvert Group and Acacia Federal Savings Bank.
From 1996 until 2000, Kruvant served as an emergency schools trustee after the D.C. financial control board stripped the elected board of its powers.
John M. Derrick Jr., chairman and chief executive of Pepco, said Kruvant is a visible and respected member of the D.C. business community.
"Charito is a facilitator," said Derrick, who has served with Kruvant on various organizational boards. "That's what her business does, and she's just really good at it. She can get people to work together."
At the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Kruvant helped create a nationally recognized economic revitalization program called Community Business Partnerships that links large Washington companies with smaller companies in poorer neighborhoods.
One of those small companies is Designs by Kateri, a custom clothing studio in the Columbia Heights neighborhood. Kateri Ellison met Kruvant in 1998 as part of the program.
Ellison said Kruvant invited Washington's business power set to a tea to meet Ellison and to see her designs. Ellison picked up new clients from the event, which Kruvant hosted at her Northwest Washington home.
"She's greatly respected and very, very supportive of small business," Ellison said.