Alex Buenafe: it’s not just retirees who work with CESO

TORONTO—You don’t have to be retired in order to work with Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO).

Alex Buenafe (centre) with friends, in San Luis, Columbia in 2009.

Alex Buenafe (centre) with friends, in San Luis, Columbia in 2009.

TORONTO—You don’t have to be retired in order to work with Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO). Hospitality executive Alex Buenafe has been with CESO since the mid-1990s, when he was in his early 40s. 

Buenafe is a CESO volunteer advisor and hospitality management expert who has travelled on assignment to the Philippines, Colombia, Bolivia, Honduras, Jamaica and Eastern Europe to assist with small and medium sized hospitality-industry businesses develop their capacity.

A certified adult educator with about 35 years of hospitality management and hospitality education experience, Buenafe has years of management experience in boutique, resort and corporate hotels in Canada. He has a degree in business administration and professional development accreditation from the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Buenafe was a volunteer with UNICEF Canada in the early 1990s, when he met a woman who had done a project with CESO. Realizing you didn’t have to be retired to join, he signed up n 1993. Since then, he has been on numerous projects ranging in length from two to six weeks, while he is on holidays or between assignments.

Up-to-date knowledge

“I’m still working,” Buenafe, 63, told CLN. “That means my knowledge of the industry is up to date. I can offer heads up on new trends, systems and methods.” He currently has a contract at a delivery agency, teaching soft and technical skills to Ontario Works candidates.

“CESO is open to people of all ages who have the expertise they need. In the hotel industry, there are not many people who volunteer their time as advisors. 

“Everything is 100 per cent paid—airfare, pocket money based on the local cost of living, accommodation, meals, translators, interpreters and site expenses. In return, you give them your time and expertise.”

Balance sheet unbalanced

Asked about some of his most interesting assignments, Buenafe talked about a project in Czech Republic, when he quickly realized that the assets did not equal liabilities and equity. Through a translator, he learned that the project had operated under the controlled economy of the Cold War era, where accounting systems didn’t necessarily match North American standards.

At a hotel in Slovakia, he wondered why there was nothing in the backyard of the property except grass.  Three weeks later, farmers came to cut the grass for hay. In a country where farming land is at a premium, they use every square inch to grow grass for winter feed.

Most rewarding assignment

Buenafe was asked to evaluate two hotels in Bolivia. One of them, in the lowlands of Santa Cruz, didn’t seem too promising. He talked to the new general manager, and gave her a checklist, met with the women on the executive committee, and gave them an overview of how to train staff for front office, catering and the restaurant.

A year later, he learned that business was thriving and they had hired 18 more people. 

“The hotel was going down, but after working with them and getting them motivated, they managed to pull it up and increase the business. Bolivia is not very rich—I was very encouraged by this example. 

“It was a great opportunity to share my expertise, and that is what CESO is all about.”


  • CESO
    is a registered charitable organization that builds economic and socially
    sustainable communities in Canada and abroad through skills-based volunteerism.

  • CESO
    was founded in 1967, and has delivered more than 47,500 assignments to date.

  • CESO
    has worked in more than 122 countries.

  • Key
    differentiators: are that CESO is bilingual–English and French.

  • CESO
    works locally in Canada and internationally.

  • They
    have expert volunteers with on average 25 years of experience in their fields.

  • Their
    volunteer assignments are strategic and short-term.

  • CESO’s
    program methodology is one of mentorship— building capacity at the local level
    with their clients so that the results will endure—ensuring the impact is
    sustainable long after the volunteer’s mission is done.