Teach a Man to Fish

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Untitled2You probably have not yet heard of Fundación Paraguaya, but I have a hunch you'll be hearing a lot about them in the next few years. They are an impressive organization focused on alleviating poverty through the promotion of entrepreneurship. Fundación Paraguaya combines many functions under one roof. It consists of a self-sufficient agricultural high school that is combined with a microfinance facility.

Students at the school are taught basic business skills, and they apply these skills by working on farms, which in turn provide the income that funds the school. And the students don’t simply work on the farm for the sake of their labor—they have to make decisions about how best to make a profit from their labor, e.g. how many eggs must these chickens produce per day to justify my labor and their feed? To graduate, students present a viable business plan, which then merits them the opportunity to access the microcredit facility. Topping this all off is an Education for Entrepreneurship program that provides mentorships from the business community.

The approach of Fundación Paraguaya is clearly replicable, and this is exactly what a U.K.-based organization called Teach a Man to Fish is working on. Teach a Man to Fish now has projects in 13 countries around the world and partnerships with local organizations in many more. A conference is scheduled in South Africa for November 2008. Undoubtedly, you will hear more stories like this one about a school in Vietnam:

It’s often said that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. Nowhere is this clearer than in the case of Dong Nai school in Vietnam. When its owner, a state-run company, stopped paying for maintenance and teacher salaries Dong Nai found itself on the brink of closure.

A meeting of all staff was called, and together they decided on an ambitious plan to save the institution – albeit one with some high risks. Using their own homes as collateral they raised a bank loan to support their business plan for making the school financially sustainable.

The plan involved a two-pronged approach focussed on generating income and improving efficiency. Skills taught, from welding to automobile repair, formed the foundations of school businesses. With strategic investment in machinery the school began to sell its services to local customers, using each order as a chance for students to refine their practical skills to the level required by the market.

To improve the school’s efficiency new contracts were agreed with all staff which linked work performed to pay received. Mr Chanh, the school’s director insists that by being transparent about earnings, and creating a sense of ownership amongst staff, teachers not only work harder now, but ensure their colleagues also perform.

Ten year on from the initial crisis and the school generates around 75% of its income from production and services, with the remainder coming from fees. The school’s highly market-oriented training ensures it is in great demand both from students and employers – and importantly of course, the teachers haven’t lost their houses!


Ryan Hahn

Operations Officer

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