The Financially Self-Sufficient School Model – Paraguay: Economically Empowering Education for Low-Income Youth

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The Financially Self-Sufficient School Model – Paraguay: Economically Empowering Education for Low-Income Youth

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

A “good” education is considered one of the best routes out of poverty, but for poor youth in developing countries, education is neither good, nor generally available. There are not enough schools, and existing schools tend to be under-funded, poorly equipped and staffed with poorly trained teachers. There is a serious mismatch between the education students receive and the skills they actually need to earn a decent living. We are changing this paradigm! We have developed a new model of technical/vocational education that provides low-income, chronically under-employed youth with an education that is 100% market-based, at schools that are 100% financially self-sufficient and enable 100% of their graduates to find jobs, create their own employment or continue their educations.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

We work in low-income, mainly rural communities in Latin America and Africa, serving youth who come from chronically poor families and have few educational opportunities beyond the primary level.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

It combines quality with affordability. Our model offers a high-quality secondary school education, yet does not require poor students to pay any more than a token tuition fee. Other approaches either recognize the importance of providing a high-quality, entrepreneurial program, but do not have a way to pay for it, or have found ways for the poor to pay for their education, but cannot deliver quality. We ensure the quality and relevance of our program by giving students the opportunity to learn practical and entrepreneurial skills as they help run the school’s commercially viable, on-campus enterprises. By learning to run competitive enterprises—from production to marketing to record keeping-- students acquire useful, marketable skills. At the same time, the school ensures that this education is affordable for the poor by generating enough income to cover all of its operating costs. The permanent quest for financial self-sufficiency requires efficient use of resources and imposes strict control over costs. Self-sufficiency encourages constant business innovation: the school opens new enterprises as it finds new attractive market niches and closes others when they become less profitable. Thus, the training students receive is fully aligned with market demand. In contrast, traditional vocational educations programs react to changes in market demand much more slowly, so that their training is not necessarily what the market demands. In sum, this Self-Sufficient School model trains students in a highly market-oriented, entrepreneurial, and cost-conscious environment.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Our “project” consists of the development of a new model of technical/vocational education which transforms the sons and daughters of chronically poor farmers into financially successful “rural entrepreneurs” and its scaling up in 50 countries and/or 50 schools by 2017. This Financially Self-Sufficient School model-- in full operation at our San Francisco Agricultural School in Cerrito, Paraguay-- integrates the teaching of traditional high school subjects with the running of small-scale, on-campus agricultural enterprises. These enterprises (dairy/milk processing, organic garden, roadside store, rural hotel, etc.) serve as platforms for students to develop technical/entrepreneurial skills so that upon graduation, students are on a path toward economic success and financial independence. These enterprises also earn enough income to cover all school operating costs, including depreciation, thereby ensuring the school’s long-term financial sustainability without reliance on government subsidies, long-term donor support or costly school fees that would exclude the poor. The School began implementing the model in 2003 and became financially self-sustaining in 2007, generating about US$300,000/year. Since each school bases its curriculum and campus enterprises on the job and business opportunities in its local market, the model is highly replicable. The FP is now fully engaged in scaling up the model worldwide. To do this, we established a sister institution, Teach A Man to Fish (TAM2F) in London to help us disseminate the model and best practices; we provide technical assistance to other institutions that want to implement the model in their schools, and we have recently obtained funding to replicate the model in 5 schools in Tanzania.
About You
Fundacion Paraguaya
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About Your Organization
Organization Name

Fundacion Paraguaya

Organization Country

, AS

Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

I am Martin Burt, founder of Fundacion Paraguaya (FP). In 2001, when my term as mayor of Asuncion was over, I realized that public policy alone would not transform society. I decided to return to the FP to work with the poor and the young who, I believe, are the basis of any sustainable change in society.

In 2003, the FP was teaching entrepreneurship at an agricultural high school for campesino boys run by a Catholic order. One day the director of the school informed me that his order had to give up the school: the government had cut its support and the order could no longer afford to run it. He also noted that over 20 years none of the boys “educated” there had ceased to be poor! The FP, he said, had two things his students needed: focus on entrepreneurship – so they could learn how to succeed in the marketplace-- and microcredit – so they could put their learning into practice on their family farms. He asked FP to take over the school

What wonderful opportunity! FP could apply its expertise in microfinance and in entrepreneurial education in a new context: transforming a bankrupt boys’ agricultural high school into a financially self-sufficient school where girls and boys from chronically poor families would be empowered to overcome poverty.

In 2007, the School became financially self-sufficient, generating enough revenue to cover its operating costs (US$300,000). In 2008, graduated its first co-ed class, all of whom found jobs, created their own income-generating activities and/or continued their educations. The model is being replicated around the world.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

The success of schools following the FSS School model is measured in two key ways: graduates’ employment outcomes and the schools’ financial self-sufficiency. At the FP’s model San Francisco Agricultural School, 100% of graduates are “productively engaged,” and thus on a path toward economic success within 4 months of graduation. This means they have either: i) started their own small enterprises (to graduate, each student must have developed a viable business plan, for which he/she obtains a line of credit); ii) found responsible jobs in the modern agricultural sector, iii) are spreading their knowledge as rural extension agents or teachers at other schools; and/or iv) have entered university. In addition, since 2007, school-generated income has covered 100% of school operating costs, including depreciation (about US$300,000/year).

A more qualitative measure of schools’ success is their impact on local communities. Schools become “poles of development” in their respective areas. For example, schools provide technical assistance in organic agriculture to local farmers, computer and entrepreneurial training to local youth, and sponsor sporting events for local schools. Students take their knowledge home to the family farm, teach elementary students about environmental conservation, and become reproductive health promoters in their local communities.

A further measure of the model’s success is its adoption by other institutions around the world. We have replicas underway in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and South Africa, among other countries. In addition, the FP’s sister institution, Teach A Man To Fish (, a separate non-profit which the FP helped establish in order to disseminate the model, has developed a network of 2000 members in 120 countries interested in financially self-sufficient schools.

How many people have been impacted by your project?


How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?


How will your project evolve over the next three years?

Our goal is to replicate our model in 50 countries and/or 50 schools within ten years (i.e. by 2017). In keeping with this goal, in the next three years, we will:
1)Continue to expand in Paraguay. We now have 3 schools in operation, and another 2 which have recently been placed under our administration
2)Expand in Tanzania: set up five complete replications of the model, plus a “lighter touch” approach in 20 government schools
3)Seek new partners, especially from among the 2000 members of the network of Teach A Man To Fish and the over 100 institutions which attend our Annual International Conference, organized by our sister organization, Teach A Man To Fish
4)Continue support replicas in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, South Africa

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Approximately 200 words left (1600 characters)

Tell us about your partnerships

Businesses support us by hiring the graduates of our schools (e.g. Dreyfus and many smaller companies). Regional governments support us by citing our schools as models for their districts. The Government of Paraguay supports us by authorizing our schools, making the FP a member of the Presidential Commission on the reform of technical and vocational training (the only NGO invited), and holding Presidential Cabinet meetings at our model school. (Please note, however, that we do not accept funding from the Government of Paraguay.)

Explain your selections

Foundations include: AVINA Foundation, which invested in the infrastructure for school businesses at our model school; the Skoll Foundation, which awarded two Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship, facilitating scaling up; the Nike Foundation, which allowed us to develop an all-girl version of the model at the Mbaracayu School; the Schwab Foundation, which has connected us to other social entrepreneurs; the Peery Foundation, which supports on-going innovation; and The MasterCard Foundation, which is supporting the model’s scaling up in Africa. Other NGOs support us by working with us to implement the model in their schools -- for example: ACRA (Associazione di cooperazione rurale in Africa e America Latina) in Tanzania; the Christian Children’s Fund in Brazil; Agro XXI in Bolivia; and the Yachana Foundation in Ecuador.

Since schools become financially self-sufficient by selling goods and services in their local markets, the customers of our schools are also supporting the Financially Self-Sufficient School model.
Through the Global Giving platform, we also receive contributions from many individuals. USAID, the US Embassy in Paraguay, the Spanish development cooperation agency and the Embassy of Czechoslovakia have invested in school infrastructure or provided donations in kind.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

1.Scaling up in Africa: The MasterCard Foundation has recently approved a five year $5.4 million project which will enable the Fundacion Paraguaya to replicate the Financially Self Financially Self-Sufficient School model in Tanzania. The project includes the model’s full replication in in 5 non-profit, non-government Tanzanian secondary schools serving low-income rural and semi-rural youth ages 14-20, as a stepping stone for scaling up the model across sub-Saharan Africa. The project will also allow the FP to implement a “lighter touch” program of student cooperatives in 20 government-run schools, so as to introduce elements of the “learning by doing, while saving and earning” approach, improve student outcomes in public schools, and open the door to broader cooperation with government schools.
2. Building our network/identifying new partnerships: See information in other answers about our TAM2F network, annual conferences on “Education That Pays for Itself” and the technical assistance that the FP provides to partner schools and institutions.
3. Strengthening school impact in communities: We are seeking ways that schools can increase their development impact in their communities. Once we develop the prototypes, we want to package this community outreach and make it an integral part of our model. With that in mind, we have developed a program for students at our San Francisco Agricultural School to provide technical assistance on organic horticulture to low-income women participating in area village banks. We are also experimenting with ways to include local farmers

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Other (Specify Below)


Lack of skills/training



Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

Students spend part of their time in the classroom and part helping to run a range of small-scale, on-campus enterprises which sell goods and services in the local market. Thus, students are exposed to an entrepreneurial, cost-conscious environment on a daily basis, learning to produce and market traditional and non-traditional goods and services, make better use of existing resources, add value to production and provide good customer service. They also master practical and entrepreneurial competencies, which are based on the needs of local employers for qualified mid-level employees and the skills graduates need to become independent entrepreneurs. With this training, graduates of these schools are on a path toward economic success and financial independence.

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.


Grown geographic reach: Global


Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices


Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

Current: We will replicate the School model in 5 schools in Tanzania and start a program of student cooperatives in 20 government-run schools, as a means of opening the door to broader cooperation with government schools (2011-2016.)
Current: We spread our best practices in 2 key ways: i)through our sister org, Teach A Man To Fish (TAM2F), helps disseminate our model and its best practices. TAM2F conducts outreach activities such as competitions for entrepreneurial projects undertaken by students and teachers in Africa to raise funds for their schools and annual international conferences on “Education that Pays for Itself;” 2) technical assistance that the FP provides to schools that want to replicate our model. The 2011 conference will be held at our partner school in Nicaragua.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Government, NGOs/Nonprofits, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

Please see answer above ways in which our partners support us (Sustainability). In addition, universities support us in a variety of ways, including by: writing case studies on our model (BYU), working with us on social innovation (Santa Clara), sending us interns (universities all over the world).