Skoll Foundation


Fundacion Paraguaya

Skoll Awardee(s): Martin Burt
Award Year: 2005
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Economic Opportunity, Education

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“We want to transfer the microfinance model laterally to other areas. What we have accomplished in microfinance over the past 20 years is applicable today to other areas of development, such as education, health, and housing.”

Sub-Issues: Secondary Education; Youth Job Skills In Paraguay, and in other developing countries, young people growing up in poor farm families cannot enjoy the benefits of investments in schools and education if the curriculum is far removed from their daily lives, and if they lack opportunities to apply their learning productively.

The Skoll Awardee: Martin Burt founded Fundación Paraguaya (the Paraguayan Foundation for Cooperation and Development) in 1985 after returning to Paraguay upon completion of his university studies in Spain and the United States. Its microcredit and entrepreneurship education programs were daring not just because the conventional wisdom of the time held that subsidy, not credit, was the way to help the poor, but also because Paraguay was still under dictatorial rule that forbade public gatherings. All FP’s self-help groups were infiltrated by the secret police, Martin jokes, but after a few meetings, even the police would be asking, “my wife is a seamstress, can she get a loan?” Through personal courage and a constant balancing act to operate and exercise leadership under difficult and dangerous circumstances, the groups provided real benefits, and Fundación Paraguaya survived to support thousands of small businesses and become a leader in microenterprise development as Paraguay transitioned to democracy. At the time of the Award, FP had supported more than 68,000 microentrepreneurs who had created some 40,000 jobs. It was piloting “education that pays for itself,” through its San Francisco Agricultural High School. The residential facility offers first-class education and practical farm enterprise. Its market-based curriculum covers 100 percent of the school’s expenses through on-campus farm business activities. Graduates are eligible for loans to launch their own farm enterprises and put learning into practice.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2005:

  • FP is currently working with 90,000 clients each year, two-thirds through its microfinance program and one-third through youth entrepreneurship and education programs.
  • The school model is being replicated by more than 50 organizations in 27 countries.
  • Teach a Man to Fish has more than 4,500 members from 125 countries, whose work benefits 23 million people.
  • FP’s microfinance program has evolved to a “Total Poverty Elimination” program, developing new tools such as the “Poverty Stoplight” assessment system. The Stoplight has been incorporated into Paraguay’s national policies, and launched via partnerships in 21 other countries.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.