A Lesson in Social Entrepreneurship: Fundacion Paraguaya

Monday, September 19, 2011

Recently, I interviewed Martin Burt, founder and CEO of Fundación Paraguaya, an NGO devoted to the promotion of entrepreneurship among the world’s poor. A pioneer in microfinances and youth financial literacy in Paraguay, Burt developed one of the world’s first financially self-sufficient agricultural schools for the rural poor – creating a radical new model for education.

In addition to his work in civil society, Martin was elected twice as president of the Paraguayan-American Chamber of Commerce, has served as Vice Minister of Commerce, and was elected Mayor of Asunción.

Martin has received the Microfinance Award for Excellence in Social Responsibility from the Inter-American Development Bank, the Outstanding Social Entrepreneur Award from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the Skoll Foundation Social Entrepreneur Award, and the distinguished alumni award from the University of the Pacific and the George Washington University, as well as the Social Innovation Award from Brigham Young University. In addition he has been awarded the UNESCO Orbis Guaraniticus Medal, and the Eisenhower Fellowship Award from the USA and Taiwan.

Rahim Kanani: Describe a little bit about the founding and motivation behind Fundación Paraguaya:

Martin Burt: In 1985, together with a group of visionary businessmen and professionals we founded Fundacion Paraguaya. It was the country’s first microfinance program and first development NGO. We were under a military dictatorship then, so social work was quite difficult. Our objective was to develop social innovations that could help create jobs and increase family income among the country’s poor. We wanted to show that self-help and economic self-reliance programs were better than charitable approaches. Our microfinance programs have evolved and we are now quite serious in going to the next level, which is to help all our clients overcome and eliminate poverty. We also have developed new educational programs that borrow the basic concepts of microfinance…concepts such as dignity, self-sufficiency, accountability, impact…

Rahim Kanani: Fast-forwarding to today, how successful have you been in your efforts?

Martin Burt: 26 years later we can say that we have been partially successful. We have demonstrated that it is possible for civil society to get involved in social programs. We showed that microfinance was possible and that it was quite useful to the poor. Our institution has been sustainable for two decades, we have a profound impact in the country, and we are expanding our educational programs overseas. We will be opening offices in Tanzania next month.

Rahim Kanani: What are some of the biggest challenges to your work?

Martin Burt: Our biggest challenge is always to get the right people. Qualified human resources are hard to find in developing countries. In addition, public policy advocacy has been difficult: politicians are hard-headed and take time in adopting new ways of thinking.

Source: Forbes (link opens in a new window)