Innovation in Education: The Fairtrade Learning Curve

It’s the sign of a successful university program when the students – even after the graduation ceremony is over – are eager to return and learn more. Recent grads of a special university program in Central America have found jobs with Fairtrade organizations.

A graduating student and family pose for a photo.

Kieran Durnien, Regional Coordinator for Fairtrade International, speaks to the graduates during the ceremony.

20 November 2013

This article is the first of two where we will feature stories about how cooperatives and their partners are working to create greater opportunities for youth in their communities. Read the second article here.

Even before the ink was dry on the diploma certificates for the 30 graduates of the Rural Development with an Enterprise Vision Programme at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) Managua in Nicaragua, the students were asking about full degree opportunities in the same programme.

In 2009, the UCA established the Rural Development Programme in cooperation with Irish Aid, the Irish Fairtrade Network, and Fairtrade International. A full degree may be available soon, but the fact that these graduates – 15 women and 15 men mostly between the ages of 20 and 28 – had a programme to attend in the first place is a remarkable achievement in itself.

The UCA and the organizers aimed to take the classroom setting and bring it to a practical environment: a Fairtrade-certified producer organization. After conducting two pilot projects with local students, the Nicaraguan university partnered with Fairtrade producer organizations across the border in Honduras to provide each student with a real-life environment to apply the lessons they were learning.

For a week every two months, the students returned to the university for classroom work, but most of their time was spent in the field working on projects that directly benefited the producer organization and its members. These projects included research and development in organic composting, certification compliance and internal control systems, financial planning and administration, and even cupping.

Currently many of the graduates are working in some capacity with the Fairtrade producer groups that sponsored them. Sandy Yaneth Cabrera Arita and Douglas Antonio Marquez López, for example, are working respectively in the administration and quality control areas of COAGRICSAL, the Honduran coffee cooperative they worked with during their studies. Marvin Yovani Machamé Ortiz – the son of a founding member of the Fairtrade cooperative COAPROCL – is now working as a technical assistant with the Honduran Coffee Institute.

With the success of the Rural Development Programme at Nicaragua’s UCA Managua, other programs are popping in the region under the coordination of Fairtrade International's regional support programme. A similar diploma programme - Management of Cooperatives and Associations - was launched this year as a pilot project through the Guatemalan Universidad Rafael Landivar with 25 students from 11 Fairtrade-certified organizations in Guatemala participating. The Polytechnic University of Nicaragua (UPOLI) also has a pilot programme for two certificates in Rural Development (basic and intermediate) with SOPPEXCCA, a Nicaraguan coffee cooperative. Sixty students, most between the ages of 17 and 24, have completed one or both certificates and several are working on projects within the cooperative.

By providing students with opportunities to find work and education in their region, producer organizations and communities are benefitting from Fairtrade efforts to secure a future for the next generation of coffee farmers.

These efforts in innovative delivery of education are just some of the work done by Fairtrade’s field staff in partnership with other organizations. Have a look at our blog to see more ways the Fairtrade teams on the ground are making a difference for producers

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