Honduras - Exploring Opportunities to Leverage Education for Economic Development

Exploring Opportunities to Leverage Education for Economic Development

Olancho Aid Foundation

As a country, Honduras faces challenges of migration, economic inequality, poverty, and violence despite having the second highest growth rate in Latin America (second to Panama). 52.6% of the country falls into the middle-income poverty category, living off $5.50 USD per day and 17.2% falls into extreme poverty, living off less than $1.90 USD per day. In the Department of Olancho, most organizations and businesses operate independently without much external consultation. This avoidance of collaboration among businesses is further exacerbated by resource and opportunity constraints.

The region of Olancho has certain competitive advantages including low-cost diligent labor, fertile agricultural land, and transportation to Trujillo on the coast for exports. However, the entire Olancho region also face critical gaps and challenges in further developing an economic engine including threats from narco-traffickers, the breakdown of families due to migration, and transportation, infrastructure and communication challenges.

What was the problem?

The traditional economic activities in Olancho are cattle keeping, farming and forestry. Recent years have seen the development of small businesses and an increased desire for bilingual education as it is perceived to create more opportunities for the younger generation. There is also a lack of collaboration among the different stakeholders in Olancho who operate in silos. With the development of small businesses, there are many parallel programs in Juticalpa working to promote small business education, yet there is no organization that works to convene these efforts and share resources among the community.

With nearly 30 years of experience providing special needs and bilingual education, the Olancho Aid Foundation (OAF) has built an incredible amount of goodwill within the Olancho community. Recognizing their unique position in the community and the ability to impact many through educational programs, relationships and clean water projects, OAF sought to leverage its capabilities in the hopes of becoming a catalyst for economic activity in the Olancho region.  

While engaging in internal strategic planning, OAF looked to discern where new opportunities to grow and shape industries in the Olancho region could help drive employment and economic growth. With increasing competition for bilingual education in Juticalpa, OAF also looks to develop long term strategies to remain distinctive in the education space. With these two core considerations in mind, the team set out to understand the core drivers of economic growth within Olancho.

What did we do?

Throughout our time in Honduras, our team conducted over 20 meetings with government stakeholders in Juticalpa, the other bilingual schools, the chamber of commerce, small business development center, cattle processing plants, university heads, small business owners, and more. We discovered a consistent narrative of a need for collaboration and further identified a need for greater business acumen. 

Our team began to consider: can OAF convene local actors to advance this need for increased business acumen, through its core competency of education, while also distinguishing itself from other bilingual educational competitors?

What was the turning point?

Throughout the trip, we recognized that many stakeholders highlighted the need for growth of small businesses in the area.  This was a goal at the Central American, Honduran, Olanchan, and local Juticalpan levels. We found that many organizations were working towards this goal of bolstering small businesses. However, the organizations were not working together or sharing resources. Due to OAF’s unique positioning of respect in the community, we recognized an opportunity for OAF to work as a convenor in the community and set an example of collaboration and sharing resources.

We made the connection that the parents of our schoolchildren were small business owners and that many of schoolchildren would go on to work in or own their parents’ small businesses. Thus, OAF families composed the majority of the middle class that the economy needed to grow. How could we use education to best serve these middle class families?

Despite the saturated bilingual education market, we recognized that Olancho Aid Foundation had some unique assets that other schools did not. OAF has maintained relationships with many North American churches by hosting the parishes on mission trips and maintaining them as financial sponsors. OAF has already developed a formal “Strategic Partnership” program through which it engages the expertise of these experienced partners. Thus, we realized that OAF had a unique community of North American connections. OAF could utilize this resource of business-minded North Americans in order to offer business education both to its students and their parents. Our turning point was the recognition of a need for small business education and OAF’s unique ability to offer this service by convening the efforts of Juticalpan organizations and North American businesspeople.

What was the recommendation?

We developed three buckets of recommendations for the Olancho Aid Foundation to position itself as a business academy: develop a business curriculum, leverage strategic partnerships, and improve internal operations.

In order to bolster small business development through education, we recommended that OAF become the lead “business academy” in the region. Not only will this distinguish OAF from the six other bilingual schools in Juticalpa, but it will also improve future opportunities for its students to work in small business in Juticalpa, as well as current opportunities for OAF parents. OAF can implement pre-existing high school small-business curricula from Heifer International and National University of Agriculture (UNAG); offer workshops modeled after those offered by the Chamber of Commerce, the Center for Economic Development (CDE), Heifer International, and Universidad Pedagógica; and offer internships such as those offered at UNAG. Through the gradual development of the middle class, educated Juticalpan youth will then have the opportunity to get better jobs by staying home in Juticalpa. OAF can further implement its business education through offering elective courses in business, including experiential learning courses which allow students to apply their business learning to projects with local small business owners - students could even choose to work on their family business. OAF can create an annual business fair and awards ceremony acknowledging innovation in the business community. 

In order to launch its business-minded education, OAF can leverage its already existing Strategic Partnership program. These strategic partners can volunteer as speakers for weekend workshops on best practices for small businesses, as well as inform OAF’s business curriculum.  These workshops can be open to the community, thus modeling openness to collaboration. Additionally, OAF can begin offering an annual Small Business Conference which includes speakers from among OAF’s strategic partners - the first of these conferences can begin in summer 2020 with the presentation of our BOTFL group’s Economic Study of Juticalpa.

Finally, through surveying six bilingual educators in Juticalpa, we crafted a bucket of recommendations for the internal operations at OAF. OAF can launch a Bilingual Schools’ Association so that the seven local bilingual schools can collaborate on common problems, specifically sharing a pipeline of substitute teachers (potentially sourced as “teacher cadets” from local bilingual universities) in order to address the common issue of teacher absenteeism. Additionally, OAF must improve its teacher turnover by recruiting its teachers locally from Juticalpa (can also be sourced as university “teacher cadets”). OAF can implement measures to source its teachers from its own alumni by creating a system for alumni engagement. OAF can improve its parents’ participation in their children’s education by improving parent engagement through the aforementioned small business workshops. Finally, OAF must improve its branding efforts within the community, such as through launching a student-run radio program that both markets OAF and gives students opportunity in marketing communication.