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Narrowing Gaps in Higher Education in Latin America

IDB provides access to quality education for talented African descendant students to contribute to communities, cultivate entrepreneurship and improve employability

María Daniela Ayoví Angulo is from Borbón, a rural community in the coastal province of Esmeraldas in northern Ecuador, which is home to the majority of the country’s Afro-Ecuadorian population. Home to 6,300 residents, Borbón is located at the confluence of three rivers, Onzole, Cayapas and Santiago, which are used to transport agriculture and lumber products.

Image removed.“Our rivers have been contaminated with pollutants due to the recent development and population growth,” says Daniela. “The situation is aggravated by a lack of waste management such as garbage collection and drainage systems in the community. Increasingly, more and more people were having skin and stomach diseases. I felt a strong need to educate ourselves to find solutions to those problems and to protect the environment,” she says.

Daniela received a scholarship from the Indigenous and Afro-Latino Scholarship (IALS) Program created by the Inter-American Development Bank ( IDB ) and Georgetown University that enabled her to study natural resources management at Mount Hood Community College, Gresham, Oregon.

After completing her studies, she has been able to apply her knowledge and skills to help the community by instituting a recycling campaign. She describes herself as an activist with an entrepreneurial spirit.

“We launched the recycling project to instill a habit of recycling, which has been non-existent in Borbón,” she says. “Through education, training, and an awareness campaign, the initiative not only reduces garbage, thus creating a healthier environment, but the sale of recycled goods also generates revenue to buy new blackboards and other items for schools.”

Daniela is one of some 80 students who benefited between 2008 and 2010 from the IALS program, which received $3 million in financing from the IDB. Over 50% of the beneficiaries were women and 33% were Afro-descendants, who have limited access to education in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Based on a model created by the Georgetown University’s Center for Intercultural Education and Development (CIED) with funding from the U. S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the IALS Program was created to promote higher education opportunities and address the development needs of both Afro-Latino and Indigenous youth from rural communities in four Andean countries-- Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru-- as part of a two-year pilot project with IDB financing.

Georgetown’s CIED worked closely with partner academic institutions in the United States and in Latin America to design and implement effective technical training programs in natural-resources technology, ecological and cultural tourism, agribusiness, and small business management to promote broad-based options for economic development and environmental protection of Afro-descent and indigenous communities. The programs also incorporated leadership development, gender equity, intercultural experience, professional internships and community services.

One of the key features of the IALS program is to work closely with local community organizations and schools to identify potential candidates. This is particularly important for young women, who generally lack the confidence or family support to apply for the scholarships. The program values the experience and skills youth already have through their engagement in their school and community activities. It is a bottom-up model based on information and knowledge that candidates possess at the local level.

“The IALS Program is one of the few opportunities available to the communities located in conflict zones,” notes Gloria Almeyda, administrator of the project at CIED. “Program officers work with local institutions and communities to identify potential candidates to strengthen their leadership skills, and then it works with the partnering academic institutions to fully integrate students from a diversity of backgrounds, valuing their culture and tapping the experience of the Afro-descendent students,” she says.

Image removed.Cediel Tenorio Mezu is a fine example of the fruits of such efforts. Cediel is from Padilla, Cauca, an area mainly inhabited by people of African descent. The area, like many other regions in Colombia, has suffered the effects of the country’s decades-long armed conflict, which has resulted in displacement of communities, poverty and lives lost.

Through the scholarship program, he studied agricultural business management at the Litoral National University in Santa Fe, Argentina and developed an innovative program to reverse the adverse effects of deforestation and environmental degradation in his community, while yielding positive economic and social impacts.

CIED has recently completed the evaluation of the scholarship program, which demonstrated substantial positive impacts, and is seeking to launch a second phase of the program with support from the IDB.

Lumni-IDB Social Inclusion Fund

The Lumni-IDB Social Inclusion Fund, launched in May of 2011, is another example of the IDB’s efforts to help talented, underprivileged Afro-descendant youth. The fund offers a private sector alternative to finance higher education opportunities for outstanding Afro-descendant and indigenous youths in Latin America.

Image removed.The fund will finance university students’ tuition and living expenses. Once they graduate, students will pay the fund back with a percentage of their salaries. This financing model provides students with an accessible and less costly alternative to traditional student loans. And, as they repay the fund, that money becomes available for future generations of students. The program will also offer mentoring and job placement services in order to reduce the drop-out rates prevalent among students from disadvantaged social groups.

The IDB’s Multilateral Investment Fund ( MIF ) played an instrumental role in fine-tuning the business model and the mentoring system of Lumni when it pioneered the human capital fund methodology.

The IDB’s Structured and Corporate Finance Department ( SCF ) designed and structured this new program, which is being financed by the IDB’s Gender and Diversity Fund with US$470,000.

The new program includes a pilot project in Colombia to promote access to higher education for disadvantaged populations and to increase their employability in the job market through sustainable private sector investments.

Image removed.Prominent Afro-Colombian leaders, including the recently elected governor of Chocó, Luis Gilberto Murillo, and former Colombian Minister of Culture Paula Moreno ,joined the IDB senior staff in celebrating the launch of this innovative, high-impact initiative to close higher education gaps in the region.

Although Colombia has the second largest African descendent population in Latin America (20-30% of the population, equivalent to 10 to 17 million people), less than 8% of Afro-Colombians have access to higher education. Colombia offers fertile ground for exploring the potential of this innovative program.

Private companies in Colombia have already committed US$300,000 to the Lumni-IDB Social Inclusion Fund, which has benefited 37 students since its launch in March. The program expects to support an additional 500 students next year through strategic partnership with businesses.

“The IDB continues to be a catalyst in building partnerships and mobilizing resources from both the private and public sectors,” says Diana Navas, the fund manager for Lumni. “The bank also plays a key role as a knowledge broker to expand and scale up the program.”

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