How Rural Nicaraguan Communities are Learning by Earning

The Learning Tutorial System (SAT) is a secondary and technical education program committed to the economic development of rural communities

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I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria, and based on its description, I am eligible to apply to the CSV Prize 2017.

  • Yes, I'm eligible

Preferred language

  • English

Organization name


Year founded


Initiative stage

  • Scaling (the solution has passed the previous stages and is growing its impact on a regional or global scale)

Annual budget in 2017 (USD)

  • $500k - $1m

Number of beneficiaries impacted so far

  • 1,000 - 5,000

Organization type

  • Nonprofit, NGO, or citizen sector

Secondary Focus Area

  • Rural development

Headquarters location: Country

  • United States of America

Headquarters location: City

Washington, D.C.

Location(s) of impact

Nicaragua: Madriz, Managua, Nueva Segovia, and Southern Region of the Caribbean Coast (RACCS)


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Problem: What problem is this initiative trying to address?

In Nicaragua, over 50% of the population living in rural communities survives on less than $2 per day. For generations, rural youth from these communities are born into bleak living conditions unable to meet basic needs. To break this cycle of poverty, rural communities need human capital capable of spurring economic development. SAT addresses this need by providing rural youth with the knowledge and skills required to create new businesses, run sustainable farms, and serve as leaders within their community.

Solution Summary: What is the proposed solution? What do you see as its most promising aspects for creating shared value?

The Tutorial Learning System (commonly known by its Spanish acronym, SAT) is an alternative rural educational model, which provides youth with nationally accredited secondary education and technical training. SAT works by utilizing existing infrastructure and land in remote communities to offer three options: 1) a 5-year high school degree accredited by the Ministry of Education (MINED); 2) certificate courses in agri-business accredited by the National Instituted for Technical Education (INATEC); or (3) a hybrid offering that combines facets from options 1 and 2. Adopting a "learn by doing” approach, SAT tutors teach both formal and technical subjects tailored to the rural environment. From geometry to bee-keeping, students are taught to use their skills to solve actual problems within their community. For example, Danys, a SAT graduate turned tutor, designed a corn mill business that provides a time-saving service for rural women and meaningful employment for local youth.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Specify both the social and the environmental impact of your work

Since its inception in 2007, SAT has grown from serving 300 rural youth in northern Nicaragua, into a nationwide program supported by government institutions and corporate partners. In 2018, SAT is expected to benefit 1,700 youth in 58 communities. One of the ways SAT benefits youth is by instilling values like community service. Over its 10-year history, program youth have executed hundreds of service projects, including community clean-ups, recycling initiatives, and women’s empowerment trainings. Through these activities, rural youth learn to view themselves as part of a larger whole. The principle benefit of SAT, however, is its ability to prepare youth for life after the classroom. As of 2016, over 420 rural youth have graduated from SAT’s high school program. 81% of these graduates are currently furthering their studies and/or engaged in agri-business (e.g. coffee growing, poultry farming, and beekeeping)—a notable achievement for communities with poverty rates above 50%

Financial sustainability plan: How is this initiative financially supported? How will you ensure its financial sustainability long-term?

SAT is supported primarily through institutional grants, which cover approximately 80% of the program’s budget. Of note is a $1.8 million grant from the Inter-American Development Bank that extends through 2020. Individual donations garnered from events, campaigns, and a sponsorship program cover the remaining 20% of costs. To create sustainability in the long-term, Fabretto will (1) grow its for-profit arm that connects youth entrepreneurs to value chains and markets (fees collected are reinvested into the program), (2) engage Nicaragua’s Ministry of Education in discussions about absorbing select costs, (3) digitize the program’s curriculum to eliminate the need for expensive textbooks, and (4) partner with private sector enterprises interested in using the program for CSR/CSV purposes.

Unique value proposition: What makes your initiative innovative? How does your project differ from other organizations working in the same field?

SAT has two key features that distinguish it from other rural education interventions and youth outreach initiatives in Nicaragua: 1) Accreditation: SAT is the only education intervention whose high school degrees and vocational certificates receive accreditation by MINED and INATEC, respectively. 2) Learning by Earning: Unlike other educational interventions, SAT links student’s income-generating projects with value chains that are in need of specific skills and/ or niche products.

Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that sparked the beginning of this initiative.

SAT’s primary goal has always been to increase rural youth’s access to quality education and training through a hands-on approach. In 2014, however, a 15-year old student named Katherine transformed this approach from “learning by doing” into “learning by earning.” With the help of her tutor and Mayorga Organics., Katherine applied her lessons in improved farming techniques to create an organic chia farm. By 2014, SAT had received considerable attention from companies seeking specific skills and/or niche products. Mayorga Org., like many of SAT’s corporate partners, views the skill gap in rural Nicaragua as an opportunity for investment, and willingly supplied chia seeds. That year, Katherine grew 500 lbs. of chia that Mayorga Org. purchased and exported to the US. She and her family increased their revenue enough to purchase 3 dairy cows. This is how “learning by earning” was born.

Where did you hear about the Nestlé Creating Shared Value Prize?

  • Ashoka page or contact

Program Design Clarity: We are hungry to know more about what exactly your model consists of. Succinctly list a) what main activities are you doing with your beneficiaries, b) where you carry out the activities? c) how often? d) for how many hours? e) who delivers the services? and f) any other brief details

SAT works by establishing learning spaces within communities utilizing existing infrastructure and land, eliminating youth’s need to traverse long distances to public schools. Those who participate can enroll for free in one of three options: (1) a 5-year degree offering, which provides a high school diploma accredited by MINED, (2) individual, technical courses accredited by INATEC, and (3) a hybrid program, which enables youth enrolled in a Saturday-only high school program (run by MINED) to supplement their education with technical courses during the week. Youth participating in the HS degree option attend classes and conduct project activities from February to December, 5 days per week, for 4 hours per day (options 2 and 3 run similarly but primarily focus on skills training). Each week, SAT tutors, who typically come from the community in which they work, educate youth in five subjects: agriculture, science, mathematics, communication, and community service. Youth complete the HS degree program with 4,000 hours of training that prepares them to further their education, generate a sustainable income, and serve as community leaders. In each of the three options, SAT students are encouraged to put their knowledge into practice via income-generating ventures. Fabretto’s “Learning by Earning” initiative connects these ventures with interested businesses, entrepreneurs, and value chains which provide access to new, more profitable markets.

Focus area

  • Rural Development

We are interested in learning more about your initiative's broad impact on sustainable development. Please reply ONLY to the question(s) related to your above focus area.

SAT is available to rural Nicaraguan youth, ages 13 and up, regardless of social, economic, religious, ethnic or any other status. As an equitable educational model, SAT is designed to combat gender inequality in rural areas by implementing on-going studies and social campaigns to raise female participation. In the past 3 years, SAT has maintained a female enrollment rate above 48%--a notable achievement in a predominantly machista society that undermines women’s role in education and the economy. With almost a third of Nicaragua’s population between the ages of 15 to 29, SAT’s long-term goal is to create a generation of talented, working professionals that can galvanize economic development. However, the program also focuses on imparting knowledge and skills that can solve actual problems in the community. This means the curriculum is tailored to context. For example, in Nicaragua’s dry corridor, where a 3-year drought has crippled the livelihoods of 30,000 families, youth receive training in natural resource management, crop diversification, and use of irrigation technologies. These climate-smart skills not only enable youth to mitigate environmental threats but also generate a sustainable income. SAT does not simply generate an income for students, it also ensures their sustainability. Fabretto’s for-profit arm links student ventures to profitable markets, provides continuous financial counsel, and facilitates the integration of any cost-saving biotechnologies.

Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for different stakeholders?

In 10 years, SAT has developed thousands of young individuals who are interested in agriculture, knowledgable about good practices, possess an entrepreneurial drive, and follow a vocation to build the production capabilities of their rural communities. Seeing their potential, Fabretto launched a small for-profit arm. Fabretto Comercial S.A. began as a small endeavor in 2011 to help connect these highly gifted individuals with potential businesses who are looking for specific skills, niche products, or to increase their output. These corporate partners pay good prices and offer favorable conditions to small producers from rural communities where SAT is implemented. Fabretto works with partners like Burke Agro, Ingemann, Counter Culture Coffee, and Sol Maya, which in turn reinvest part of their profits in social benefits and education programs Fabretto offers to young people. Today, Fabretto is using this model as a Creating Shared Value approach to bridge the skills gap in Nicaragua.

How is your initiative funded, now and over the next 5 years?

In 2017, SAT had an annual budget of roughly $950,000. Currently, an approximate 80% of SAT’s funding is derived from grants and donations. However, Fabretto “Learning by Earning” initiative enables SAT to become less grant-dependent and more financially sustainable. Expanding its corporate partners interested in implementing SAT as a CSV approach, Fabretto can further increase the funds re-invested in SAT programs. This can be achieved with the following activities: (1) conduct market studies to identify potential partners, high-value markets, supply chains; (2) elaborate a SAT curriculum focused on specific crops, high-value chains, or corporate needs; (3) standardize a financing model for potential ventures with agricultural investors.

How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of this edition of the CSV Prize?

SAT provides a way for youth to generate sustainable income while also responding to the needs of the agricultural sector. In addition, it also empowers a whole population of youth, ages 15-29, to be the veritable agents of change. SAT helps youth and their families enter the formal economy, which bodes well for policy changes in the near future. Along the way, SAT students enact numerous public service activities to mitigate the effects of poverty and natural disasters. As winner of the CSV Prize, Fabretto would launch public campaigns, disseminate marketing materials, and create a public dialogue to further espouse SAT as an equitable CSV approach that spurs development for all of Nicaragua.

How will you leverage an investment from Nestle to expand the impact of your work?

Fabretto Comercial S.A. focuses on selling the products of SAT income-generating ventures; however, it lacks a clear structure in Fabretto and responds to opportunities as they arise. The goal is to strengthen Fabretto Comercial S.A. by (1) design a business plan and strategy which includes hiring and financing a sales expert; (2) implement a fund management model that provides financing to student ventures but also establishes a channel of revenue to be reinvested in SAT activities; (3) train a team of 10 technical specialists to identify high-value chains, integrate biotechnologies, and provide ongoing financial counsel; and (4) establishing an investment fund of US$100,000 to grant loans to producers (e.g., provide seed capital).

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact? What’s the projected impact for the coming years? Are you planning to expand your programme into new locations? On what assumptions do you build your scale-up plans?

SAT was created in 1974 by the Foundation for the Application and Teaching of Science, for rural communities in Colombia. Later, it was implemented in Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador, Brazil, and Nicaragua. A total of more than 300,000 students have benefitted from it. Fabretto’s plan is not necessarily to expand geographically. The chief goal is to strengthen its “Learning by Earning” strategy. SAT will continue to be active in 58 rural Nicaraguan communities; however, Fabretto’s S.A. Comercial will gain a stronger role in expanding its corporate network by (1) conducting market research to identity lucrative agricultural supply chains; (2) help link student ventures with high-value supply chains and profitable markets; (3) standardize a process of financing SAT ventures with agricultural investors; (4) ensure ventures sustainability by providing continuous financial counsel and strategic advice; (5) launch certificate courses focused on financial literacy and business development.

Team: What is the current composition of your team (types of roles, number of full-time vs. part-time staff, board members, etc.)? How will this team evolve as your initiative grows?

Fabretto, the organization implementing SAT in Nicaragua, is governed by a Board of Directors of seven members, which meets annually to provide strategic, financial, and technical counsel on current and prospective programs. Kevin Marinacci, Fabretto’s Chief Executive Officer, has 25 years of experience with the organization. The Executive Team consists of five key roles: President, VP-Director of Programs, VP-Director of Marketing & Communications, Managing Director of Finance, and Managing Director of Development. Each executive staff and board member holds advanced degrees in their fields. The board and executive team serve a staff of over 350, who work to operate SAT in 58 rural communities and 5 departments in Nicaragua.

Awards: What awards or honors has the initiative received?

•The Qatar Foundation named SAT as a WISE (World Innovation Summit for Education) Award semifinalist (2013) •The Brookings Institution chose SAT as 1 of 12 case studies for its Millions Learning Project (2015) •The Drucker Foundation named SAT an Annual Prize semifinalist (2016) •The Inter-American Development Bank awarded SAT $1.8 mill in 2016

Organizational leadership: How are you influencing your field of work in the present?

One of SAT's vital forms of public change is through the empowerment and training of teachers, who guide the learning process as opposed to simply imparting information ala traditional high schools. Fabretto recruits tutors from the communities in which the program is implemented (many are standout program graduates) and continually develops their understanding of the methodology. One of tutors’ responsibilities is to help youth put knowledge into practice through the development of income-generating projects. In many instances, these projects become viable businesses, which tutors and other program staff help youth grow. Tutors become community leaders, creating change, and serving as role models that raises that status of teachers.

Should you be successful, please confirm your availability to attend the Ashoka Impact Boot camp and Creating Shared Value Prize Live Pitch Event at the World Water Forum 13-16 March 2018

  • Yes, I am available to attend the events on 13-16 March 2018

Evaluation results

26 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 76.9%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 3.8%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 3.8%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 11.5%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 3.8%

2. Innovation

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 61.5%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 23.1%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 11.5%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 3.8%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Social and/or Environmental Impact

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 76.9%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 7.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 11.5%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 3.8%

4. Financial sustainability

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 66.7%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 8.3%

1 - This entry is weak here - 8.3%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%

5. Potential to Scale / Replicability

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 57.7%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 26.9%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 7.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 3.8%

1 - This entry is weak here - 3.8%

6. Organizational Leadership

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 61.5%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 26.9%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 7.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 3.8%

7. Potential for Creating Shared Value

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 69.2%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 15.4%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 11.5%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 3.8%


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