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Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$1 million - $5 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Our idea is to build upon local assets to support eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture development at La Laguna de Apoyo volcanic lake and reserve in Nicaragua. By implementing local demand-driven education and economic development strategies, local communities will learn how to conserve the lake’s resources and create sustainable economic opportunities.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

75% of Nicaragua lives below the poverty line and only 30% of young people complete high school.Tourism is on the rise,but few are prepared to benefit from the opportunities this offers.With the significance of agriculture to the economy of Nicaragua,special care must be taken so that the heritage and livelihoods of Nicaraguans can be enhanced while preserving the environment.Opportunity chose La Laguna de Apoyo because of its unique ecological significance and its great potential for tourism. The crater lake is home to incredibly rich flora and fauna;proximity to Granada (known for political history and colonial/neoclassical infrastructure) and Masaya (Nicaragua’s center of folklore/culture).While an excellent site for tourism activities,the people of La Laguna are not equipped to fully benefit from this growth due to low awareness of how ecological protection can improve their lives,low levels of education,and lack of training and access to markets for micro entrepreneurs.With no superficial exits,the lagoon is extremely sensitive to human exploits as abuse of the water and forest can cause irreversible damage to the site and its economic potential.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Most development approaches begin with a “needs assessment”; however, this methodology falls short of lasting development because it defines what is lacking rather than building upon what already exists. In contrast, Opportunity’s work in Nicaragua centers on identifying and utilizing community assets to solve local problems and comes alongside the people to co-invest in these community-driven solutions. While Opportunity has always led with business development activities, we soon realized that any long-term economic solutions must result in a constant flow of new leaders and employees for improved businesses and industries. Therefore, in addition to providing assistance to micro-entrepreneurs, Opportunity must also address the lack of young people prepared to enter the workforce. Whereas education and economic development initiatives tend to operate in “silos”, Opportunity seeks to merge the two interventions to accelerate results for the targeted community. Opportunity’s innovative model utilizes an integrative approach to meet the economic and educational needs of the poor of La Laguna de Apoyo, while focusing on sustainability and ecological protection of the lake and reserve. The education aspect of the project will target youth through the establishment of a technical high school teaching eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture, and target adults through the development and expansion of a peer-to-peer micro-entrepreneur learning group (NicaWorks). The economic development strategy will train youth in self sustaining/revenue generating school-based businesses (part of the eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture value chains) and support micro-entrepreneurs through technical assistance, access to markets, and commercialization of Nicaraguan artisan products through Opportunity’s trademarked logo, Ojalá. In this way, families increase their incomes as well as their understanding of La Laguna's impact on their lives.
About You
Opportunity Nicaragua
Visit website
Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



Opportunity International


, DC, Washington

Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Opportunity Nicaragua

Organization Phone


Organization Address

Carreterra Nandaime Kilometer 48, Granada, Nicaragua

Organization Country

, GR

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, GR

Would you like to participate in the MIF Opportunity 2010?


Do you have a patent for this idea?

What impact have you had on your clients and the tourism sector?

Ojalá has become influential in assisting artisans to develop new products for diverse customers,increase incomes, and access new markets.To date, artisans under the Ojalá brand have experienced a 10% increase in sales and 20-25% net profit on sales.Products are currently sold in 5 Nicaragua stores,3 USA stores,and on the Ojalá website,which was launched in November 2010. NicaWorks,our peer-to-peer support and business development vehicle is currently working with 14 microentrepreneur groups. To date,Opportunity has dispersed 50 farm loans and provided technical assistance to 83 farmers.Farmers have increased their crop yields by 30% and have experienced a 245% increase in net income per manzana (1 mz=1.7 acres).Opportunity has also trained over 30 Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry (MAGFOR) agricultural extension agents in order to scale the impact beyond the Opportunity program.Opportunity will use its experience in this initiative,where it has taught farmers techniques such as crop rotation, planting methods to prevent soil erosion, and selective use of fertilizers,to pass on lessons learned to students under the technical high school’s sustainable agriculture program.Opportunity’s community support and infrastructure has also helped to empower communities and preserve the environment for tourism.Through this program, Opportunity co-invests with communities to address serious community issues.Progress includes:250 households receive potable water through aqueduct;50 families with biogas systems (versus wood-burning systems);20% increase in membership in community cooperative;5 community-owned libraries in schools;34 resident leaders guiding projects that they initiated.Whereas,this project is not part of the current proposed project,Opportunity’s successful involvement in the community has legitimized our work in the region.


Opportunity’s studies indicate that parents are reluctant to send children to school because they do not see economic benefit.The technical high school will offer degrees in eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture and give students hands-on experiences in the school’s businesses,which will include a small dairy,hatchery, apiary,organic gardens,eco-hotel and restaurant situated on the volcano’s rim,overlooking La Laguna and Lake Nicaragua.Building on the generational expertise for hand-crafted products in Nicaragua,Opportunity has established a trademarked brand (Ojalá) and best practice network of micro-entrepreurs (NicaWorks) to enhance the marketability and exportability of Nicaraguan artisan products.NicaWorks serves as a vehicle to bring micro-entrepreneurs together to share best practices,learn new production & quality control techniques and access knowledge from volunteer experts and business leaders.Ojalá products (textile art & clothing, household products made from recycled metals, bamboo products, natural soaps, etc) represent the highest quality artisan work and focus on products that both define regional culture and preservation.


Over the next 4 years,Opportunity seeks to expand NicaWorks to 100 groups and have placement of Ojala products in 6 regional stores and 30 stores across the U.S.Opportunity aims increase Ojala artisan profit margins by 25% and sales by 10%.Through NicaWorks and Ojala,the tourist experience will be enhanced with access to high quality products that showcase the land and natural resources of La Laguna while increasing incomes for local entrepreneurs.The establishment of a technical high school in the La Laguna area will increase educational opportunities for young people in the rural community where there is little access to secondary education and provide students with technical training in sustainable agriculture and tourism so that they may improve the productive activities in their communities and generate new sources of income for their families. By Year 5, the school will be educating and training 250 students and sending 50 graduates into the workforce each year who are trained in eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture and prepared to start their own business, obtain a wage in agriculture or tourism,enter University,or return to the family business.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

Year 1: Highly-skilled director hired to oversee the development of the businesses and school and build community ownership and define roles for local groups and individuals to for long-term success.School curriculum approved by the Nicaragua Ministry of Education (MINED) and the eco-hotel and restaurant approved by the Nicaraguan Ministry for Economic and National Resources (MARENA).The technical high school promoted to local primary schools and a broad base of community schools recruited and local parent committees formed. Consultant for NicaWorks hired to work with microentrepreneurs, product designers and buyers.A strategic plan for recruitment and training of microentrepreneurs to enable NicaWorks to grow from 14 to 100 groups in 3-4 years.Staff must also be hired to expand the reach of Ojala products.Year 2: The school opens(Feb-Nov).The school businesses progress in coordination with the curricula and begin to generate income.Students prepare 1-2 ecological projects for La Laguna that become part of the tourism offering of the eco-hotel.A fair is organized in coordination with other Nicaraguan trade show groups to display NicaWorks micro-entrepreurs and Ojala artisan products to promote Nicaraguan artisan work and quality standards.Opportunity pursues a trademark for Ojala for the U.S. markets and develops products with U.S. designers and wholesale customers.Opportunity collaborates with other NGOs working on artisan support and market access to assist with scalability and replication.Opportunity develops a manual for fair trade and artisan “niche” markets to be a guide for expansion and replication. Year 3: The technical high school adds 50 students every year until a capacity of 250 is reached.Opportunity continually assesses the success of children’s learning both inside and outside the classroom.NicaWorks expands to include 100 micro-entrepreneurs.Opportunity collaborates with Nicaragua’s governmental body working with micro entrepreneurs (IMPYME) to share knowledge and publish best practice materials. Opportunity confirms permanent “guest professorship” from a Design School or University to work with micro entrepreneurs.At least 50 micro entrepreneurs represented under the Ojala brand. Latin American NGOs engaged begin exploring additional countries/products under the Ojala label and distribution system.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

While a variety of factors could influence the success of the project, we believe the most critical components are 1) hiring the right people, 2) developing the right tools and 3) navigating bureaucracy effectively. Given these three important criteria, Opportunity has taken or will take the following steps to mitigate the risks associated with this project: engage in regular meetings with MINED delegates in Granada to assure compliance with requirements and maintain solid relationships with key personnel;ensure that a competent, talented entrepreneurial leader is hired as school director;provide ongoing staff and teacher training and active exchanges to create a “learning community” not only among students but among professional staff as well;work with the mayor of Catarina to assure compliance with building codes and preservation standards and work with architects who have experience in eco-hotel construction; partner with businesses that use alternative materials for construction and infrastructure development; apply our “integrated farm” techniques to the agricultural school – utilize biogas digestors and alternative energy options; keep in mind the dual role of the school: To provide education for youth/adults and To create a sense of “community” among students, educators, parents and neighboring communities; engage Nicaraguan and US Universities to assure an ongoing exchange of students and professors reflecting best practices/thinking; engage Nicaraguan and US business volunteers to be part of “volunteer business advisory group” overseeing and advising on business decisions; monitor and evaluate the impact of the project;make sure there are self-evaluation systems in place in order to continually correct and improve all systems of the school;maintain partnerships with local and international groups (in eco-tourism and education) to obtain the best advice, experience and collaborative model that will assure efficiency and effectiveness; etc.

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$50 - 100

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy or introduce models and tools that benefit the tourism sector in general?


What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

In what country?

, GR

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Opportunity International

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Collaboration, done well and with clarity in purpose, strengthens the impact of all partners and helps form a comprehensive strategy to tackling the problem at hand. We are aligned with NGOs, universities, government leaders and businesses as a way to leverage assets, influence, educate and learn. Partnering with government bodies helps us streamline bureaucracy and exchange knowledge about how to maximize resources for the benefit of the community. Partnering with universities provides the foundation for quality education. Partnering with business allows us to go beyond the theoretical to practical applications of eco-friendly methodologies and ensure that our students are adequately prepared for the tourism and agriculture sectors. In addition, Opportunity has deep relationships with the communities in La Laguna, having supported the development of a community cooperative to operate and own social enterprises that not only benefits the community (i.e, rural aqueduct) but also generates revenue. We have also established communication with parents’ groups in elementary schools from which we will draw high school students. A full list of our partners can be made available.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

Our vision is to execute a model of eco-tourism that combines both education and economic strategies to make it self-sufficient and impactful in terms of preserving natural resources and improving livelihoods for local communities. Key actions are: 1. Obtain sufficient funding to build out the school facilities, and develop a dynamic curriculum that will provide theory and hands-on, real time practicum experience. 2. Develop the curriculum for eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture to maintain the demand for the program and establish a reputation of excellence that existing businesses want to emulate. 3. Obtain entrepreneurial experts (staff and consultants) to develop a team with passion, expertise, and ability to develop necessary systems as well as create a learning environment to innovate and resolve problems as the work unfolds. Provide ongoing training and professional development for staff and partner organizations to assure sustainability. (and #4...The effective transfer of knowledge and skills.)

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

Most development approaches begin by doing a “needs assessment” to define what is lacking, what doesn’t exit in a region. However, there is an alternative to the traditional approach that begins by looking at assets rather than needs or deficiencies. This approach is commonly referred to as Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). ABCD ( was first introduced by John McKnight and John Kretzmann in the early 1990’s in their book, Building Communities from the Inside Out.

In an asset-based approach, one begins by considering all the assets (resources, knowledge, talent, abilities and capacity) of the community. Then, based on this “asset data,” an investment plan is created that results in citizen-led action in the community. This asset based approach has been successfully used in revitalizing urban and rural communities in the USA. It has been used successfully in Africa and Europe also. Opportunity’s work in Nicaragua brings the methodology, strategies and principles to Latin America.

Identifying the overlap between people’s skills and economic opportunities led us to target tourism and agriculture as the two most promising businesses in the pacific south of Nicaragua. Initially, our methodology focused on business development and income generation activities. However, Opportunity soon realized that any long-term solution required a constant flow of new leaders and employees for the improved industries and businesses. Therefore, education and economic interventions must be intimately tied for lasting economic development. Too often, education initiatives are not aligned with (nor responsive to) good economic analysis of what are the most promising industries and needs of local businesses in poor communities and therefore do not adequately prepare the future workforce for local opportunities.

Utilizing the ABCD approach, Opportunity’s commitment is that any and all interventions in a community become sustainable and locally-led. In this way, community members understand that they are the key ingredient for any successful action. Opportunity’s role is not to solve their problems, but to work and support their efforts.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

Geralyn Sheehan is a consultant providing advice and training on how to effectively mobilize successful community action. Sheehan works in urban and rural settings in the United States and internationally. Sheehan’s consulting is based on the belief that long-term community development only occurs when ideas and solutions are born from community members’ own action and matched with good economic data to assure sustainability. Sheehan works first-hand to identify and mobilize the unique strength of each community always with an emphasis on economic sustainability. Sheehan believes that practical systems must be designed to assure sustainability of any community effort or initiative.

Sheehan has been a faculty member at the Asset Based Community Development Institute of Northwestern University since 1994. As a faculty member, Sheehan has consulted, provided training and authored books for use by community leaders both in the USA and internationally. Sheehan authored the ABCD publication, “Building the Mercado Central: Asset Based Development & Community Entrepreneurship. She also co-authored, “A Guide to Capacity Inventories: Mobilizing the Community Skills of Local Residents”. These books highlight examples of community members using asset-based approaches to lead change and improvements in their community. Sheehan taught asset-based community development and organizing strategies at the Community Leadership Institute at the Center for Non-Profit Management, University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, MN.

Sheehan received her Masters in Public Administration from Harvard University. Sheehan also has a J.D. degree from Hamline University School of Law in St. Paul, MN. Sheehan was awarded a Fellowship in International Development through the Kellogg Foundation and Partners of the Americas in 1992 and was granted a Bush Leadership Fellowship in 1994 to further her studies in community and economic development at Harvard University.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Through another organization or company

If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

Ashoka and IADB/MIF

MIF Opportunity 2010
Has your organization been legally constituted or registered in your country or one of your target countries for at least three years?


Does the applicant organization have sufficient financial resources to guarantee the co-financing required by MIF during the execution period of the project? (This amounts to at least 50% of the project’s total budget with 25% in cash and 25% in-kind.)


Does the applicant organization have experience managing projects co-financed by international organizations? Please describe below

Opportunity has extensive experience in managing large scale projects co-funded by organizations such as the Inter American Development Bank (IADB), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Credit Suisse, the United Nations Capital Development Fund and many others. Since 1993, Opportunity International has raised $77 million from United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and over $250 million from private and institutional donors. Opportunity’s teams are also experienced in the development and implementation of planning, budgeting, reporting and monitoring systems. Opportunity manages a Network-wide budgeting process, which accounts for sources and uses of over $84 million in annual grant funding and over $71 million in debt financing. Opportunity developed and now manages a quarterly reporting and monitoring system including a standardized finance and program data report, a trend analysis report for each financial institution, country and region and a comparative performance review report that compares institutions across regions and across the world in 13 critical performance areas. Opportunity International also deploys a Network Accreditation System in which Opportunity institutions participate in an on-site peer review and self-evaluation process. Lastly, Opportunity undergoes annual financial and A-133 audits.

Please classify the applicant organization according to the options below


What problem-area does your project address?

Access to knowledge and training, Access to markets.

How will your project address this problem?

Our project addresses access to knowledge and training by addressing the educational needs of both youth and adults. Through the development of a technical high school teaching eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture, Opportunity will prepare leaders of the next generation in strategies that will result in lasting and promising development opportunities in the region. Additionally, through the development and expansion of a peer-to-peer micro-entrepreneur learning group called NicaWorks, Opportunity will help promote best practices among artisans in the country to improve product quality and resource management.

Our project addresses access to markets by the expansion of the trademarked brand Ojala for Nicaraguan artisan products. This brand and distribution company will expand artisans’ access to markets across the country and into the U.S. In addition, Opportunity has launched a website for Ojala products, which it will continue to enhance and grow to give artisans a way to distribute their products outside the borders of their community.

Who is benefited by the initiative? (Please highlight the type and number of beneficiaries, and their role in the tourism value-chain.)

Youth ( 250/ per school year)
- tailored high school education to prepare students for entering the fields of eco-tourism and sustainable agriculture as leaders and employees.
- gain hands-on experience in agriculture and eco-tourism businesses.

Micro-enterprises – (100 groups) (Involved through Ojala and NicaWorks)
- increased points of sale to sell products.
- increased number of new “green” products utilizing old world skills with new eco-friendly materials.
- Strengthen the eco-tourism market by accentuating high quality natural products from Nicaragua

Local businesses
- increased business opportunities and cash flow to area from tourists visiting eco-hotel,
- new tourism businesses and coordinated events and demonstrations by artisans in the area.

Tourists (1,000,000/year, an estimated 25% to La Laguna de Apoyo region)
- increased awareness of the relationship between La Laguna de Apoyo and the local economy
- direct experience with La Laguna Reserve, its pristine beauty and unique value
- direct experience with microentrepreneurs through hotel demonstrations and interactions.
- high quality artisan products online, in the U.S. and in Nicaragua

How will the project's results assist the region’s tourism sector and micro, small and medium-sized enterprises?

The project will provide educational and economic opportunities for youth and current and future micro-entrepreneurs to help prepare them for the growing importance of ecological protection for economic development. The technical high school will educate students for specializing in eco-tourism or sustainable agriculture, with specifics on preserving and benefiting from La Laguna de Apoyo lake and reserve. At the same time, Opportunity will support local artisans to enable a virtuous cycle that increases incomes for micro enterprises and enhances the tourism industry by improving the quality and marketing of products that portray the region’s heritage and conservation efforts.

The products and services produced by the school, which will, will be integrated into the tourism industry value chain by supplying produce for regional hotels and restaurants as well as in the school’s own eco-hotel and restaurant. We also believe that the agriculture businesses of the school could result into a tourism stop for adventure tourists seeking to touch the local culture and gain an inside view to development and preservation efforts of La Laguna de Apoyo.

We hope our efforts will make La Laguna de Apoyo an example to the rest of the country of a successful model of responsible economic development and ecological protection that can be replicated throughout the region.

A. Total Budget (100%)

US$3,366,740 (including 1,407,675 in capital investment costs which Opportunity will finance without MIF contribution)

B. MIF Contribution (up to 50% of total budget and US$. 500.000 max)


C. Cash co-financing (at least 25% of total budget)

US$1,459,065 (not incl 1,407,674 in capital investment for school, eco-hotel,purchase of land, animals, tools, equipment, etc)

D. In kind co-financing (at least 25% of total budget)