Yachana Amazon Technical Institute: incubator for entrepreneurs

Yachana Amazon Technical Institute: incubator for entrepreneurs

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$250,000 - $500,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

Provide meaningful education for youth from the Amazon region; a marginalized group for their ethnicity, remoteness and poverty. To give them training and skills that are practical, hands-on, to get jobs or start their own businesses relevant to their lives and tropical environmental. Public education exists throughout the Amazon of Ecuador but young people are not learning or benefiting from the traditional rote memory, theoretical education. The solution: look at the lives of the youth, their cultures and long term goals. We want the youth to stay in their region, not immigrate to cities or other countries. There are jobs if there is training. We have a model that is now being looked at for replication in other parts of Ecuador.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Our foundation has spent 20 years working in the Amazon region of Ecuador. I personally have spent substantial time living with indigenous communities representing different ethnic groups in very remote areas. They are connected to the government political system, but also show a strong independence. More recently, the goal for the few students who continued with education was getting a high school degree. Through our Institute, we will be raising the bar on their aspirations for education. Traditionally young women were suppose to stay at home and have babies. Through our high school, we have been able to change this tradition and so our goal for the Institute is to have at least 45% girls. (the high school currently has 35% girls) We are placing a major emphasis on teaching about family planning. Around 20% of the Ecuadorian population have left the country; a tremendous “brain drain” for this little country. Most have left to get better work, but jobs exist in the region if the youth are trained adequately. The population is poor economically, with an annual family income of our students in the range of $500, but rich in a sense of family and work ethic. Interestingly, in 6 years of operating our education program we have had 0 problems with bullying. The indigenous and mestizos have a self confidence that will be important as our students develop their entrepreneurial interests. Friction does not exist between the ethnic groups and we have had very positive results in the formation of two farmers associations in two provinces with over 3,500 members.

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

Education and post high school programs already exist in Ecuador. But they are built on an educational model from the north; US or Europe. Built around a concept of putting young people in “boxes” (classrooms), in rows and telling them to sit there and learn. A system where the teacher talks, and the students regurgitate the information. Kids growing up in the rainforest are free, active and “little learning machines”. 80% of our students are indigenous. In their communities, schools are a relatively new concept. Traditionally they learned through oral tradition and “doing”. Our innovation is breaking the traditional educational model by involving students in educational projects that are hands-on and practical. The Institute will use movies/documentaries as teaching tools instead of only books. They don’t come from a culture of reading and so we are building an instruction model more participatory. Using theatre to teach history. Through our program of “youth to youth” our students will teach visiting students from throughout the Amazon subjects, for example, related to biology at our field station, science using microscopes, physics understanding solar energy, plus much more. To teach you have to know. Our students will have a profound understanding of a number of subjects through spending time learning, doing and teaching. The program will provide a more holistic approach to education than a pure technical skills training model or the other extreme, a university or junior college.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Our project is education for young people from the Amazon region of Ecuador. A population that has been largely overlooked by society because they are poor, from remote parts of the rainforest, from different ethnic groups including mestizos and have not had opportunities in education to prepare them for the job market or get financial credit to start their own businesses. We have managed the Yachana Technical High School for 6 years with incredible results. 118 students have graduated, only a 13% attrition rate from when they start. Ministry of Education data for the Amazon region: only 23% of young people who finish middle school go to high school, up to 65% of these drop out before the final third year. To grow up in the rainforest a young person has to be practical, resourceful, self sufficient and hard working. These kids want to learn and advance in their lives but there are not opportunities for lack of skills. They have asked for some form of continuing education but there are not many options. Our answer: creation of the Yachana Amazon Technical Institute, two-year post high school program providing youth with the tools to get work or start businesses with a line of credit for them. This Institute, under construction, will open in January 2012. It will provide 6 months of courses to orient the students to a globalized world and to expand their minds and horizons to the rest of the world. Followed by 1 year in practical training in their areas of interest, then 6 months in on the job training.
About You
Yachana Foundation
About You
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About Your Organization
Organization Name

Yachana Foundation

Organization Country

, P

Country where this project is creating social impact

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How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

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What stage is your project in?

Operating for more than 5 years

Share the story of the founder and what inspired the founder to start this project

I, Douglas McMeekin am the founder of the Yachana Foundation, Yachana Lodge, Mondaña medical clinic, Yachana Technical High School and Yachana Institute. I’ve lived in the Amazon for 25 years, dedicating my efforts to improve the lives of the locals through health, income generation, micro-enterprise development, conservation and education. In 2008 I was selected as an Ashoka Fellow. My focus today is on education for the population who has been overlooked by society or prejudiced against because they are poor, indigenous and rural. This interest in education goes back to my childhood. I was dyslectic and couldn’t function in the traditional education system, but in my generation, no one knew what dyslexia was and I was labelled a “dumb kid”. I suffered all of the way through elementary and high school, flunking the second grade but finally graduating never knowing why I couldn’t function like other kids. Literally if an algebra teacher had not “given” me a grade, after not passing algebra twice, I never would have graduated from high school. I have gone on to be successful, but I have never forgotten how difficult that period was, and how close I came to being pushed to the sidelines for not “fitting” into the norms of society. This created a strong empathy for others who have tremendous abilities, but are not appreciated for superficial reasons. I am an entrepreneur and constantly looking for new ideas to old challenges or ways to break the traditional systems. If one listens to the local people and understands their environment, the answers are obvious.

Social Impact
Please describe how your project has been successful and how that success is measured

Our focus is education. The high school has just finished its 6th year of operation, graduating 118 students from 6 provinces; 80% indigenous. All are from poor families, mostly from very remote areas. Many of these students will go on to the Institute, which is under construction, plus other Amazon youth with the same profile. 2 students spent a year studying ESL at a university in the US and one did an agricultural project for a year, 4 have been to the UK on a youth exchange, 1 writing a monthly blog for a major UN Environmental Program publication on his life in the Amazon (www.ourplanet.com look for Fabio’s Blog) 14 teaching English since their limited English is better than teachers in public schools who don’t speak a single word of English. 1 pending acceptance to a university in Costa Rica. 4 others in universities in Ecuador. The rest working in tourism, agriculture, construction or have started their own businesses. Our graduates have a higher rate of getting jobs than their peers from the same communities because of our reputation of preparing students with job skills, responsibility and work ethic. Hotels and lodges are calling requesting our graduates because of these traits. We have had a 13% attrition rate in the 3 years of study where in public schools it can be as high as 65%. Students are able to practice tourism in Yachana Lodge and are constantly in contact with gringos. They explain the projects in the school, frequently in English. This gives them a tremendous self confidence.

How many people have been impacted by your project?


How many people could be impacted by your project in the next three years?


How will your project evolve over the next three years?

The two year Institute program will open in January 2012. Will start with 40 students and grow to 150 within 3 years. Our science and technology outreach program will start in the fall of 2011 for students throughout the region, reaching 1,500 young people per year and grow significantly over three years. Our adult education program will reach 300 per year attending short courses. There is interest in replicating our program in education on the Galapagos Islands since socio economic conditions, environmental challenges are very similar. Our high school will continue to graduate 22 students annually. Our world class Yachana Lodge is the only Geotourism lodge in Ecuador and will continue to be the only one working as a teaching lodge, run mostly by graduates and students.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Funding is the biggest challenge. We continue to grow rapidly and funding frequently lags behind. We are using a number of funding avenues plus creating new, innovative ways to support our education program. Some of these programs will generate funds through charging fees for services like our new initiative for students from throughout the region to come and participate in our science and technology field camp. This new program is totally authorized by the Ministry of Education. Donations from individuals and government support are helping a lot and continue to grow. Plus we place a major emphasis on our micro enterprises, primarily the sale of water filters. The newly formed Kaya Foundation will start generating funds through a program of conservation of the rainforest.

Political instability is a challenge. Our current president has been in office for 4 years, but prior to him, we had 10 presidents in 11 years. This instability can affect tourism the quickest. Therefore, we are developing alternative avenues of funding.

Staffing is a constant challenge. It is very hard to find good teachers who want to live and work in the remote rainforest region. We are overcoming this by offering an opportunity to be a part of a social movement and through incentives to staff.

Logistics is another barrier since we are located completely off the grid, only accessible by motorized canoe. Through innovation and alternative energy we are addressing this need.

Tell us about your partnerships

We rely heavily on our partnerships. We are asking potential employers of students what they want in a graduate, and working to provide that through the institute. The Inter-American Development Bank has provided the funding to start construction of the Institute. The Avina Foundation with support from Skoll has helped in funding to develop our financial sustainability. Rotary Clubs and Rotary International provide funding for equipment and supplies. The Isora Foundation annually supports equipment purchases. The Yachana Lodge covers the overhead of the Yachana Foundation; office rent, utilities, etc. The Lodge company also provides additional financial support. The lodge has over 3000 visitors annually who frequently provide small donations. UK schools buy handicrafts made by our students as a micro enterprise. We have created the Kaya Foundation to provide support for the conservation of the rainforest. Part of this funding will support education. The national government pays part of the teacher’s salaries. The provincial government has provided the heavy equipment to build the parking lot and other areas of construction for the Institute. Global Vision International helps in conservation education and data collection.

Explain your selections

We are receiving support from 7 of the above categories. 1 - Individuals support us through our not for profit 501 C 3 in the US and the soon to be established UK Charity. 2 - We receive support from a number of foundations, mostly US. 3 - We work with NGO’s who provide funding usually for specific equipment or supplies. 4 - We are working with corporations and their corporate social responsibility to provide them trained employees but also looking for support to fill the needs we have in infrastructure for the Institute. 5 - The provincial government provided equipment for construction needs. 6 - The national government is partially supporting paying teacher’s salaries. 7 - Our Yachana Lodge has over 3000 visitors annually and many of them are supporting us through small donations.

How do you plan to strengthen your project in the next three years?

I feel that we have passed the “tipping point” toward our goal of social impact and sustainability, though we are still way under financed. We have so much already developed to offer that it is easier to “plug in” a new project. This facility will allow us to continue to expand what we can offer but with a lower capital investment per project. Our focus will continue to be education but expanding this to include many more schools and ultimately replicating our program in other parts of the country. This increased social impact and visibility will help us attract more volunteers, foundation funding and funds generated by our micro enterprises. We are constantly looking for new innovations to expand our impact, but also to help finance our operations. We are improving internal operations and controls to help in our fast growth process. Management capability and professionalism continues to improve which will guarantee continuity of the institution if the founder is not here. All of these forces will continue to grow, improve and become more integrated to secure the long term social services the foundation is known for.

Which barriers to employment does your innovation address?
Please select up to three in order of relevancy to your project.


Lack of skills/training


Lack of access to information and networks


Lack of visibility and investment

Please describe how your innovation specifically tackles the barriers listed above.

1 Public education is not providing the skills to facilitate youth getting jobs, or be entrepreneurs. Our 2 year Institute places an emphasis on applied training in areas of interest. Our goal: well-rounded students, who can get a job or start their own businesses with credit we can offer.
2 Through our national and international connections we can help students make the links to find work, start their own businesses. We are located in a remote region of the Amazon but have satellite internet, all solar powered so students have access through the internet and learn about connectivity.
3 We encourage our students to be entrepreneurs. Our program has a seed capital fund to support good business initiatives by students. We can provide visibility through our tourism program

Are you trying to scale your organization or initiative?
If yes, please check up to three potential pathways in order of relevancy to you.


Enhanced existing impact through addition of complementary services



Influenced other organizations and institutions through the spread of best practices

Please describe which of your growth activities are current or planned for the immediate future.

1 Enhance existing impact through expansion of our educational program. Our students will be involved in our science and technology park, teaching visiting students from throughout the region. They have to know to teach, and visiting students will learn more about subjects since it will all be practical, hands on, participatory learning.
2 Growth will be in Ecuador. Interest in our expanding our program to Galapagos Islands. Economic, social and threats to the environment there are similar to what the Amazon faces.
3 Thousands of young people will be visiting Yachana to learn through our science and technology park. They will return home with what they have learned and push their schools to provide the same approaches. This will create a grassroots change in policy.

Do you collaborate with any of the following: (Check all that apply)

Government, NGOs/Nonprofits, For profit companies, Academia/universities.

If yes, how have these collaborations helped your innovation to succeed?

The government providing part of the salaries of our teachers and supporting our 1,800 hectares of rainforest as a protected forest. Government is buying our water filters to put in rural schools, profit from this micro enterprise supporting education.

NGO’s/nonprofits funding purchase of equipment, supplies and sustainability initiatives. Our US nonprofit generating funds to cover educational operational costs.

For profit Yachana Lodge providing support, covering office operating expenses and spreading the word about the foundation throughout the world.

Strong participation with universities. Students visit to learn about sustainable development through service learning programs and for masters degree projects.