Building self-reliance is a process of personal discovery and trial and error. While CEN helps residents discover how to plan, learn, and think critically through our PRATICAR Learning Approach, basic skills alone are not enough to break the cycle of poverty. Individuals need specialized knowledge in order to run a business or solve community problems.
Therefore, CEN provides business, leadership, entrepreneurial and vocation-related training. Another major area of focus is information literacy which is an understanding of what information resources to use, how to navigate and evaluate them, and how to use them for communication and to conduct accurate research.
We act as a consultant (as opposed to a teacher). We believe that sustainable development is only possible when individuals are empowered to accomplish their own goals rather than having problems solved for them. As a result, the work that we do to provide these advanced skills takes several forms, including individualized and group training, and mentoring local micro-businesses.
Through our Eixo Forte / Juá Community-Based Tourism Project, residents will develop a wide range of skills that will assist them in producing food, ornamental plants, handicrafts, accommodations, and other products and services needed to support increased tourism in the region, and to build sustainable livelihoods. Instruction will be an iterative process alternating between cycles of group workshops and the application of learning to individual products. Participants learn the basics with their peers through demonstration and discovery-based methods. Technicians visit participants in their homes or at their farms for personalized coaching during the practice phase.
During one activity, participants learn the importance of planning. Participants form teams where they develop a rudimentary business plan for a fun project, such as making and selling desserts at a fair. The plan includes outlining the production process, determining what resources are needed, budgeting, obtaining required permits, accessing government programs, marketing, and managing money. Teams then compete with each other, forming a pseudo marketplace. The team that earns the most profit wins a prize. Each participant then uses what they learned to produce a plan for their own project. Throughout the process, technicians coach them along and help point them to possible solutions, but don’t provide the solutions for them. Participants not only feel a deep sense of accomplishment, but they are better prepared to reapply what they’ve learned in the future.
One recipient of our individual mentorship was Salu Assunção. He is a Suruacá resident who wished to raise chickens. He envisioned building a large farm from scratch, but had almost no capital, limited expertise raising chickens, and didn’t know where to start. CEN field staff advised him to start small. To improve Salu’s business skills, we assigned him a set of tasks. He was given instructions to research the costs associated with purchasing and feeding a few chickens, building a small coop and fence, and researching local chicken consumption. From this process, he determined he could raise and sell a few chickens and reinvest the proceeds to buy more. Unfortunately, Salu encountered an unforeseen setback when a wild animal killed two-thirds of his flock. Undeterred, he bought a few more chicks this year and is currently working toward building a chicken coop to protect his remaining flock. CEN’s method of providing participants with indirect support instead of telling them exactly what to do ensures that entrepreneurs like Salu are empowered to solve their own problems once they have the skill set. This is crucial to keeping a business like Salu’s running.
Building skills through mentorship and group training is therefore vital to the residents we help. This is only one part of the solution for empowering communities. Without CEN’s holistic approach to empowering impoverished individuals (including building soft skills and removing external obstacles), these skills could not be put into practice.