Martin Burt wants to eliminate poverty. He lets the poor measure poverty for themselves.
Here are two truths that I’ve learned about social entrepreneurship. One, there is not a single, straight path to becoming a social entrepreneur. Two, it’s important to measure your impact. Martin Burt of Fundación Paraguaya illustrates both points.
Martin’s path to social entrepreneurship began in Paraguay in the early 1980s, when it was ruled by a dictator. Because his family was not part of the dictatorship, he found it difficult to find a job. What does a social entrepreneur do in this situation? Start the country’s first social enterprise, of course. He started a microenterprise development program, providing financial services to the poor. Martin told me, “We always thought that, in addition to financial services, poor people needed training, motivation, skills, so we developed the country’s first youth entrepreneurship program.” By 1995, he transformed an agriculture school. In 1999, he was the mayor of Asunción, the capital of Paraguay during a popular uprising when he famously used garbage trucks to take on tanks.
Today, Fundación Paraguaya has a microcredit program that serves 86,000 micro entrepreneurs. They provide entrepreneurial and financial education for youth. They run a financially sustainable farm school to teach “rural entrepreneurs.” And they have a process that replicates their model around the world by “teaching a man to fish.”
As important as all of these developments are, I was most anxious to talk to Martin about the Poverty Stoplight. This tool allows the poor to measure their own poverty and to develop customized plans to overcome poverty. The Poverty Stoplight is being applied in over twenty-five countries. They also use it within corporations in what they call “Companies without Poverty.” The goal is not poverty alleviation, but poverty elimination.
Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Martin Burt
“Our mission is to design, develop and disseminate through the world new ways to eliminate poverty.”
“We have adapted the poverty stoplight to what it means to not be poor in over twenty-five countries.”
“For 50 indicators, we have asked local populations to define what it means not to be poor.”
“What we have done is to take poverty from a complex construct and disaggregate it.”
“We’ve always been concerned that microfinance is very important, but is not, alone useful to help families to overcome poverty.”
“We were always thinking, how can we come up with sustainable services to help people help themselves?”
“We started consulting with the poor, with whom we were working.”
“We came up with the poverty stoplight which is a new metric and a coaching methodology.”
“We’re working in more than 25 countries.”
“We have found that in the process of becoming rural entrepreneurs, students become 100% employable.”
“The key to economic development is the fine line between subsidies and self-help.”
“The element of getting out of poverty and becoming developed is economic self-reliance.”
“When you subsidize, you run the risk of sending a signal that the person is not capable of helping themselves.”
“We have five thousand kids competing to see who gets their parents out of poverty first.”
“There is nothing more powerful than a 16-year-old girl who wants to win a competition.”
“We put $5,000 in multiple prizes and we generated $180,000 in home improvements, through a competition that is called My Bathroom, My Kitchen, My Pride.”
“The paradigm shift here is, instead of governments, the United Nations, the World Bank measuring people’s poverty, today, technology allows us to have the poor people measure their own poverty.”
“Bottom-up participatory approaches that can be scaled worldwide is the paradigm shift.”
“We are working in a new concept of corporate social responsibility called Companies Without Poverty.”
“It’s really a fascinating journey to unleash the trapped energy within poor people.”
“The thing is to challenge the existing paradigms.”