Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Project Alianza

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What is the name of your solution?

Aliadas Con Tecnología! (ACT!)

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Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

Bridging the learning gap for school-aged children in rural Nicaragua by leveraging existing community networks and technology.

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Film your elevator pitch.

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What specific problem are you solving?

Coming off the current pandemic with a rural poverty rate of 80 percent, Nicaraguan children continue to face high barriers to education, remain stuck in a cycle of generational poverty, and are increasingly susceptible to gang recruitment, the drug trade, and early pregnancy, further perpetuating the achievement gap between urban and rural students. Without concentrated efforts to improve educational attainment and rural residents' human capital, Nicaragua will continue to come up to a wall in terms of social and economic progress. 

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What is your solution?

Project Alianza’s ACT! (Aliadas Con Tecnología!), aims to bridge the learning gap for rural school-aged children in Nicaragua by leveraging technology and existing community networks. ACT professionalizes, salaries and trains local women as community educators to improve learning and retention from within rural communities. 

Community educators are trained in the child-centric, Teach-at-the-Right-Level methodology to improve literacy and retention for school-aged children living near grossly underresourced government schools. The onset of COVID-19 accelerated Project Alianza’s use of technology, resulting in ACT!, a blended-learning model where educators combine radio broadcasts in-person small group instruction with interactive literacy materials broadcast via radio or shared via WhatsApp and simple e-learning by disseminating preloaded content available offline with pod-based learning before or after school.

Students who graduate ACT! are eligible to receive holistic mentorship to secondary school where families receive cash conditional transfers, family-based mentorship, and opportunities for after-school activities that informally integrate tablets and interactive learning. 

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Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

ACT! aims to reach the over 2.5M children in rural Latin American communities without access to a fundamental education.

A well-educated population is the backbone of economic development and prosperity. While representing over half of Nicaragua's population, 80 percent of rural residents' live in absolute poverty. Seven out of ten fourth graders in rural communities are unable to read a simple sentence. Children who do not read by fourth grade are more likely to desert school entirely. Existing educational structures fail to adapt to the needs of rural communities, drawing swaths of children out of the school system and into the informal labor economy. 

Project Alianza's ACT! is designed to be agile, child-centric and sustainable by training Community Educators to swiftly adapt and create change from within communities. ACT! is a promising model that can be adopted at a regional level where populations of children live in rural, agricultural communities with access to low-resource, multigrade, or informal schools and is particularly desirable in regions that may face large scale migration of low-skill rural workers to urban centers due to climate change.

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How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Our Project Alianza core team has 40+ years of collective experience  working in rural communities with intimate knowledge of the needs, dynamics, and potential in neglected rural communities. Our program model was designed from the bottom-up in partnership with coalitions of local stakeholders, from parents to rural children to private sector stakeholders and validated through best practices in international education. 

The result is agile, women-driven, community-led model adapted to the cultural context to minimize barriers to higher educational attainment. Local women have been the bedrock of rural communities with historically untapped potential. Our US-based strategic team consists of Kristin Van Busum who lived three years in Nicaragua as a Fulbright Scholar, Camila de la Vega (Harvard Kennedy School candidate) who began as an Education Princeton Fellow with Project Alianza, and immigration expert, Dr. Mariellen Jewers. Loyda Salinas and Amalia Castellanos are at the helm of our Central American leadership team, both of whom were raised in rural communities and have since established careers in community organizing and rural development. Our established board of directors represents cross-industry expertise and all have seen our work first-hand.

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Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Lift administrative burdens on educators and support teacher professional development for schools serving vulnerable student populations

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Where our solution team is headquartered or located:

Nicaragua
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Our solution's stage of development:

Growth
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How many people does your solution currently serve?

13000

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Why are you applying to Solve?

We are are applying to Solve to seek support with: 

  1. Strategic advice on building a business model that expands ACT! across the Central American region and involves government payers and doers at scale

  2. Connections to funders with key interests in rural economic development, community-led education, and believe in the right to not migrate

  3. Expertise in measuring impact that can be communicated to influence education policy and garner buy-in from funders

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In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

Business model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)

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Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Kristin Van Busum

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More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

Our solution is unique because it is the only women-driven, community-led model that has a track record of improving literacy outcomes and retention in the short-run. We leverage low-tech solutions that can be adapted based on the needs of the community with highly interactive, teach-at-the-right in-person teaching. Community educators reduce the burden on government teachers in rural areas to provide adaptable, evidenced-based learning programs and family support where traditional public schools are failing. They bring low-cost digital learning materials to communities that lack access to external ideas. Our radio broadcast is interactive and engages families alongside children. Our solution has been created to be replicable and can be scaled in agricultural communities with access to low-resource, multigrade, or informal schools and is particularly desirable in regions that may face large scale migration of low-skill rural workers to urban centers due to climate change.

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What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

Our short-term impact goals measure outcomes associated with long-term improvements in school attainment. Our goals are to see (a) literacy advancements at the school-level with an ambitious goal of achieving an 60 percent literacy rate among all 4th graders in ACT!, (b) school retention rates of 60 percent, as well as observable improvements in hygiene habits associated with improved attendance rates, (c)100% of students understand basic functionality of tablet.  

We also aim to improving community resilience measured by (a) advancements in community educator professional skills, and (b) increase girls' knowledge of reproductive health and self-reported confidence.


Our longer term goals aim to capture student learning gains, retention rates, and projected higher earnings:

  • Target 1 - Improvement in literacy rates that correlate with increase years in schooling

    • 80% of children are comprehensive readers by 4th grade to close the learning gap between urban and rural students

  • Target 2 - Improvements in Retention/Attainment

    • 90% grade completion among students actively participating in ACT!

    • 70% secondary school graduation rate 

  • Target 3 - Observe an increase in earnings of 10% among students graduating from secondary school. 

  • Target 4 - Successful implementation of ACT! with long-term government partnership in 3+ Latin American Countries. 

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How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

We will measure success through the following key performance indicators:


EDUCATION ATTAINMENT 

1. student learning gains with a focus on literacy (e.g., pre/post literacy advancements, % students who go from nonreaders to readers with a focus on fourth graders) 

2. observed changes of hygiene habits based on W.A.S.H. standards; 

3. retention and grade completion rates among primary school children receiving blended or technology-based learning programs

4. Number of students in ACT! who enroll in graduate primary school and successfully enroll in secondary school 


COMMUNITY RESILIENCE

  1. community educator retention rates, 

  2. changes in girls’ self-reported confidence and knowledge of reproductive health, 

  3. household and community engagement in radio literacy radio programs

  4. Utilization of low-tech solutions and improved teaching methods of government teachers 

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What is your theory of change?

Activities: 

  • Train, equip, and employ local women as community educators to implement TaRL approach (Teach At The Right Level) and WASH training in low-resource schools, and provide high-touch support for families with youth in secondary school.
  • Develop gender-responsive literacy content for radio and mobile applications; curate available content load them on tablets; adapt content and teaching based on data of children’s engagement
  • Coaching and mentor of rural government teachers to improve quality of education in the classroom

Outputs: 

  • Creation of offline digital content for radio, tablet, and WhatsApp files share and data tracking 
  • High-quality, engaging class instruction

Short-term outcomes: 

  • Student learning gains in literacy, increase in student and parental engagement, improvements in grade completion, retention and persistence, reduced burden on government teachers with combined, improvements 

Long-term outcomes: 

  • Increase educational attainment and greater potential earnings among rural youth
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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Our technology is part of a continuum of services provided that focuses on primary school children at high-risk of school desertion. ACT! leverages simple, low-tech solutions combined with in-person instruction. 

We partner with content developer, Barrilete, who helped us develop an off-line e-learning platform, and aggregate existing content, such as videos and readings, that provide examples of positive gender roles, and develop content accessible via battery-operated radio. The three key components of our solution are: 

  • Mobile application, that is designed to conform to the needs and uses of students in participating in Teach at the Right Level instruction, Project Alianza Monitoring and Evaluation staff, and Community Educators; 

  • Customized digital audiovisual materials (Tablets) and audio materials (Radio) that embed gender-responsive vocabulary and scenarios in literacy and numeracy activities; 

  • Usage tracking of learning outcomes and technological engagement by student so results can be disaggregated for girls and boys.

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Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

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Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Audiovisual Media
  • Software and Mobile Applications
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 4. Quality Education
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Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Nonprofit

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How many people work on your solution team?

Full-time Staff: 22 / Part-time: 12 / Contractors: 4

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How long have you been working on your solution?

3

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What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

Project Alianza is committed to creating a diverse and equitable enviornment where every voice is heard. One of our core organizational values is to cultivate a culture of welcoming diverse perspectives. Building local leadership and resilience is the clearest pathway to sustainable permanent impact. 100% of our leadership and education team is comprised of Central American women. Our board of directors is comprised of 50 percent women. ACT! Educators act as decision-makers at the organizational level and are leaders within their own community. Nicaragua is known for having a gender inequitable society, resulting in ongoing power dynamics. Our leadership team created a Commitment to Equality to support women and those who identify as women. Volunteers, staff, and directors are required to sign the commitment before they join our team, and you can learn more about our values here.  

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Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

Project Alianza's ACT! 

  • Tailored, agile, cost-effective solution to improve retention rates and learning outcomes in the short run, and higher life-long earnings in the long-run.

Market: 

  • Beneficiaries: Rural school-aged children in "last-mile" agricultural communities in Latin America with no access to nearby schools or limited access to low-resource, multigrade, or informal schools; 2.5M+ children potential market reach
  • Customers: Our diversified funders consist of public/private foundations, business stakeholders (e.g., socially conscious coffee producers or buyers with interest in stabilizing the region), government payers (Ministry of Education), and individual donors. 

Value Proposition:

  • BVP: Higher life-long earnings for family and fun, interesting, engaging activities for kids!
  • CVP: Increase stability in region (presence of high quality school minimizes gang violence), cause marketing for socially conscious coffee producers/buyers, for government payers this is a cost-effective solution to increase learning outcomes on national level and reduces the burden on government teachers.

Intervention: Blended learning led by local women and through accessible technology 

Revenue: Foundation Grants, Government Support, Private Sector Cost-Sharing

Key Activities: Recruit, Train, and Professionalize local Women, develop and iterate digital content for radio and tablets in partnership with Barrilete

Key Service Offered: 

  1. Professionalize local women as community educators to implement TaRL approach (Teach At The Right Level) and WASH training in low-resource schools, and provide transitional support for families with youth in secondary school.

  2. Utilize low-tech solutions (via radio, WhatsApp, tablets) to engage last-mile communities in learning.

  3. Coaching and mentor of rural government teachers to improve quality of education in the classroom.

Impact: Retention Rates, Literacy Outcomes, Long-term Predicted Change in Earnings 

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Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
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What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

Our goal for achieving long-term sustainability is to package and sell our ACT! program to government payers and socially conscious private sector companies (mainly coffee as it's the primary economic driver of the region) and co-lead with other large scale NGOs that have access to government grants through USAID or other large foundations. 

Our three year goal is to: 

Sign agreement with the National Ministry of Education to cover the cost of training local teachers gov’t teachers; cost-share with large-scale NGOs with similar mission (FunCafe)

Cultivate private sector partnerships and coffee stakeholder relationships to diversify funding options; implement our robust fundraising plan to engage new donors and retain existing ones

Report delivery and outcome metrics to the National Ministry of Education and develop key recommendations/lessons learned for improved teaching methodologies and low-cost solutions and document burden reduction on gov’t teachers to increase buy-in. 

Create archive of low-tech content on tablets, radio, or files that can be transferred via WhatsApp to enhance TaRL curriculum and engage last mile students who lack regular access to schools

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Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

In FY 2021, we raised 785K to support our mission to provide community-led education using low-cost technologies, bringing our total to 3M+

Annual growth in our budget has always been accompanied with deeper and broader reach to the most vulnerable children in rural Central America. From 2018 to 2019, for one percentage point growth in our annual budget, we increased the number of children we reached by 9 percentage points.

We have received support from: Ruckstuhl Foundation, VoLo Foundation, McNulty Foundation, Salesforce, GoTo (formerly LogMeIn), Intelligentsia Coffee, San Victor Coffee, Ally Coffee, Tinker Coffee, among others. 

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Solution Team

 
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