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Education That Pays For Itself conference 2009

Sometimes just getting to our conferences can be an adventure! After arriving in Quito high in the Andes, over 100 delegates working in 27 countries made their way by plane, bus, & canoe on to the remote Yachana Lodge, deep in the Amazon jungle – and the base of Yachana Foundation, Ecuador’s award winning and highly inspirational sustainable education organization, and the hosts of Education That Pays For Itself 2009.


Day One: Connect!

Eden CampusPeople were already connecting and exchanging ideas long before the opening ceremony and the atmosphere is buzzing. After warm words of welcome from Douglas McMeekin (Yachana), Sergio Cachon (Local Government Leader), and Nik Kafka (Teach A Man To Fish) we dive into the heart of Education That Pays For Itself.

Two of the most remarkable social entrepreneurs working in the field, Martin Burt (Fundacion Paraguaya / Teach A Man To Fish) & Steve Carver (Tsiba Eden Campus) break down the concept of the Self-Sufficient School and how it works in Paraguay, South Africa and could all over the world.

With the theme of Day One being ‘Connect’, everyone gets busy with Willow Point eveningsome ‘speed-dating’ activities before a participatory session on how to create a business plan for your own Self-Sufficient School.

The afternoon is dedicated to small group roundtables, kicking off with a session on ‘Opening Minds to Business’ for educators. It becomes almost a battle to break up the lively debates and regroup tackle the ‘Social & Environmental Dimensions of Sustainable Education’. The first person account from Daisy Recalde a graduate of the San Francisco School for Rural Entrepreneurs in Paraguay, and now teacher at a second school following this model, is particularly powerful.

Day one closes with a jungle cocktails at Yachana’s atmospheric bar overlooking the Rio Napo, followed by a five star dinner under a blanket of stars – accompanied of course by the ever present frog chorus!


Day Two: Involve!

The theme of Day Two was ‘Involve’ and kicked off with what’s fast becoming a conference tradition - the Ideas Marketplace!

Delegates set up their stalls in the main conference areas, to ‘sell’ ideas and exchange wisdom with fellow delegates. Rather than the usual PowerPoint presentations, this gave delegates a chance to interact on an individual level and discuss what works and doesn’t work based on local experience.Willow Point evening

In the afternoon Professors Marc Epstein and Kristi Yuthas (Rice & Portland State Universities) shared their work in Entrepreneurship Education, and sharing their approach to quantifying the impact such education can make.

Delegate-led roundtables kept energy and inspiration levels high for the rest of the afternoon with topics ranging from how Bottom of the Pyramid Technologies can support Sustainable Education, to Graduate Employability.

In the evening after dinner delegates enjoyed music and dance performances from the students of the Yachana Technical College. Resplendent in traditional dress, it was a wonderful demonstration of how young people from different ethnic background can take pride in their cultures while still feeling comfortable with the increasingly globalized world in which they now live.


Day Three: Unleash!

Willow Point eveningThe theme of the last day is ‘Unleash’ giving the delegates the chance to bring together all that has been discussed over the previous two days and form a vision for the future.

How to transform these visions into reality was the big question as the morning’s ‘Consultancy Clinic’ session provided a chance for participants to ask advice from a panel of experts and fellow delegates.

Nik Kafka (Teach A Man To Fish) and Luis Fernando Sanabria (Fundación Paraguaya) then presented a combined organizational-development & self-assessment framework for sustainable education institutions. In small groups participants then discussed how such tools might help guide organizations in staying close to their visions, and transparent and accountable in their work.Willow Point evening

More experiences and wisdom from the staff and students of Yachana led into a special lunch where delegates ate together with students, gaining a chance to understand their inside view of this new and exciting model for education.

The day culminated with reflections from ‘Education That Pays For Itself’ conference participants old and new, and what they would take away from the event - and as an first step to concrete action interested delegates filled out a letter of commitment, clearly defining what they would do to implement ‘Education That Pays For Itself’ on their return and help spread this powerful philosophy across the globe.

Then a final night of drinks, dancing and laughter before an early start and the long canoe ride back to a ‘civilization’ which we might all look at slightly differently now after these three days!


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