On-campus internship helps nonprofit address poverty

Fundación Paraguaya Founder Martin Burt explains the functionality of the app Poverty Stoplight to university students. The app helps individuals in poverty take a holistic view of their life and connects them with necessary resources. (Alisa Baker)

Several years ago Fundación Paraguaya founder Martin Burt found himself managing a bankrupt agricultural school in Paraguay with students whose families lived off as little as $1.50 a day.

He asked all the school’s teachers to run their class as a profitable business and the school quickly became self-sufficient, raising $300,000 every year and letting all students attend for free.

“We want to have a capitalism with a soul, capitalism with compassion, capitalism with a feeling to give ample opportunities for people all over the world,” Burt said during his TEDxBYU talk in 2011.

After the school’s success, two BYU graduates knocked on Burt’s door to implement his school system internationally. This marked the beginning of a long-lasting partnership between BYU and Fundación Paraguaya aimed at helping people achieve economic self-reliance.

BYU’s Ballard Center for Economic Self-Reliance and Fundación Paraguaya’s most recent project to reduce poverty and increase self-reliance is the Poverty Stoplight app. The app allows people in poverty to self-assess their well-being using 50 different indicators, like access to clean water and respect for other cultures.

According to Ballard Center Director Todd Manwaring, hundreds of thousands of organizations are trying to help people out of poverty. However, Manwaring said these organizations rarely look at the entire individual and instead focus primarily on changing income or food intake because they are easily measured metrics.

By placing Poverty Stoplight users on a geo-coded map, nonprofit organizations can look at what individuals in specific areas need, according to Manwaring.

Fundación Paraguaya’s success and innovation have made the organization ideal for the Ballard Center to partner with, according to Alicia Becker, the adjunct faculty member who teaches the on-campus internship class through the Ballard Center.

“We work to take students in teams of three to five and pair them with socially innovative organizations,” Becker said. “Because we are an educational organization, we feel like a student can learn the best by being paired with the best.”

Becker said she only accepts projects from organizations that are central to their mission and are of timely importance. She said she wants students to work on projects that are the next big step for companies and make a real, lasting impact.

“We’ve had students working on Poverty Stoplight from day one,” Manwaring said. “We’ve done pretty much everything except engineer the actual app that they use.”

BYU students helped determine the 50 attributes Poverty Stoplight uses, filmed promotional videos, wrote manuals and marketed the app. The prolonged partnership has allowed students of varying fields to find a way to contribute to Poverty Stoplight, according to Manwaring.

“Students can bring their skill sets, whether that is marketing, public health or pre-law,” Becker said. “They can bring those skills here and apply those in a real-world setting, help an organization, and do some really impressive things.”

Alisa Baker, a Latin American studies and Spanish studies major, is currently working with Fundación Paraguaya by doing an on-campus internship to help Poverty Stoplight gain traction in the U.S.

Poverty Stoplight has experienced success in other countries but has struggled to gain traction in the U.S., according to Baker. Baker and her team have been adjusting Poverty Stoplight’s social media and promotional materials to appropriately target an American audience.

“We have been helping them know how people in the United States would view their content and give them that cultural perspective,” Baker said.

Becker said the team has worked to get the app on national charity listings and reached out to charities and corporations who would make good partners for the app.

According to Becker, the current project is just one of many that BYU students have contributed to that have served as an integral part of Fundación Paraguaya’s international success over the years.

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