Change & Innovation, Justice

Increasing access to education in Zimbabwe

Barbra Nyangairi, Co-founder, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust

By Barbra Nyangairi (Zimbabwe ’16)

Through the organization that I co-founded—the Deaf Zimbabwe Trust—we are currently working on increasing access to quality education for children and young people with deafness, through advocacy for policy reform and placement of deaf young people in higher education institutions. We aim to impact more than 40,000 children who are deaf and hard of hearing and, more broadly, 600,000 children with disabilities. I am passionate about the work I do because it changes the lives of people who are deaf for the better, and it enables deaf people to take charge of their future using opportunities available to them. 

We are partnering with the Open Society Foundation and IM Swedish Partner for Development for this project. I was introduced to the Open Society Foundation while on fellowship, and they have since provided financial support to Deaf Zimbabwe Trust through the Southern African Office for advocacy for the development of the inclusive education policy. 

Since my fellowship, we’ve accomplished the following goals:

  • Contributed to the development of a countrywide inclusive education policy to be rolled out by 2020. The policy will positively influence the education of over 600,000 children with disabilities in Zimbabwe, as estimated by UNICEF. 
  • Established a sign language syllabus for early childhood education up to third grade
  • Worked with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education in developing a Curriculum for Sign Language and Sign Language Interpretation. This is the first in the country and was inspired by lessons learned during the fellowship. 
  • Created a first-of-its-kind pilot program, which has so far helped seven deaf young people enroll to study for a diploma in social work with a local university and two to enroll to study for a diploma in education. 

While my work today has not substantively changed from when I was on fellowship, the fellowship made my work richer and better. During my fellowship, I realized that each one of us has a part to play in making real the EF mission. I realized that without equality and inclusion, a just and peaceful society cannot be built. The fellowship gave me a picture of inclusion that has enabled persons with disabilities to thrive and the presence of policies for persons with disabilities that have helped create a just society. These values were exemplified by the schools for the deaf and colleges and institutions that provide support to the deaf community that I visited on fellowship. Throughout the fellowship, I realized that a prosperous world could be achieved if everyone is able to contribute effectively, and this is done through the creation of an enabling policy environment. 

Being part of the fellowship network has influenced my work in a number of ways. Iron sharpens iron, and being part of this vibrant network has allowed me to meet with leaders in my field from whom I have drawn lessons and shared ideas. We have been able to find common ground in the area of education. I have also been able to access resources that I would otherwise not access if I were not part of the fellowship, and these have stretched me professionally. For example, I followed with interest the EF workshop on education with Angela Duckworth, of the University of Pennsylvania, and how this could apply to children with disabilities.  

Barbra Nyangairi (second from the left) with the first group of young people who are deaf and hard of hearing to train in social work at a local college, their Sign Language Interpreters and note taker.

In early 2018 and 2019, I worked on a project with Jude Udo Ilo (Nigeria ’16). In advance of the Zimbabwe election, I was part of a team that set up and implemented the Zimbabwe Election Situation Room for which I provided project management support. Jude provided technical support and mentorship support for the project, which ended up being a success. The support was in-person as well as virtual. The success of the Zimbabwe Situation Room 2018 was, to a large extent, due to his support of the process. 

Finally, the network has provided support for me at a personal level. As the political situation in Zimbabwe is not stable, and at times violent, Fellows, who have become friends, have been a source of support.

Change & Innovation, Justice

Our impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, Part 6

Turning disease into health and wellness

Dr. Antonio Eduardo Fernandes D’Aguiar (Brazil ’96) was a surgeon treating disease in the body at the time of his fellowship to the United States in 1996. He credits his fellowship for revolutionizing the way he viewed his profession and the role that he wanted to play as a doctor. When he returned to Brazil, he made a radical transition to focus on preventative health and wellness. He realized he was treating patients at the tail-end of their health concerns, and could make much more of an impact by helping individuals achieve greater levels of wellness before they even got sick. He has been working as a Healthcare Manager for a corporation, ARCADIS, where he is responsible for the health and well-being for employees. Listen below to hear his story.

Providing safe and alternative spaces for children in Chile

In Santiago, Chile, Fundación Ganémosle a la Calle (Let’s Win the Streets Foundation), an innovative urban nonprofit, will dramatically deepen and expand its groundbreaking after-school sports recreation programs to give thousands of disadvantaged children new opportunities to escape the dangers of street life. Eisenhower Fellow Maria Gracia Carvallo (Chile ’18), executive director of Ganémosle, plans to increase the number of children in the foundation’s programs from 500 to 3,000 over the next five years and expand the organization’s reach from the streets of Santiago to rural regions of Chile. In addition to providing structured, supervised recreational outlets for Chilean youth, the foundation will develop new nutritional and psychological programs to instill and reinforce healthy lifestyle habits. Maria Gracia is applying new ideas and approaches she learned in the United States during her Eisenhower Fellowship to craft new ways to tell Ganémosle’s story and attract long-term financial support. Her vision is to grow her organization across her country in a sustainable way and provide safe, alternative spaces after school doors close that nourish Chilean children’s full potential.

Creating opportunities for the youth of Buenos Aires

In Argentina, 50% of students don’t graduate from high school, 50% of graduates don’t reach minimum reading and math standards and youth unemployment is double the national rate. Fundación Junior Achievement, an innovative global nonprofit, will dramatically deepen its impact over the next five years from 7,500 to 120,000 students from the province and city of Buenos Aires to prepare and inspire them for the world of work and higher studies in a context of fast changing Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Eisenhower Fellow Noël Zemborain (Argentina ’19), executive director of JA, is crafting a robust scale-up strategy that includes deepening strategic partnerships with the private and public sector. She will apply new ideas and approaches learned during her Eisenhower Fellowship in order to create a comprehensive curriculum that includes project- and competency-based programs and performance assessments on entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness. By 2021, she intends to launch pilot programs to foster internships, design a blended teacher training course and network and a robust measurement and evaluation framework. Ultimately, she envisions transforming JA into a strong advocate and research base for innovation in public education.

Change & Innovation, Justice

Our impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, Part 5: Financial reform in Colombia and Brazil

Colombia’s Minister of Housing has big plans for ending a cash-infused economy

Jonathan Malagon (Colombia ’17)

Colombia’s economic and national development has been hindered by significant levels of criminal activity: smuggling, terrorism, drug trafficking and corruption. All of these activities, which are fundamentally economic transactions, can be eliminated or mitigated by moving the bulk of Colombian economic activity away from cash and towards cashless alternatives such as card payments or electronic payments that can be traced and investigated by authorities. Additionally, the use of cash allows for a shadow economy that, while legitimate, is out of the reach of taxation, thereby hindering the ability of the state to effectively govern and provide public services.

Alfonso Vegara (Spain ’87), featured on the right, with Jonathan Malagon (Colombia ’17) meeting in Spain to discuss urban development and how Colombia can advance its housing policies in the newest political administration.

Jonathan Malagon (Colombia ’17), as then-vice president of Colombia’s National Banking Association, ASOBANCARIA, one of the most influential business associations in Colombia, used his Eisenhower Fellowship to develop a national plan to transition the country’s economy towards cashless transactions. During the fellowship, he developed a number of actionable steps, including a revised regulatory framework that will allow for new technologies and players to participate in electronic banking, best practices in preventing money laundering in the banking system and a set of research initiatives aimed at cultural and other systemic barriers to encouraging electronic payments by consumers, merchants and the banking system.

Jonathan Malagon (Colombia ’17) learns from seasoned urban developer and visionary Alfonso Vegara (Spain ’87) in Europe.

 Access to affordable personal loans makes weathering financial challenges possible in Brazil

Thiago Alvarez (Brazil ’14) at work with his team at Guiabolso.

Thiago Alvarez (Brazil ’14) started an online platform to make personal financial management possible for the middle class in São Paulo and beyond. As CEO of Guiabolso, Thiago came on his Eisenhower Fellowship to learn about U.S. financial markets, fintech innovations and other tools that he could bring back to Brazil. The result was making personal loans available to those in need at a substantially lower-rate than the existing market. Average personal loans cost more than 320% per year in the Brazilian market, but Thiago’s company is able to offer loans with a rate of 58.3% per year that users are able to access online through an app. Access to lower-cost loans protect families in crisis who may take out loans to take care of emergency medical expenses and other unforeseen monthly expenses.

Listen here for his lessons learned and unique Eisenhower experience.

Change & Innovation

Our impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, Part 4: The Digital Forest

Mauro Rebelo (Brazil ’14) hangs suspended from the trees collecting DNA samples of rain forest species.

The Digital Forest, led by Mauro Rebelo (Brazil ’14), Professor at Instituto de Biofísica Carlos Chagas Filho, aims to sequence all of the species from the Atlantic forest, one of the main biodiversity hot-spots in the planet. The estimated market of pharmaceuticals derived from this tropical forest is US$110 billion, yet the life-saving potential of the forest remains untapped. The goal of the Digital Forest is to digitize endangered species, document their genetic code to protect them, and open up opportunities to address the sustainability goals of the United Nations to guarantee our existence on the planet in the future.

The Digital Forest solves this problem by digitizing the forest: converting the chemical and biological information of plants to digital data. With that data, they not only use artificial intelligence to find and select metadata that validates and aggregates value to the biological data, but also run simulations that save time and money in product development.

In 2017, Mauro won the EF iLab competition in Malaga, Spain, at the Future of Work Global Conference for his breakthrough work with the Digital Forest project. He connects the acceleration of product discovery and development for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and biotech from the Atlantic rain forest with the growth of PhD scientists contributing to the overall GDP of Brazil. Watch him deliver his winning project talk here.

Mauro Rebelo (Brazil ’14) presenting his winning project, the Digital Forest, at the EF Future of Work Global Conference in Malaga, Spain.
Change & Innovation

Our impact in Latin America and the Caribbean, Part 3: Expanding educational opportunities for gifted, innovative students in Peru

Sheyla Blumen (Peru ’11)

The year before Sheyla Blumen (Peru ’11) left for her fellowship in the U.S., Peru only had one school that served the needs of highly gifted students throughout the entire country. In less than a decade, Sheyla has influenced public policy in her country so that gifted children from rural poverty conditions can learn from attending one of the 25 schools serving a total of 8,000 students now in place. Through her foundation, Mente Futura (translated as Future Minds), she is able to work directly with gifted learners from vulnerable conditions and their families and provide emotional support, creativity, skills and talent development. 

Mente Futura is one of three recognized Associated Talent Centers of the European Council for High Ability in Latin America. Mente Futura is leading the way to bringing high quality educational opportunities for gifted young people throughout not only Peru, but the continent.

Sheyla talks about the ripple effect that investing in these particularly gifted students has on their communities. “They think about how to improve the living conditions of their own towns, their home towns. Many of them go back and never disconnect from their families…because family is very important here in Peru.” The students go on to study medicine, engineering and science, and think about ways to go home and increase living conditions for their families and loved ones living in poverty.

Sheyla believes that “education is the best tool to transform civilization,” and we see that through the investment in the gifted students. Her efforts have given her the recognition needed to become a general member of the International Association of Applied Psychology, one of the oldest associations in the world dedicated to psychology. She is the first and only Peruvian member to be elected. She is also a professor of psychology at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

Finding her voice as a woman in a patriarchal society was no easy feat, but she overcame this challenge thanks to the people she met while on fellowship. The greatest lesson she learned was how to “convince people to do what has to be done. Not for me, but for my country. I have a voice, and I need to use it.”

Sheyla persisted with her advocacy for gifted children through three different federal government administrations that wanted to shut down the schools, but instead influenced them to build ten more each time, overturning the criticism that the schools were seen as a service for the elite and against national egalitarian efforts. She was able to convince those in charge that every child deserves to reach their potential, and the answer isn’t to hold people back from learning, but to give them an opportunity to do so.

Now her objective is to expand this across her country to rural areas and across the Latin American and Caribbean region. Listen below for her story.

Fellows from Peru at the home of Sheyla Blumen (Peru ’11) in February 2019. Sheyla, featured in the center, stands with George de Lama, Eisenhower Fellowships’ President on the right.