Old Adage Gets New Life

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions


Education is recognized as critical for development and improving people’s lives. Universal primary education is a Millennium Development Goal and countries are now allocating more funds for primary education across the global South. However, the options available to youth after primary education are often very limited.

The World Bank estimates that only nine percent of youth in the developing world will be able to go to a university or benefit from higher education scholarships. For the vast majority of youth, getting a job is often the only viable option to securing a livelihood; but in most developing countries the number of formal sector jobs is low and the only option is self-employment. Acquiring relevant training and practical skills can be crucial to becoming successfully self-employed. But where will the training and skills come from and who will provide it and pay for it?

This dilemma is being addressed by the “self-sufficient schools” concept. The model combines entrepreneurship and vocational education through school-based businesses that blend training and revenue-generation. The principle is simple: entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial skills are taught by successful entrepreneurs.

The model is being pioneered in several countries and has been successfully applied by UK-based charity TeachAManToFish in Ghana and Paraguay, targeting rural youth from farming families through a network of 250 vocational experts and institutions in 45 countries. The approach promotes a model for making education both more relevant and financially sustainable in rural communities.

Self-sufficient schools share several characteristics: they produce and sell goods and services; they focus on developing an entrepreneurial culture; they make a direct connection between theory, practical work and financial reward; they encourage learning by doing; they strive to keep improving in order to remain economically competitive; students are encouraged to work cooperatively; and students receive support after graduating, often in the form of microfinance for their new businesses.

In the South American nation of Paraguay, the Fundacion Paraguaya – San Francisco Agricultural High School – run by an NGO committed to poverty reduction through supporting entrepreneurship – found that small-scale farmers not only knew how to produce food, they also knew how to make a prosperous living out of it when given the right tools. Taking over a school previously run by a religious order, the NGO had the opportunity to put the concept to the test.

The organization’s head, Martin Burt states, ”It is not a matter of knowing how to grow the crop, or raise the animal; it is a matter of how to make money and then how to be financially successful doing farming in poor countries.”

The Paraguayan school is half way through its five-year plan, and already is covering two thirds of its recurring costs from the production and sale of goods and services, including specialist cheeses.

Published: May 2007


  • A paper on the concept of self-sufficient schools: Click here
  • CIDA City Campus, Johannesburg, South Africa: CIDA is the country’s only “’free’, open-access, holistic, higher educational facility” and is “operated and managed by its students, from administration duties to facilities management. In addition every student is required to return to their rural schools and communities, during holidays, to teach what they have learnt.”
  • The First International Conference on Self-Sufficient Schools is being planned by TeachAManToFish. Expressions of interest are sought from all individuals and organizations interested in taking part in the conference. Email for more information.

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

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© David South Consulting 2022

By David South Consulting

David South Consulting is an international development media and consulting service. Designing human development and health. Editor and writer of Southern Innovator.



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