Feature June-July 2001
Instituto Multiplicar, Brazil
Applying Business Principles to Education
Perhaps Brazil's most ambitious private sector initiative to address the country's unemployment crisis among disadvantaged young adults, Instituto Multiplicar has earned an impressive record in a very short time. This initiative is an example of how one family can bring experience and resources gained in the business world to bear on a pressing national problem, in partnership with government and the nonprofit sector, and achieve significant results.
Multiplicar is based on a simple thesis: offer bonuses to teachers who help a target group -- school dropouts accustomed to failure -- to pass tests entitling them to an equivalency certificate and a key to the door of jobs.
With support from government agencies at the state and federal levels, this certificate enables students -- more than 50,000 who earned passing grades in the first pilot phase -- to seek employment in the formal labor force and, in the process, gain a renewed sense of hope for the future.
A long-term dividend for this investment of human, financial and social capital is a healthier society and economy overall and a greater optimism for economic development and social well-being in Brazil. A five-year plan aims to make the program nationwide.
Instituto Multiplicar is the creation of the brother-and-sister team of Daniel and Verônica Valente Dantas, investment bankers who co-founded Opportunity Bank, headquartered in Rio de Janeiro. Its private-sector model -- offering incentive pay based on concrete results -- shows how individuals with a well-honed idea and the know-how to create partnerships to leverage resources can produce success in a short time.
While the Dantas' floated the general concept, Brazil's First Lady Ruth Cardoso approached them with the idea of focusing on poor youth between the ages of 15 and 29. This population represents a critical "lost generation" of Brazilians (estimated at 64% of this age group) who have left school and lack opportunities to find good jobs. The consequences are often a lifetime consigned to poverty and, with it, poor health and, occasionally, crime.
Partnerships soon followed. O Globo, Brazil's largest media company, developed tele-courses so that instruction could be broadcast on television, and also publicized the program. Other companies added state-of-the-art technology to create and disseminate materials and develop a Web network for teachers to exchange information. Foundations with experience in adult literacy training helped develop materials, which were designed to provide accelerated learning; the full program lasts for one year. Arthur Andersen provided auditing services to supervise program operations and administer tests. Banco do Brasil, with its nationwide branch network, processed the bonus payments.
Eventually other companies and foundations joined the effort. The government of Ceará in northeast Brazil -- one of the country's poorest areas but one whose leaders are open to new ideas -- agreed to pilot the program. Its education department worked closely with the Institute; with the Fundação Roberto Marinho (www.frm.org.br), which has supported literacy programs; and with other partners to ensure that the curriculum and certificate conformed to state requirements. Students pay nothing to attend.
Trained teachers were recruited to teach the three courses required to earn the certificate. The teachers had considerable latitude on how and when to teach. Classes are held in schools, community centers, private homes and other locales. To accommodate work schedules, courses were offered in morning, afternoon and evening shifts. Older people were admitted to the program, and in least one instance three generations from one family were learning together.
And although the initial publicity for the program was relatively low-key, turn-out was not: demand for courses was so high that state planners, who expected 2,300 TV rooms for instruction, reported 4,200 TV rooms in use! Indeed, at the launch in May 2000 more than 100,000 people enrolled. Ultimately, about 86,000 people completed the pilot phase of the program and 50,000 passed the test to earn the certificate. Those who did not are allowed to re-enroll. Technology tools to assist student learning and create Web networks for teachers have been incorporated into the program.
Expansion of the Multiplicar model is in the works.
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