Friday, May 17, 2013

Martín Burt’s Best Kept Secret

Martín Burt is one of the greatest social entrepreneurs I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for many years. So I was recently taken by surprise when I discovered by mere coincidence that he had become the Chief of Staff for the Interim President of Paraguay, Federico Franco! It turns out Martín was asked by Franco to join his administration when he took office in June 2012. He will serve in this position until Franco finishes his term in August 2013. I found it incredible that almost no one in the social entrepreneurial field knew about this and decided a blog post was in order!
Martin Burt at SWF10

Martín is a pioneer in applying microfinance, youth entrepreneurship and economic self-reliance methodologies to address chronic poverty. A citizen of Paraguay, he is the founder of Fundación Paraguaya, a financially self-sustaining social enterprise that promotes entrepreneurs in Paraguay and Africa through microcredit and entrepreneurship education. He is also one of the creators of the environmental protection movement in Paraguay, having co-founded the Moisés Bertoni Conservation Foundation and the Mbaracayú Biosphere Reserve, two of the country’s prominent nature conservation institutions.

In 1985, he started Fundación Paraguaya in order to develop social innovations that could help create jobs and increase family income among the country’s poor. It was a daring venture: Paraguay was then still under a military dictatorship and it was extremely difficult to advance social work. Fundación Paraguaya was the country’s first microfinance program and first development NGO. As Paraguay transitioned to democracy, it went on to become a leader in microenterprise development and is known today as an award winning organization that supports thousands of small businesses through three interrelated strategies: a microfinance program aimed at emerging micro-entrepreneurs; an economic education program for children and youth; and an agricultural high school that teaches organic agriculture and entrepreneurial skills to low-income youth from rural areas.

Martín has worked tirelessly to disseminate the social innovations he has created in Paraguay throughout the world. Just to give you a few examples: He is a co-founder of Teach a Man to Fish, a global network that promotes “education that pays for itself,” partnering with dozens of organizations around the world to establish self-sufficient schools in rural areas that teach independence and sustainability to young people from poor families. His activities with the World Economic Forum include participation on the Education Global Agenda Council and he is a university professor of social entrepreneurship in the U.S. and Africa.

In addition to his work in civil society, Martín served as president of the Paraguayan-American Chamber of Commerce, Vice Minister of Commerce and as Mayor of Asunción, the capital city of Paraguay. As mayor of Asunción, he won a major victory for democracy when he called in garbage trucks and bulldozers to surround the Congress building while the army was busy shooting people in response to a popular uprising. I only found this last part out because some documentary film makers working with the Skoll Foundation uncovered this exciting event in Martín’s past: he never mentioned it!

He is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards: these include, among others, the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, the Outstanding Social Entrepreneur Award from the Schwab Foundation, the Ashoka Changemakers Award, the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) Award, the Microfinance Award from the Inter-American Development Bank and UNESCO Best Practice Award. And there’s more: Martín is the author of books on economics, development, municipal government, education and even poetry! You can learn more about him by watching the short film I mentioned above, one of the Sundance Institute and the Skoll Foundation’s “Stories of Change.”

Somehow, this pillar of the world of social enterprise has successfully kept his position as Chief of Staff to Paraguay’s President below the radar. To my inquiry about his current role Martín replied:
“Well, you know how things happen… I was asked by our new President to serve as his chief of staff until August 2013, when he finishes his term. So I asked for a leave of absence from Fundación Paraguaya and dove in. I am having a lot of fun promoting key policies related to competitiveness, corruption and poverty elimination.”
Congratulations, Martín! You are an inspiration to all of us and we look forward to your future work that no doubt will continue to make the world a better place.

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