The origins of FUNDAEC go back to the early 1970s, when a group of professionals from various disciplines began to question the prevailing development processes in the country that negatively affected small farmers, who were the main food producers. The proposal was that just as science had contributed to the advancement of more modern societies, it could also provide appropriate development models for the social reality of countries like Colombia. The first actions in Norte del Cauca were directed toward generating knowledge to advance some existing rural life processes and initiate others, as necessary. The participation strategy involved an educational program to equip peasant communities with the necessary capabilities to participate meaningfully and become the owners of their own development path.
The members of this founding group included Farzam Arbab, Gustavo Correa, Javier Marín and Edmundo Gutierrez and later, Francia de Valcárcel, Martin Prager and Haleh Arbab, who laid the philosophical and methodological foundations of FUNDAEC.
The FUNDAEC emblem is a symbol of movement, connectedness, harmony and strength. All these intertwined lines resemble the development processes of a people. Each process alone, like a thread of a loop, is not very strong, but when it is joined with the others, the strength produced by that union is clearly seen. These well-managed processes become a vital force capable of promoting continuous improvement in a small or large community.
FUNDAEC's history can be divided into four stages chronologically:
Establishment of Investigation-Action-Learning Processes: Educational, Technological, and Organizational.
During this stage, FUNDAEC focused on establishing an investigation-action process that sought the integral well-being of communities in the Norte del Cauca region of Colombia. Two groups of youth participated directly in this process, and eventually became the first graduates of its educational programs. Read more...
The knowledge generated during this period contributed greatly to the first educational materials developed by FUNDAEC. The projects focused on innovative systems of agriculture and appropriate technologies to improve the production of small parcels of land, bee and fish farms, and the search for effective forms of community organization. In a few modest structures built in the village of La Arrobleda in the municipality of Santander de Quilichao, classrooms and a science laboratory and a workshop for constructing simple tools were implemented, and land was set aside for hands-on animal and agricultural production (garden plots, pig-raising, and chicken coops for laying hens and broilers). The buildings included space for a small animal-feed production center, and other product lines were gradually added (to process jam, soy beans, and cocoa). Notwithstanding its small size, the site was conceived as an Agro-industrial Park.
Consolidation, Legal Recognition, and Program Expansion.
This decade witnessed the consolidation of FUNDAEC’s initial work. The period also marked the beginning of the expansion of its programs through other development organizations in Colombia. Legal recognition was obtained for its first educational program, the Tutorial Learning System (SAT), though not without a struggle, as Colombian legislation at the time was extremely rigid. Although the official evaluators felt that the program was innovative and interesting, they had trouble fitting it into the existing legal framework.
It was eventually approved as an effective and valid alternative for secondary school education. Thus, SAT was born. During this period, texts were completed for three SAT levels, Promoter, Practitioner, and Bachiller.
FUNDAEC’s reputation grew as the number of students increased. The development of textbooks continued and the lines of investigation-action were expanded. Progress was made in the search for alternative systems of production, and more than 20 sub-systems were designed on the land of small-scale farmers. Later, some of these first farmers converted parts of their land into experimental learning stations for the community. The experience helped the system expand in local communities and the region.
Inspired by the results achieved in the Norte del Cauca region, other NGOs working in neighboring regions and departments showed interest in adopting FUNDAEC’s programs. Several early graduates were hired by those organizations, which helped strengthen inter-institutional, collaborative relations. The resultant transition from an organization limited to a specific geographical region into one that advised others, brought new challenges and responsibilities to FUNDAEC, which were also the object of investigation-action-learning by the institution.
Midway through the decade new laws were passed giving municipalities increased autonomy in managing their own affairs and financial resources, which marked a milestone in the expansion of the SAT program.
In order to meet the demands of expansion, FUNDAEC created the Centro Universitario de Bienestar Rural, CUBR (“University Center for Rural Well-being”), and promoted the development of new institutions. Soon other organizations that identified with FUNDAEC joined their ranks and worked together to help rural regions achieve real development. This paved the way for the creation of an institutional network that worked within the framework of the University for Integral Development, and strengthened many cooperative relationships.
Expansion of Coverage and Systematization of SAT Tutor Training.
This was a period of intense activity for FUNDAEC. Demand for the SAT program continued to increase throughout Colombia and in other countries—the Bayán Association in Honduras and the Talita Kumi program in Guatemala were pioneers in this respect.
The SAT program grew rapidly in Colombian departments with governmental support and outstanding local backing (such as Risaralda and Antioquia), and gradually became a viable alternative for regional efforts to improve the quality of rural education and expand its coverage. FUNDAEC’s position in the field of rural education was further strengthened by the Ministry of Education’s adoption of a project to expand coverage and improve the quality of rural education throughout the country, with the support of the World Bank. FUNDAEC was chosen and hired to produce an analytical description of the institutions that currently included SAT in their development plans. The reflections that emerged from this process led to the development and adoption of the national government’s Rural Education Plan—PER—in which several regions were chosen to expand educational coverage and participate in the project. This expansion of SAT meant that FUNDAEC had to modify its texts in order to make them more universal and more easily adaptable for tutors and students, and expand some of the content in accordance with new themes required by the government.
The first program created at CUBR, a Bachelor’s Degree in Rural Education (a 5-year undergraduate program) produced its first batch of graduates from several parts of the country. They were sponsored by institutions that had already adopted the SAT program or wished to use it to begin development processes. In Tolima, where the Armero volcanic eruption occurred, one of the organizations involved in the reconstruction of the area chose 12 young secondary school graduates from Armero and Guayabal and sent them to study at CUBR. Upon completing their studies, these youth returned to their region to participate in educational projects that included the SAT program.
The new century brought increasing concern regarding the type of education future generations would receive, and many looked to FUNDAEC and its programs.
SAT continued its process of local and international expansion. By 2003, the program was reaching 50,000 students in 2,300 villages, 500 municipalities and 19 departments of Colombia (about a third of the rural areas of Colombia). Internationally, institutions such as the Associação para o Desenvolvimento Coesivo da Amazônia- ADCAM of Brazil, the Asociación Familia Padre Fabretto of Nicaragua and Fundación Wong of Ecuador established the program in those countries with the approval of their governments.
In 2002, FUNDAEC received the “Change the World — Best Practice” award from the Club of Budapest for the development of the SAT program, described as “the greatest revolution in education of the 20th century”. That same year, the Ministry of Education of Honduras recognized SAT as a secondary education program entirely equivalent to the official one, and requested a national expansion plan focused on the areas of greatest poverty.
At the beginning of this decade, a proposal for the revision of SAT texts was formalized, starting with those at the Impulsor level. In addition, in response to the interest shown by a growing number of countries around the world in adopting the SAT, FUNDAEC began to modify some of the curricular contents and to organize them into a program called "Preparation for Social Action (PAS)". This is offered in the non-formal education modality.
The first experience with PSA took place in 2005 on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia; its success demonstrated that it could be established in other regions of the country. Later, in 2007, FUNDAEC received a donation from the Hewlett Foundation to support the implementation of PSA in Kenya, Uganda and Zambia; that initiative later led to the formation of a network of institutions in Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia and the Pacific region that are learning how to implement the program in their local contexts.
CUBR continued training new groups of graduates, but in view of the country’s urgent need to have new educational alternatives for its professionals, and the desire expressed by many of them to broaden their vision of development and acquire tools that would allow them to be true agents of change, CUBR created the Specialization in Education and Social Development program. This space would allow the socialization of all the learning about possible and necessary ways to turn education into a motor for the integral development of rural communities. An analysis of the SAT program and its close links to productive and organizational processes implemented by FUNDAEC acquired greater importance.
CUBR also created the Specialization in Strengthening Local Economies program to systematize the lessons learned from FUNDAEC's experience with alternative systems of primary and secondary production. Some of its materials have been adapted for a two-year program, the Technical Professional in Administration of Local Economies, a distance education program that CUBR began to offer in 2008.
At the end of the decade, the CUBR embarked on a process of self-evaluation for its own benefit, and to comply with Ministry of National Education requirements applied to all the Faculties of Education to obtain definitive accreditation for their programs.
FUNDAEC began responding to requests from various academic and national and international development institutions for information about the philosophy and concepts that underpin the University for Integral Development. Thus, it began to offer specific courses on these matters based on its experience over three decades.