Cause for Hope uses IT to help poor families in developing nations
This feature first appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
In military terms, a “force multiplier” means “a capability that, when added to and employed by a combat force, significantly increases the combat potential of that force and thus enhances the probability of success.”
Famous examples from history include the Spartans choosing to fight in the narrow pass at Thermopylae, and the British use of “radar” to win the Battle of Britain. A force multiplier isn’t always tangible: Sometimes it is the invisible and indomitable will of a fighting force, like Simon Bolivar’s Patriot Army completing a forced march to win the Battle of Boyacá.
The most powerful force multiplier these days is information technology (IT). As the heart of our modern world, IT has positively impacted just about every aspect of our lives. From business to travel, it is an ever-growing presence. Nations that embrace IT soon begin to see advancements in business, education and the health and progress of their citizens.
The rapid adoption of technology has led to a gap between Latin and South American countries and other more developed nations. Latin and South American countries as a whole are still building their IT infrastructures. They are still dealing with the dual challenges of widespread poverty and illiteracy among their citizens.
Fortunately, things are improving quickly south of the border as various nations improve their infrastructures and more multinationals are noticing the opportunities for new markets and employees. One organization that is quietly helping to improve the IT exposure in these countries is Cause for Hope – One Life at a Time (CFH).
Based in Sandy, Utah, CFH is a nonprofit organization that seeks to enable thousands of families and individuals in developing countries to achieve lasting self-reliance through online and classroom-based job market education and one-on-one mentoring.
Building self-sufficiency for families
CFH began its mission more than 17 years ago with a group of private citizens who had a passion to assist families and individuals in thirdworld countries to overcome generations of poverty and dependency.
“Our mission is to create lasting self-reliance in the lives of families and individuals,” said Chris Dunn, Chief Operating Officer. “We do this through job placement, creating successful small businesses, and encouraging and facilitating continuing training and education. Our core competencies are training (and) education, and one-on-one mentoring.”
At learning and mentoring centers in Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, and Nicaragua, students are able to enroll in classes designed to teach them valuable job acquisition and life skills. The classes offered include basic computer skills, English language, graphic design, enterprise creation, web development, and sales and customer service.
CFH’s primary emphasis is helping families thrive economically and socially, seeing it as a way to improve the conditions of the family, and by extension their neighborhoods and ultimately entire countries.
“We believe the family is the foundational unit in society,” said Dunn. “We want to strengthen the family structure and the ability of a breadwinner to provide.” Dunn said it is vitally important for the well-being of the family, as well as for the self-esteem of the breadwinner, that a parent or parents “be able to care for their family.”
In it for the long haul
The skills taught by CFH are important also for individuals and young people who do not yet have families of their own. “We want to instill in them these important skills and habits of being able to find a job and managing their income so that one day when they do have a family, they can provide,” said Dunn.
There is no charge for students to attend CFH centers. The cost of operation and classes is paid entirely through generous financial donations from individuals and organizations who support CFH’s efforts. Those chosen to receive CFH instruction and mentoring are selected based on two criteria.
“The most important is need. We have systems in place to identify families and individuals according to their need,” said Dunn. “The second most important criteria is commitment. If someone has a need and is committed to make a change in their life then we are willing to expend resources to help elevate them from poverty.
“If they are unwilling (to commit), or are not in a position to make a commitment to change, then we explain that we cannot engage with them at the current time.”
While classes typically run for 15 weeks, four hours per day, five days a week, CFH is dedicated to helping their students as long as needed. “It’s a two-way commitment for both parties, said Dunn. “As long as they remain committed to working toward their own improvement, we will dedicate resources to them as long as it takes.
Building character by giving back
Although training is free, in return students are required to give “Service Currency,” which consists of 40 hours of volunteer structured service to local organizations assisting others. This can be done at orphanages, elder-care centers, hospitals, and other similar facilities.
Serving others who are even less fortunate than themselves helps students understand that they are contributing to their own improvement. In CFH’s eyes, this makes the entire process more meaningful and valuable. Many students have even gone on to become volunteer mentors and teach the CFH principles they learned to others.
CFH also operates a farm in San Pedro Sula, in Honduras, where students help plant, care for, and harvest produce that they then donate to elder-care centers and orphanages.
Adding in IT training and certification
While CFH’s efforts in training and mentoring have helped thousands to lift themselves out of poverty, their introduction of IT training to the educational mix in 2017 promises to have an even larger impact.
CFH team members realized that, as internet penetration continues to grow in Latin and South America, so too does the need for individuals with IT skills. “It was our belief that individuals with a basic competency in (the) Microsoft suite would be better able to find employment that enabled them to provide for themselves and their families,” said Dunn, “so we started looking around for the best way to teach and certify the students.”
The organization’s search soon led them to team up with an IT training company also based in Utah, TestOut Corporation. After a demonstration of the simplicity and power of TestOut’s LabSim learning platform, CFH began offering IT training on a test basis in two of their learning centers in Nicaragua and Honduras.
CFH instructors were pleased at how intuitive and user-friendly the LabSim platform was for the students, as well as how quickly they were able to achieve MOS proficiency. Most individuals in these countries struggle to earn a subsistence-level income. Many with jobs are struggling to get by on between $100 and $200 (U.S.) per month. Armed with an MOS certification, those same individuals can expect to earn between $300 and $700 (U.S.) monthly.
The outcomes from this first year have been extremely favorable. Approximately 150 students were trained and, thus far, 60 percent have received offers of employment in a variety of positions including administrative, sales and customer service, call-center management, and retail. CFH has since expanded the program to all of their learning centers.
In order to help their students land jobs, CFH has been establishing relationships with key employers in various regions, inviting them to make presentations and discuss requirements for opportunities with their companies. In a number of instances, employers have been so impressed with what the students were learning that they conducted interviews on the spot and extended job offers.
In addition to IT training, individuals also receive instruction in résumé writing, management of their finances, interviewing, and job searching techniques. And the results are making a difference. Anthony Guardado is a young man with dreams and desires to excel. Unfortunately, like so many others in Choluteca, Honduras, he came from a very poor family and had few marketable skills.
Guardado’s education, limited to primary school, was a real challenge for him as he looked for work. Perceiving his situation as too difficult, he had little desire to improve his education or plan for marriage and a family of his own.
Because he had an interest in the area of technical trades, Guardado was offered an opportunity to enroll in a workshop where he learned to repair cell phones. The technical knowledge Guardado acquired landed him a position as a cell phone repair technician with FUTUROCELL, a company that sells cell phones. By working hard and applying the skills taught by CFH, he is now close to owning his own home.
Another happy beneficiary of CFH’s IT training is German Castillo. Not long ago, Castillo, now 29, was married and working as a firefighter. He realized that to improve his career prospects, he needed to improve his computer skills and knowledge, and sought out IT training. “Learning computer skills is more than just a necessity,” he said.
With his new computer skills, his work responsibilities soon moved him from the field to an office, where he coordinates and records the daily activities of fellow firefighters and prepares a computer printout for his supervisors. Not only have his computer skills and training made him more productive, efficient, and effective, but he also received a 15 percent increase in his salary and will soon be promoted again, to the human resources department.
Castillo plans to maximize any and all opportunities for his education and career. He is finishing his studies with CFH and wants to eventually earn a university degree in computer engineering. He is also planning on completing future CFH courses in English, as well as Sales and Customer Service, and looks forward to one day owning his own home.
Doing more with less
With IT instruction now available across all its centers, CFH’s productivity has boomed. They are reaching more people than ever before, and the average cost of instruction is actually going down as CFH utilizes online learning. Students can now choose between taking courses online, or in an instructor-led classroom — which many still do since they lack computers or internet access in their homes.
In non-military settings, a force multiplier is often found amongst small groups of dedicated individuals whose level of commitment and combination of talents result in an esprit de corps that allows them to push on against impossible odds. CFH accomplishes all they do with just 49 people — seven employees in the United States, and 42 internationally.
Almost all have been with the organization for many years, and each possesses a high level of competency in their roles as mentors, instructors, and managers. Each is also fiercely dedicated to helping improve the lives of others.
It’s impossible to predict the long-term impact of helping others. Our efforts have a way of rippling out beyond the individual level, and reaching people we hadn’t even imagined. Just as Bolivar’s victory at Boyacá led to eventual independence for millions living in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Panama, so too with Cause for Hope’s ongoing struggle.
For a few hundred dollars, individuals who formerly existed on less than three dollars a day can be trained in skills that enable them to earn 10 times as much. As advisory board member Neil Wall said, “We can help these people, and in turn they can help those around them and make the world a better place.”
Cause for Hope fights for something far more valuable than money. They fight for the potential of the individual. In the process, they have helped thousands of men and women to change their vision and work their way out of poverty — thereby opening the doors to opportunity for them, their children, and ultimately their entire countries.
It has been said that hope is the greatest gift one can give to another. In that respect, Cause for Hope – One Life at a Time is aptly named.