Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Winter 2006Kellogg School of Management
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  Cesar Dubois '07 and Kevin Marinacci '96
  Cesar Dubois '07, left, and Kevin Marinacci '96, guide students in Fabretto's San Isidro computer lab.
Alumni Profile: Kevin Marinacci '96

Plugging in for promise

Kellogg alum is helping first-generation Internet users in Nicaraguan primary schools embrace better learning and lifelong enrichment to benefit community

By Romi Herron

Kevin Marinacci says optimism can be an occupational hazard when developing nonprofit start-up ventures. Yet the 1996 Kellogg School graduate admits that a sense of promise helps guide his considerable passion to make a difference.

But 16 years ago in Nicaragua, when Marinacci started Father Fabretto's Family Association, an organization improving education for low-income families, the challenges looked daunting, even to an optimist. At the time, the 400 children Marinacci set out to serve faced historically bleak outcomes for learning. Whether for basic academics like reading and writing, or necessary trade skills like farm planning or beekeeping, half of students didn't make it to sixth grade. In the rural areas, eight of nine children dropped out by then.

Today, due in large part to Marinacci's belief that providing education, hope, shoes, uniforms, books and lunch would enable kids to stay enrolled in school, more than 4,300 Nicaraguan children are engaged with their dreams and advancing to higher grades. Marinacci, now Fabretto's executive director in Nicaragua, had cautiously hoped for such progress, but the program's current status has far exceeded his expectations.

"It's beyond my wildest dreams to see the success we're experiencing, and we've attracted attention from institutional donors who see us as having characteristics that can be replicated regionally as well as locally," Marinacci says. "Sometimes [problems arise because of] something so simple, such as no access to supplies, that creates an educational barrier for children in less developed countries. That's an unacceptable future for a country."

In its second phase, Fabretto set out to improve the curriculum and teachers in the schools, Marinacci says.

"We changed our equation. Once we attracted children to school and to the programs, we worked on getting the excitement of education into their hearts and minds," Marinacci says. "Here, showing up [to school] is half the battle." 

Encouraging children to be protagonists in their academic life, and not mere bystanders learning by rote, is part of the Fabretto credo. "We're working very hard to make sure they are getting the skills needed to succeed long term and improve their family's income and the community's income," Marinacci says.

Playing a significant part is Cesar Dubois '07, currently enrolled in the Kellogg School's EMBA program in Miami. Dubois travels there for his studies and also manages Fabretto's information technology, which means he's helping connect Fabretto's first generation of users to the digital online world.

"About half of one percent of Nicaragua's population uses the Internet, and we are now offering not only basic Windows and Internet access with computer bays in our schools, we are also teaching subjects such as computer repair to give students additional skills," Dubois says. The children are proving to be adept with concepts most had never even heard previously. "At the beginning of the semester, they were just learning how to turn on the computers, and now they're working with tables in Word."

A Kellogg alumnus at Microsoft, Ian Knox '03, facilitated a $158,000 grant of computers and software for Fabretto. Currently, entrepreneurial studies, English as a second language, Junior Achievement methodology and experiential learning are programs under development in the Fabretto curriculum.  Through a partnership with the Pan American School of Agriculture in Honduras' Zamorano University, beekeeping, composting, vegetable growing and other practical projects are taught so children can learn not only the physical process of farm skills but also the planning, troubleshooting and math behind it. Through projects such as Growing Connections, students will share their agricultural experiences with others via the Internet, so the community benefits too.  Someday, these children may teach their parents and other adults to use the Internet, but because adult literacy is low in the region, that goal may take some time, Marinacci admits.

He is confident, however, that Nicaragua's children hold their country's promise in their hands, whether they reach for technological or agricultural ways of earning a living. In 2007, Fabretto will pilot a rural secondary education system that has been successful in Honduras and Colombia.

"Any time we can raise the educational level of this generation, we can create opportunities. Nicaragua is certainly beginning to turn the corner and attract foreign investment, but that will be squandered unless there is investment in human capital," Marinacci says.

"I've seen a lot of progress but we have a lot more to do. We're just getting started."

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University