Eduardo Harley, Senior Specialist at UPM Foundation – Fundación UPM – explains that the Foundation’s work is carried out in collaboration with social organisations, public institutions, departmental and national authorities and other social agencies.
“Our ultimate goal is to develop rural communities and to enrich them in any way we can. All our work revolves around this objective,” says Harley.
This means, in essence, that instead of launching projects of its own, UPM provides valuable support to projects run by other organisations. “In order to do this in a meaningful way, we need good knowledge of the communities and the opportunities and challenges within them.”
Everyday grassroots reach
According to Harley, the Foundation is especially keen on supporting young people, women and fledgling entrepreneurs. “In addition, we want to inspire the local leaders of the communities.”
What does all this mean in practice, then? – Harley explains that the programmes range from arranging cooking classes to promote healthy nutrition to giving new, innovative tools to local artisans.
“You don’t always see the impact right away, but we know it’s there.”
In 2021, the UPM Foundation supported 25 different projects. “This year, we are supporting 20 projects run by 14 different organisations,” Harley says, adding that with many of these players, the effort is ongoing.
“We have been working with various organisations for many years and developed great relationships.”
Teaching the teachers
In addition to developing the communities, the other strong focus area is supporting education via various training programmes. One example of a successful education collaboration kicked off in 2016 through discussions between the UPM Foundation and local education officials in the Fray Bentos community on how the Foundation could provide support. A need was identified for professional development space for junior high school teachers, which led to the Foundation looking for a suitable organisation to drive the process. The Education Department of the Catholic University of Uruguay (UCU) was chosen to design a proposal for further cooperation.
The UCU Education Department came back with an idea for a postgraduate programme for teachers to introduce new and innovative classroom practices, focused on improving student learning, and based on the use of active teaching methodologies. The programme was then implemented in Fray Bentos – and beyond. UCU has run the programme from 2016 onwards altogether for more than 100 teachers in Fray Bentos and the interior of the country.
“Furthermore, a proposal for professional development courses for undergraduate teachers who teach in public high schools in those areas where UPM operates, has also been implemented on two occasions, in 2019 and 2021,” adds Rosina Peréz from UCU.
Dynamic duo gets the results
Looking at the past six years, Peréz is quite pleased with the cooperation.
“The collaboration has been excellent and very well evaluated, especially by the recipients, the teachers,” she says, adding that the link between the UPM Foundation and the Catholic University of Uruguay has always been very flexible and stimulating.
“It is a pleasure to work together.”
Professor Ana Laura Palombo from UCU points out that working with the teaching communities that are far from the Uruguayan capital is very important.
“Experience has shown that the training has a high impact on the community,” she says.
According to Palombo, the work that has been carried out reflects “the diversity of realities” in accordance with the appropriate local contexts – while focusing on the greatest concerns in each of the communities.
New wave of educators
Eduardo Harley believes that supporting education has really been the biggest success story for the Foundation to date. “In the rural communities, there’s very limited access to graduate and post-graduate teaching studies. As a result, around 50 per cent of the secondary teachers don’t have a teaching degree.”
Now, largely thanks to the UPM Foundation, about 300 educators receive training – in some shape or form – every year.
“The education programmes – as well as other programmes we support – challenge us to have an open mind about the possibilities that are out there. The deeper we go into the communities, the greater the impact.”
Text: Sami Anteroinen