Program History – From Estelí Innovation to API Initiative

Involvement by Grand Valley State University (GVSU) faculty in Nicaragua dates back to 1998 when Hurricane Mitch devastated a vast area of Central America, including the mountainous northwestern region of Nicaragua, where rural residents grow coffee and other crops on small-scale farms (or fincas). Faculty, students and staff from the Kirkhof School of Nursing at GVSU organized and led Health Brigades to provide relief to approximately 4,000 residents of the protected landscape of Reserva Natural Miraflor in early 1999 (Jewell 2007).

During their travels, they developed relationships in Managua, Estelí and Miraflor. They befriended residents of several of the isolated communities in Miraflor, who subsequently helped organize and assist in additional Brigades that continued through 2003; this involvement empowered many of the women in the rural communities (Jewell 2007).

Wishing to extend these positive relationships, a diverse group of faculty members formed in 2004 to explore the potential for an interdisciplinary program in Nicaragua. In addition to the Health Brigades, GVSU already operated a faculty-led program in Psychology to a San Marcos branch campus of Ave Maria University of Naples, Florida. The interdisciplinary group conducted an exploratory trip and generated some good ideas, but these ultimately did not come to fruition and the group disbanded.

Two of the faculty members, one in engineering and the other in marketing and entrepreneurship, elected to continue and independently returned to revisit some of the people they’d met during the exploratory trip and develop additional contacts. During this trip, they generated the concept of developing a program in innovation for Nicaraguan students to help them develop products needed by Nicaraguans and made by Nicaraguans using local resources. A year later, they were joined by a faculty member from the biology department, further expanding the interdisciplinary breadth and scope of the team’s work.

For years two three and four the three faculty members sustained seven interdisciplinary initiatives in Nicaragua under the umbrella structure called Estelí Innovation and supported by multiple, annual trips by groups of committed faculty members, alumni, students, and community members.

Today the US authors work with faculty students, administrators, and community members from across the disciplines.  While the authors make six to eight trips a year there are three major programs in innovation each year.  These are augmented by trips to learn prepare and set up for the larger delegations.  For example, trips in October, February and April are focused on the May visit moving from the macro to the micro logistical problems.


Program Intent

The goal of the Applied Global Innovation Initiative is to stimulate economic activity in Nicaragua by designing, manufacturing and selling products that are desired by Nicaraguans, that can be sold for a price that Nicaraguans are willing to pay and can be manufactured in Nicaragua.  The program which developed its first five years in collaboration with a regional, comprehensive university in the United States and two universities in Nicaragua now is done with the four regional campuses of La UNAN and the large university in Managua

The Program as of May 2011 morphed from a small class room of faculty and students all from the city of Estelí, to about 100 people in a civic center including about 17 or 18 faculty members and the remainder students coming from all over the country. In 2012 it grew again to a program of about 140 people, with more of an emphasis on Innovation in the whole educational system.  Increasing numbers of Nicaraguan faculty, and US business community members participated.

In 2013 the first January program with the University of Maryland, and the University of the Americas in Managua was launched, joining the other Nicaraguan universities.  This now provides an expanded series of opportunities for the Nicaraguans who can develop ideas in  May, prototype in August, and develop a solid financial plan in January.

Page last modified March 30, 2015