José Miguel Aguilar Berrocal

Ashoka Fellow
Costa Rica,
Fellow Since 2008
Fundación Acción Jóven


This profile was prepared when José Miguel Aguilar Berrocal was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Fundación Acción Joven (FAJ) is turning obligatory community service for university students, known as TCU, from an under-utilized resource into an opportunity for Costa Rican youth to help improve public secondary schools while gaining awareness of social problems. While the TCU requirement has existed for years, until the creation of FAJ many university students—with tacit participation by their universities—volunteered for their families or their universities rather than for needy communities, the intended beneficiaries of the requirement, or simply never completed the requirement at all. Through FAJ’s carefully structured, high-impact volunteer projects, Jose is teaching students to view the TCU requirement as a rewarding way to gain practical skills while helping underachieving secondary schools.

Jose has approached the Ministry of Public Education with a formal plan for matching the TCU requirement with the needs of public secondary schools. After seeing the overwhelmingly positive results of FAJ’s one-year pilot program, the ministry has agreed to reform TCU standards nationwide. Not only is Jose completely reengineering the way that Costa Rican universities administer the TCU requirement, he is also changing young people’s attitudes towards social responsibility and civic culture. One of FAJ’s guiding principles is sensitizing university students, who often come from more comfortable backgrounds, about growing socioeconomic inequality in Costa Rica and its consequences. Jose believes that working with young people is the most effective way to ensure that Costa Rica’s future leaders understand the country’s social reality.

As FAJ moves into a new phase of growth and expansion, Jose’s goals are to begin working with public as well as private universities—a task that will present new and different challenges—and to open discussions with government officials, universities, and the public school system in other Central American countries for future replication. Panama, which has a similar socioeconomic and educational profile to Costa Rica, is the likeliest candidate for an international pilot program. Jose has planned a year-long feasibility study in Panama for 2009 and is also collaborating with educational leaders and citizen organizations (COs) throughout Central America to explore how FAJ’s model can help improve youth involvement in other countries.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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