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Researching the potential for sustainable development and growth – 2022

Brazil and Paraguay
Dates June 10 - August 6, 2022
Program Focus

Partnering with organizations and research sites in Brazil and Paraguay to make recommendations regarding Itaipu dam electricity after 2023 when the current energy agreements expire. Recommendations will focus on ways to spur economic and sustainable growth for both countries.

Dates subject to change

Program Leaders
Program Themes
  • Community Development
  • Environment


Itaipu Binational Dam is a hydroelectric dam on the Paraná river located on the border of Brazil and Paraguay. The Dam is a leader in renewable energy production, equally owned by both countries, with the joint-ownership terms established by the Itaipu Treaty in 1973. Because Paraguay does not have sufficient demand to consume its 50% share, it has historically exported the majority of its electricity to Brazil: its 14,000 MW of installed capacity provide around 90% of the electricity consumed in Paraguay and 15% of the electricity in Brazil. As we approach the Treaty renegotiation in 2023, energy pricing and distribution agreements are up for debate.

During the summer students one group of students will be working with partners in Brazil, and another group with partners in Paraguay, to try to understand what the dam means for both countries. Students will partner with local educational institutions and researchers on both sides of the border to help understand how the renegotiation can be used as an opportunity to advance sustainable development in both countries and how they can benefit from the renegotiation. At the end of the program students will come together to do a live model of the renegotiation, representing both parties.

By participating in this program, students will gain an understanding of the connections between energy and social development. More specifically how one of the world’s largest hydroelectric dams can shape the politics and economics of Brazil and Paraguay.


Community Partner Organization(s)

Students in Brazil will primarily be working with Parque Tecnológico de Itaipu (PTI), a teaching and research center located in the barracks that used to house workers during the construction of the dam.  The PTI now houses a business development center and a university campus, the Universidade Estadual do Oeste do Paraná (UNIOESTE) engineering and science center. DukeEngage students will partner with faculty and students at PTI/UNIOESTE to understand financing, engineering, and the economic and social impacts of the Itaipu dam on Brazil as well as investigate possible outcomes for the Treaty renegotiation that will happen in 2023.

  • Brazil students will have strong engagement with UNIOESTE students who will facilitate communications with locals, help understand the culture and current economic situation.
  • Brazil students will also engage with people from the Itaipu Binacional Dam itself to learn about current environmental related programs, social responsibilities to understand the importance of the dam to local communities.

Students in Paraguay will focus on the question of how Paraguay can use its renewable energy surplus to jumpstart sustainable development. Through community contacts in NGOs and scholarly collaborations at Paraguayan universities, students will assess and even give input on public policy interventions, development projects, and social ventures that are ecologically, socially, and financially sustainable. Students will design, present, and publish policy recommendations.

  • Paraguay students will directly engage with Paraguayan researchers, including at the Energy Systems Research Group (National Polytechnic University), the Universidad Comunera, and other research centers to examine Paraguay’s complex development needs and political-economic context, how the treaty has been administered in Paraguay, how growth in Paraguay might influence the desired outcomes of the treaty negotiation, and how a change in the distribution of electricity might impact and benefit the country.
  • However, students in Paraguay will also spend a large portion of their time working directly with organizations (NGOs, international aid organizations, start-up and entrepreneurial organizations, etc) tackling sustainability issues in development, growth, and environment.

Applicants should apply for either Paraguay or Brazil. If you’re not sure which program would be best for you, feel free to contact the program leaders.


Program Requirements

Language: In Paraguay, intermediate-level Spanish (300-level) is required by the beginning of the field assignment, as students will be working directly with local communities and scholars and will communicate research findings to a Paraguayan public. Students may be native Spanish speakers or have successfully taken Spanish language courses, including AP credit. Or they may discuss and develop a plan to attain Spanish language proficiency with the program director.

In Brazil, Portuguese or Spanish would be beneficial, but is not required.

Coursework: No specific coursework is required. However, applications will be stronger from students with a background or training in energy, environmental sciences, justice, Latin American history or economics. Students are encouraged to take at least one of the courses listed in Academic Connections, below.

Skills: The most important skill is a willingness to learn. Our student teams are at their best when students bring in a diverse set of skills: language, engineering, statistical modeling, quantitative and qualitative research experience, web design, social media messaging, graphic design.

Personal Qualities: Students should be able to work on projects with autonomy. Must be open to working closely with other students and community partners.



Housing, meals, and transportation: Paraguay-based students will live in Asunción, the capital city of Paraguay, which lies six hours west of Itaipu Dam. Students will live in community housing (either apartments or group housing) in the city center, with easy, walkable access to grocery stores, restaurants, and cafes as well as to public transportation. Students will take public buses (colectivos) to their internship placements. We will have home-cooked community-building meals weekly.

Brazil-based students will live in Foz do Iguaçu, the Brazilian city next to Itaipu dam. Students will live in community housing (either apartments or group housing) in the city, with easy, walkable access to grocery stores, restaurants, and cafes as well as to public transportation. Students will take public buses to their internship placements.

Local safety, security, and cultural norms: We encourage students who have questions or concerns about health or safety in international programs to check Duke’s International SOS (ISOS) portal for relevant information. If you have special needs related to health, culture, disability, or religious practices, please contact the program director(s) or the DukeEngage office to discuss whether your needs can be accommodated in this program.

For guidance on how race, religion, sexual/gender identity, ability, or other aspects of identity might impact your travels, we suggest exploring the Diversity, Identity and Global Travel section of the DukeEngage website.


Academic Connections

This program is open to all, and might especially appeal to students taking courses in public policy, international relations, Latin American studies, Innovation & Entrepreneurship. For students applying for a Paraguay site placement, the following Spring 2022 courses may be useful: CA 101, CA 236S, ECON 325S, EGR 424, ENV 269T-1, ICS 195, LSGS 201S, Spanish 412S.

Students who participate in this program might go on to pursue these or other independent research on energy, public policy, Latin American history.


Potential Program Cancellations

DukeEngage cannot guarantee that any program will occur. Programs may be cancelled for various reasons, including COVID considerations.