I’m on a bit of a hot streak with facilitating some great teacher trainings, and I am highlighting what it is I do with the teachers here on the blog. This post is an explanation of my first teacher training of the year, The Importance of Entrepreneurship in Nicaragua.
Why are there Entrepreneurial Education Volunteers in Nicaragua?
Why is entrepreneurship taught to all graduating high school students in the country?
To me the answer is quite clear. The Nicaraguan economy has greater potential and education has the ability to unlock that energy. However, I can’t educate all of Nicaragua in entrepreneurship in two short years. So it is my job to convince other people of this educational need so that they can wave my flag for years to come. Looking back on my service I wish I had done more of this evangelism. I was certainly doing it from the start, but probably not explicitly enough. However, in early February, a week before the kids filed into the schools for the first day of class this year, I got a chance to meet with entrepreneurship teachers from León, as well as assistant principals from their schools, to talk about the topic.
I always have a PowerPoint presentation at my teacher trainings. I make a point of not crowding my slides with text, and instead I use the visual aid to guide my exposition and to pose questions to my participants. We started off with some true or false questions to warm things up, then jump into the definition of entrepreneurship and what I call the “Nicaraguan reality:”
- Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the hemisphere, tied with Bolivia, only behind Haiti
- 2.3 million people, 42.5% of the population (2009) live on $2 or less per day (I don’t particularly like how this statistic is used all around the world so frequently, but for the purposes of my training, it works)
- The unemployment rate is around 7.5%, but the under-employment rate nears 50%
Then comes the population bomb:
Unlike more developed countries which are seeing population growth flat-line, Nicaragua has been experiencing an upward trajectory in population since the Contra War ended in 1991. This graph from the World Bank shows that the population had reached 6 million people by 2014.
To add to that, approximately 70% of Nicaraguans are below 30 years old. Here’s the age distribution, by sex, in 2000:
It is even more fat bottomed today:
I got a good laugh out of the teachers when I told them that the most secure job in the country is theirs’. There is going to be an insatiable need for teachers for years to come. However, the challenge is finding satisfactory work for all of those young adults as they graduate, whether it be from high school or university. Currently the country needs to generate 60,000 jobs per year to maintain the unemployment level, and that number will only increase in the future as more young adults enter the work force.
And therein lies the problem. The Nicaraguan economy is not strong. It is not performing at potential. The reason for this is worthy of another blog post (one which I will indeed be posting in May), but the fact of the matter remains, we need to get creative to generate more employment. Nicaraguan graduates think that after school they will find a job. But there are very few jobs to be had. The government promotes free trade zones, but the pay is poor, and Nicaragua is not attracting nearly as much foreign investment as other developing countries (the canal still being just a pipe dream). Many young adults who look for work simply do not find it, and then wind up joining the ranks of the unemployed, under employed, or informally employed.
The idea of the entrepreneurship class is to change this attitude. Instead of thinking that after graduating they will look for a job they need to think about what they can personally contribute to their communities. I know that attitude change is hard to achieve in senior year of high school, but I work with what I’ve got. I think that we are successful with some students, others still will learn more about entrepreneurship in college, and more still will learn from their own personal realities in the future.
Every year Peace Corps Nicaragua makes a video highlighting what we do and how we do it, using the business competition as a backdrop. The videos are available on YouTube for anyone to watch. If you speak Spanish you can hear my boss talk about how she hopes that one day this won’t just be a high school class but instead something that is taught from pre-school onward:
This year I have also been talking about the importance of entrepreneurship for women. Labor discrimination exists in Nicaragua, just as it exists in the United States. Fewer women are formally employed here than in the US, and the informally employed women often work long hours in food services and vending, earning very little money. In addition, women face the burden of child rearing, and are often victims of domestic abuse and abandonment from their partners. They need more options! I hope that the teachers that I am training can successfully convey to the girls in their classes that the labor market or the food market are not their only viable options. If they don’t want to work for someone else they simply need to think of a creative new product or service to introduce in their community, and they can provide for themselves and their families too. I use the word “simply,” and truly entrepreneurship is not that simple, but the purpose of this class is to give them the tools and the mindset to succeed if they wish to start their own business.
After that conceptual introduction I dove into how the class works with the teachers and principals. I won’t go into that now and here, but this “attitude change,” as I like to call it, transitions nicely into the topic of my second teacher training of the year:
Idea, Generation, Creativity, Innovation, or The New Economic Paradigm