Socially Committed Young Guatemalan Entrepreneurs

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Asociación de Gerentes de Guatemala (AGG) was established in 1990 as an organization supporting businesspersons in Guatemala City. The AGG saw a need to work with young entrepreneurs in poor neighborhoods and sought and received IAF funding for a project called Iniciativa Construsueños.

The project brought together the AGG and Empresarios Juveniles (EJ), and the plan it developed called for working with seniors in six high schools in urban and rural municipalities around Guatemala City. The schools included the central marketing and publications institute in Zone 5 and national schools of commerce in San Raymundo, San Juan Sacatepéquez, and Zones 5, 7, and 8.

Almost 20 percent of young people in Guatemala are categorized as ninis, meaning without work or schooling, according to 2011 UNDP data. There are growing rates of migration due to rising violence even as close as by the participating schools and in students’ homes. A third of Guatemalan youth leave school before age 15, and only eight percent go on to attend a university. In an effort to reverse the trend, Guatemala’s Ministry of Education added a seminar to its program that focused on presenting the students a variety of potential career choices. The AGG and its partners began the three-year project in 2006.

The IAF gave a grant of $83,030; the AGG provided $32,375; and its partners, EJ, Fundación Soros and the European Union’s Guatemalan National Program for Competitiveness (PRONACAM), contributed $72,333. Project goals included the training of 45 high school teachers and 500 young people ages 18 and 19. The AGG hired consultants to work with the Ministry of Education and with professors to create a national program to get graduates from indigent families into the workforce, either as employees or as owners of their own businesses. 


Additional findings regarding the project included the following:

Fifty-six percent of the 509 students were women, and they all received initial training with AGG consultants in the classroom before putting what was learned into business plans with the help of EJ staff.   

Groups of students organized into 60 businesses and chose specific services or products to develop. Five months later, they presented their creations at a fair.

After graduation, 20 percent of the young people either created small businesses or worked in family businesses.

More than 75 percent of those interviewed are working, while many continue to study finance, accounting, and marketing. Another 20 percent are working part-time and focusing on their studies.

Teachers in half of the schools are still using the project’s methodology for seminars with high school seniors.   

An independent evaluation and self-assessments indicate that students aged 17 to 20 learned how to start a business.

Responsibility: During the seminar, the students were asked to identify their strengths and leadership styles, and each team member was assigned specific responsibilities. Their work experiences as an individual and with a team helped build self-confidence. Teachers and mentors were surprised to see that the students put their newfound knowledge to use, confidently helping family businesses.

Contribution: The main goal of the project was to teach business development. But a secondary theme was to create a link between students and the community, given that most young people want to contribute. One former student, Roberto Calderón, returned to his former school and discussed his interest in teaching media arts, his field, which had not been offered during his senior year. “I am an example for young people in my community,” he said.  Another young woman contributes part of her salary to a senior citizen center. Several other young people spoke of sharing their knowledge and giving back to the community as part of their future plans. The sponsors consider these plans to be quite notable, given that the young people come from very poor and marginalized neighborhoods.

 GDF levels in pyramid graphic

Results were collected and analyzed using the Grassroots Development Framework, which measures the information in three areas: the individual or family, the organization or grantee partner, and the society or community. The young people who took part in the project gained planning and organizational skills that today have helped many in their work and studies. Empresarios Juveniles continues working with youth organizations on a national level. Schools in poorer areas are encouraged by the advancements and accomplishments of the students, as well as by their potential to help future generations succeed

Opportunities: Of the participants interviewed, 85 percent said the experience improved their opportunities for economic success by teaching them how to create and run a business. In addition, they learned the importance of setting goals and making good decisions. Some students used their seminar certificate and experience when applying for jobs.

The project also motivated students to continue their education. When asked about where they saw themselves in five to 10 years, many young people predicted they would have a degree, obtained through their own efforts, as very little financial assistance is available to them. 

Relationships: Former students most frequently said that learning teamwork was a very positive result of participating in the project. That teamwork with fellow students, more than with adult mentors, was considered a highlight of the program. The students also credited supportive parents for encouraging them to stay in school and participate in the seminars, and some said that volunteer mentors with EJ also played a positive role. 
Each team had a mentor or professor to assist in its work, and some longer-term mentoring relationships developed.

Resiliency: Students said they gained skills and confidence during the seminar that, even though not a part of the training per se, helped them overcome obstacles. They have since persevered in the face of significant challenges, continuing their education, setting up businesses, and not giving up on their future plans.

Migration is a major issue with both positive and negative causes. One former student moved in order to become a representative for a company with interests throughout Central America. Other students left when they saw no opportunity, or when they had to deal with robberies or extortion while trying to establish businesses in their communities. 

Violence is rampant within families and communities. Most students in the program were supported by at least one parent who encouraged them to finish school, but could not assist in a search for a job. Given the widespread community violence, the students usually must move to other parts of the city to find employment. They are disqualified if they are from violent municipalities. Some students were robbed as they returned from an AGG-sponsored event. 


Iniciativa Construsueños should have emphasized building relationships and then followed up on the success of the students. However, the AGG returned to its former area of interest: existing businesses.

Nevertheless, students from the program moved on to operate businesses and continue their studies, applying the skills they learned and sharing their experiences with others.

EJ has continued its work in two of the project schools. But the program suffers when knowledgeable teachers are transferred. In one school where a few teachers and the school administrator remain, the program is still operational, but the administrator is retiring soon. 

EJ maintains a relationship with the Ministry of Education’s national program that begins in third, fourth, and fifth grades. In interviews, program graduates had recommended that youth programs start earlier, instead of waiting until the last year of school – a recommendation that EJ has adopted. 


What Worked?
Although they started with distinct programs, the two program partners, as well as the Ministry of Education, teamed up to benefit the lives of more than 500 students. 

The EJ methodology in particular was successful, with themes that centered on learning through practice, establishing teams with specific roles, and the practice sale of products developed by the students. 

The students also gained confidence and self-esteem through the program, learning business skills and tools they can use throughout life. They also learned how to resolve conflicts and compromise in a team setting, making and maintaining friendships and developing a clientele along the way. 

What Did Not Work?
Construsueños was not a convincing model and was not duplicated at the national level.  As implemented, it did not follow newly defined ministry guidelines for seminars in terms of hours, for example, and was not adjusted. The Ministry of Education viewed the initiative as a better fit for a course of study in business organization rather than being part of the seminars for high school seniors. 

No alliances or plans were developed to provide financial support for business start-ups or scholarships for students. In 2008, the AGG conducted a Construsueños II in which professors worked with students to develop the training and practice. The 38 teachers did not, and have not, received additional training. The school directors and teachers would have liked a regular review on progress with the project implementers.

Although the AGG conducted a final evaluation, there was a lack of follow-up on the students by the schools and implementing agencies to see if the seminars worked. 

Some students subsequently have left their communities and even the country because of the lack of opportunities, largely due to increasing violence. However, they took with them their plans and dreams to contribute to their families and communities in Guatemala. And those who stayed have a strong sense of responsibility and a desire to contribute.