This is a guest post by Jessica in our PCV Spotlight Series:
I’m Jessica Way, the Entrepreneurship Education Volunteer of Chinandega, Nicaragua. Entrepreneurship Education is the new name for our program… and it is still growing on me. I am admittedly biased against it, because I have a good chunk of experience in the start-up/entrepreneurial world yet I still can’t spell entrepreneurship in either English of Spanish. Still, I am passionate about entrepreneurship education, and I think well-executed ideas can change the world.
We begin this “entrepreneurship education” process at the start of every school year, attempting to transform chavalos into young entrepreneurs. We work with our Nicaraguan teachers to implement a class in which senior high school students form small businesses, write a complete business plan, and begin selling their products. We encourage creative thinking, we force them to form teams of 5 or 6, and we pray someone will come up with “the next big thing.” We settle on letting them sell lotion, or jam, or tea, or anything else we can coerce them into commercializing. We spend the school year begging them to do market studies, explaining unit costs and pricing, guiding their hands as they design logos and calculate their break even points. Above all, we hope that in October our groups of little entrepreneurs will bring something resembling a full- fledged business plan to the yearly competition.
More than a thousand student businesses from all across Nicaragua participate in the competitions at some level, starting in their own schools and advancing to the municipal and regional rounds. At last, the top team from each of the twelve regions receives the opportunity to participate in the National Business Competition in Managua.
Some of these kids have never traveled beyond their communities before. They have never been to the Capital, or spent the night away from their parents. They have never met students from the Caribbean Coast or Ometepe Island. Last year, the perplexed students brought me their plastic key cards. They had never seen them before, “What’s wrong with our door?” They asked me. “How do you open it?”
Along with important new hotel-staying experiences, they spend two days in conference, learning crucial skills for business as well as personal development. They learn that success is attainable even for the girl who spent her childhood selling mangos on crowded buses, or the boy who has never let his small rural community. Their minds are opened to the possibilities of what they can achieve.
Last November, I spent three days with some of the most motivated, passionate, and talented high school students I have ever met. I remember patrolling the hallways at night, expecting to encounter the typical shenanigans of 50 young people away from home for the first time in their lives. The only participants out of bed past 10pm were not talking to each other at all, but instead relentlessly practicing for the presentations of their business plans the next day, clutching wrinkled notebook pages and endlessly mouthing elevator pitches.
Last year was so incredible; I am now one of three coordinators for the event. We have been working since February to ensure the conference and competition is better than ever. We are capable of creating a new generation of entrepreneurs in Nicaragua, and it is incredible to see what they are capable of achieving, if only given the resources and the space.
The good news is, anyone can be involved in making this event a reality. Help us out! Click on the picture below to help make the 2015 competition happen.
Thank you in advance for your contributions and for showing young Nicaraguans you believe in them like I do.
You can read more of Jessica’s adventures on her blog at HAY MAS VIDA.