Internet use in Peru and throughout South America is growing rapidly. So how can youth use these tools to spur economic and democratic development? A young group of Peruvians demonstrate one way to do so.
As of March 31, 2012, there were 8,204,560 Facebook users in Peru; a respectable 28.1% penetration rate that puts Peru perfectly in line with Facebook usage in South America as a whole. Experience would suggest that younger Peruvians make up a large percentage of these users. We have seen time and again that as more reliable internet connections have arrived in developing countries around the world, youth are the first to latch on to the new technologies that come with them. Unsurprisingly, social networking tools like Facebook, Skype, and now Twitter are generally the first services to gain traction (not to mention social media sites like YouTube).
Given the vastness and diverse geography of Peru, opportunities for face-to-face interaction with people from other parts of the country are few and far between. Therefore, alumni from Instituto Invertir’s EmprendeAhora youth leadership and entrepreneurship program have increasingly used social media, particularly Facebook, to keep in touch and discuss democracy, rule of law, free markets, entrepreneurship skills, and leadership with one another and members of their communities.
More than 400 of the 550 program alumni belong to a Facebook group specifically for past participants of the program, and a public page for the EmprendeAhora program has 5,162 “likes.” Invertir staff and program alumni use these pages to share links to articles with tips on becoming an entrepreneur or leader, send reminders about upcoming entrepreneurship events, post YouTube videos on successful business cases and current news events, and debate one another on the various causes of social conflicts in their country and ideas for resolving them. This has been a useful tool for Invertir staff and alumni to spread information about the program and the values that it teaches.
Utilizing Facebook and Skype, a group of committed program alumni from opposite ends of the country recently established Association LIDERA – an official alumni network for EmprendeAhora. The organization is a fully incorporated membership organization for past participants and will be in charge of maintaining communication with program alumni and making the alumni network sustainable. The board of LIDERA is building up its capacity to conduct online training and monitoring for new businesses.
LIDERA provides Invertir with a number of opportunities to continue developing the skills and attitudes of young Peruvians beyond the scope of the EmprendeAhora program. Currently, Association LIDERA is working to develop additional resources for alumni, such as follow-up coaching and virtual business coaching after the educational sessions to help them become more successful in their businesses. Since this is an organization led by tech-savvy youth, it’s not hard to guess how they plan to do so.
Building upon all of the advances that the alumni network has made through its effective use of social networks, Invertir and LIDERA will convene a two-day alumni conference in Lima this September so that the students from the four cycles of EmprendeAhora can attend. Invertir will use this conference to promote, strengthen, and consolidate the EmprendeAhora Alumni network, taking this opportunity to reinforce the values taught during the EmprendeAhora sessions, strengthen the ties between regions and communities, and further inspire these individuals to create positive change in their communities.
By bringing together university students from every region of Peru to learn about the benefits of democracy and the free market economy, as well as receive training in entrepreneurial and leadership skills, EmprendeAhora is a tool to diminish inequality in Peru and encourage civic engagement. Advancements in social media technology make it ever easier and more convenient to achieve these goals.