Since the early 2000s Peru has seen a period of sustained economic growth and poverty reduction, as well as three successive transitions of power via democratic elections. Despite this, not everyone believes their lives have improved as a result of democracy and free markets in their current form. The benefits of growth are unevenly distributed and have centered on the capital, Lima, while nearly half the population in the Andean and Amazonian regions of the country is still living below the poverty line. Public services have also not improved in many places. Young people in these regions are particularly dissatisfied with the opportunities available to them, leading to the development of negative attitudes towards democracy and the market economy.
In 2007, Instituto Invertir, a Peruvian non-profit organization with a mission to promote entrepreneurship and business development in a democratic context, developed an approach to address these negative attitudes and misperceptions among young people in regions outside of Lima. Beyond just teaching youth about democracy and the benefits of a free-market economy, Invertir wanted to provide young people with the necessary tools to become entrepreneurs and create opportunities not only for themselves, but also for their communities. Through close coordination with CIPE, the EmprendeAhora youth leadership, democracy, and entrepreneurship educational program was born.
EmprendeAhora was designed as a leadership and entrepreneurship training program to give university students from rural Peru the necessary tools and empowerment to open businesses, generate income, and create local employment. While these types of programs are fairly prevalent in Lima, nationwide programs directed towards youth from outside the capital area are fairly uncommon. After six years of implementation, EmprendeAhora has empowered nearly 780 young Peruvians who have acquired business and leadership skills that will allow them to become change agents in their regions. The model has proven incredibly effective thanks to an exhaustive application process, a comprehensive curriculum with practical application of skills, combined with a robust alumni network providing networking and mentorship opportunities.
- Application Process: After a competitive selection process that includes an aptitude and entrepreneurial attitude exam, submission of a business idea, a personal profile, and in-person interview, approximately 120 students from outside the capital, Lima, are brought together for 100 hours of classes over three months. Reaching beyond the capital city and commercial hub enables the program to spark entrepreneurship in places that are most in need of it, including rural areas and cities that are less developed and more susceptible to economic uncertainty and populist rhetoric.
- Participants: EmprendeAhora was always intended to be a program for individuals with demonstrated leadership potential and entrepreneurial qualities who reside in regions of Peru where opportunities for young people are limited. Over the years, the selection process has improved so that CIPE and Invertir continue to identify the best candidates from Peru’s regions. The selection of high caliber participants has paid off by the advancement of the case for democracy, free markets, and citizenship through their entrepreneurial and volunteer initiatives at the community level.
- Curriculum: The program trains some of the best university students from all over Peru in leadership, democracy, market economy, and business planning. EmprendeAhora lasts for three to five months totaling roughly 100 classroom hours) and the program is divided into three sessions. The program is made up of classes; business plan coaching; lectures by successful entrepreneurs, leading academics, and political leaders; educational trips to large companies; workshops led by young leaders from Lima; and a closing ceremony. To graduate and receive a certificate from EmprendeAhora, students are required to organize leadership and entrepreneurial workshops in their communities for high school or university students to share the knowledge and values from the program. Another requirement is the creation of a business plan, which provides a practical opportunity for students to apply the skills they have learned in the classroom to a real world situation.
- Application of Skills: Participants must design a business plan with other students from their region. Throughout the three sessions, students participate in a 12-week Virtual Business Plan Course with a personal coach (who is usually a successful business leader from their local region). The 10 finalists present their projects to a jury, and the best three plans receive cash prizes during the closing ceremony and have an opportunity to present their proposed business plans in order to obtain financing from a local microcredit lending institution. Fellows also work in groups to produce a three to five minute video explaining what democracy means to them. This is an opportunity for students to apply their knowledge and understanding of democracy and engage other members of their community in a discussion.
- Mentorship: Coaches from academia and the business sector help the students (virtually and in person) during the program and beyond to help them improve and implement their business plans. The alumni network can conduct online training and mentoring for new businesses.
- Networking and Alumni Outreach: Over 15,000 people receive Facebook updates on entrepreneurship activities of program alumni. A separate Facebook group is very active with alums sharing news and event information. Invertir has also undertaken an initiative to directly contact every alumni via telephone or email in 2015. The alumni who have started their own businesses are invited to participate in entrepreneurship activities organized by CIPE and Invertir including Entrepreneurship Week, Venture Forum, and BID Challenge contest; and are invited to participate in an annual EmprendeAhora Entrepreneurial Fair, where they are provided with a booth to show what they are doing as entrepreneurs. In September 2012, Invertir organized the first alumni conference to promote, strengthen, and consolidate the EmprendeAhora Alumni network. At the end of 2013, Invertir held a second alumni conference in Lima to consolidate the alumni network and pursue three objectives: define specific challenges and actions for strengthening the network across Peru’s 23 regions; build a space to integrate and network in order to encourage cooperation and project development; and develop content and tools that promote innovation in the products or processes of graduates’ companies and their business ideas. Over 200 alumni have attended these events.
- Incentives for Alumni: Past program participants, regardless of commitment to the program, need to be activated in order to remain engaged. Essay contests, involvement in candidate selection, the alumni conferences, and the opportunity to return for select EmprendeAhora training sessions all incentivize program alumni to remain engaged.
By bringing together university students from every region of Peru to learn about the benefits of democracy and the free market economy, and to receive training in entrepreneurial and leadership skills, EmprendeAhora has provided an economic alternative and encouraged civic engagement. To date, CIPE and Invertir have provided nearly 780 young Peruvians with business and leadership skills that allow them to become change agents in their regions. Over the years, program alumni have organized dozens of replica workshops on democracy and entrepreneurship, spreading the values of EmprendeAhora to more than 14,500 elementary, high school, and university students.
The 780 young participants are serving as positive role models for their peers and their communities have taken notice. Roughly 10 percent of program graduates are already implementing their own businesses, and that percentage is expected to double based on the number of students who are in the process of starting a business. Furthermore, alumni volunteer, work with non-governmental organizations on social issues, and incorporate social projects into their line of business. Alumni are not just contributing to the country’s economic development, but are motivated to play a role in the country’s social development.
Every alum carries a story about the personal impact EmprendeAhora has had on them. Two exceptional cases exemplify the goals of the program:
Antonella Romero Jimenez is a 25-year old alum of the 2010 EmprendeAhora program from the Ica region. Before the program Antonella had not given entrepreneurship much thought, but afterwards realized that she could set up her own business in the region where she lived, and decided to establish two cafes at local universities. After finishing her degree, Antonella began working for the Ministry of Production, where she developed a model EmprendeAhora program, Crea y Emprende, for high school students. The program is now being implemented by the Ministry of Production and supported by the Ministry of Education and reached over 5,000 high school students from 10 regions of Peru and over 100 different schools during its first year. Meanwhile, Antonella continues to own and run her two cafes in the Ica region, where she has 12 employees – all young women between the ages of 19 and 22. Before, these young women worked on farms and were not focused on getting an education, but now, as a result of working at the university cafes, they are able to finance their own higher education. Antonella came away from EmprendeAhora with the understanding that, “Entrepreneurship has an impact in our country: it fosters economic development and generates employment for ourselves and others in our regions.”
Videlmo Maluquish, a 2008 graduate from the Cajamarca region, also utilized his entrepreneurial spirit to improve the lives of others in his community. After completing his university studies he returned to his community and established BIOALTURA, a rural agricultural cooperative dedicated to the production and commercialization of aguaymanto, an indigenous South American fruit. BIOALTURA educates the 26 member families of the cooperative on best growing practices and facilitates domestic and international sales. One of the members of the cooperative, Amelia Lara de Fuentes, recalled that, “Before, we were the forgotten town…Nobody taught us how to improve our agriculture because we had no professionals in our community [Hualanga, Peru]. Now we’ve been blessed to have professionals in our community.” According to Amelia, after receiving training from BIOALTURA, she and her husband are not only earning four times more than what they earned prior to cultivating aguaymanto, but she is also able to stay at home instead of travelling to the coast in search of work. Additionally, Amelia has been able to provide her children with a better education and work side by side with her husband; she has been empowered through her participation in the community’s main economic activity.
The alumni network of EmprendeAhora continues to grow and mature as they take on new initiatives and invest in the future of the program. As evidenced by Antonella and Videlmo, alumni continue to share the mission of the program with others around Peru and the region. In 2014, Paola Falcón, an alumna of the original 2008 class who hails from Huancayo, completed a three-month Global Competitive and Leadership Program at Georgetown University, a scholarship program for young people from Latin America. At a meeting between CIPE staff and Falcón, she expressed optimism that the changing culture of volunteerism and youth engagement will make Peru a stronger democratic and market-oriented society. The best testimony of the program’s impact came from a 2008 alum from Huancavelica: “Before I came to EmprendeAhora, I thought that the only way you improve things was to go out to the streets and make a total revolution against the government. Now I have realized that the only revolution that will change this country is the entrepreneurial revolution.”
This case study was published in CIPE’s “Strategies for Policy Reform Volume 3: Case Studies in Achieving Democracy That Delivers Through Better Governance,” click through to download and read more.