Rural Youth Entrepreneurship Boosts Colombian Countryside
According to the latest report of the International Labor Organization, Labor Overview of Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of unemployed young people in Latin America reached 19,8%. Last January 29th, ICCO together with youth and members of the national government, academy, private sector and international organizations, discussed how entrepreneurship is an opportunity to generate income and contribute to the permanence of young people in rural areas in Colombia.
“We need to change the mindset, and show to young people that there are opportunities in the rural areas”, said Mabel Torres, Minister of Science and Technology at the beginning of the discussion, during the event ‘Rurality, an opportunity for young entrepreneurs’. This event brought together other speakers such as Brigitte Baptiste, Rector of the School of Business and Administration (University EAN); Andrés Santana, Agricultural expert of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Colombia; Santiago Gómez owner of El Lab, a business incubator and Johana Ortiz, a young entrepreneur. They discussed how we can generate an adequate business environment for young entrepreneurs to create sustainable businesses in rural areas.
The event was one of the final activities of the project “Opportunities for young men and women in rural Colombia: contributions to peace building”, an initiative co-financed by the European Union, ICCO and Kerk In Actie. The project worked with 1.574 young people and 37 small businesses to improve their personal and technical abilities to escalate business ideas.
“As ICCO we see opportunities where others don’t, that is why we implement actions to connect rural and urban areas, through young people, because we believe in their potential and the potential of the countryside. The presence of these young entrepreneurs here is the proof of how these initiatives can change their realities”, said Conny Toornstra, Regional Manager for Latin America at the beginning of the event.
Added Value and Sustainability to Differentiate
One of the main topics of discussion was the need to transform the traditional image of rural areas: from producers of raw materials to producers of processed products with added value.
The Minister, originally from Chocó, one of the most bio-diverse departments in Colombia, emphasized this subject because many places in the country have the potential to develop enterprises in the biodiversity value chain. However, it is still necessary to transfer knowledge and technology to people in the rural areas to achieve this, and guarantee environmentally responsible products. ICCO and its partners in Chocó worked with 15 small businesses on the biodiversity chain, strengthening ecotourism services, handicrafts, and agro-industrial products. This gave a boost to the economic development in rural areas.
“Leverage your sustainability efforts as a differentiating factor. Show that your products are environmentally friendly and society will look for more“, said Brigitte Baptiste, rector of EAN University, during the discussion.
“From the cities perspective, we underestimate young people in the countryside. The reality is, they are the ones who can create bridges with the urban. They can connect the ancestral knowledge available in their territories with digital and technological tools. Imagine what they could do, if they access the right tools and proper support”, added Santiago Gomez, from El Lab.
Connecting the Rurality
Another relevant topic proposed by the young participants was the need to improve connectivity to the internet in rural areas to access online education (technical and professional). This can improve their knowledge in subjects like administration and agricultural management, without leaving their territories or losing time traveling from remote places to urban areas, affecting the crops. This could positively impact the quality of production and the possibilities of innovation.
“While agrology issues are important, it is perhaps more important to generate and share information so that people in the field can access market information and improve their sellings“, said Andrés Santana, from the Embassy of the Netherlands.
“We must find a better way to bring the university into the countryside, rather than taking young people out of it. We must increase the demand for tailor-made higher education services and the transfer of technological knowledge”, complemented Brigitte Baptiste.
Entrepreneurs Changing Their Territories
25 small businesses from Valle del Cauca and Chocó showed their products, services and the impact of those initiatives on their lives, in a fair at the end of the event. It was an opportunity for the young entrepreneurs to reach potential clients and establish contacts, at a national level, that could increase their access to other markets. For example, Kiwa Thensa, an indigenous enterprise that makes and sells handles and backpacks by hand using traditional techniques. She met María Luisa Ortiz, a fashion designer, and they are now planning to work together in the future.
“We as young people believe that it is possible to live with dignity and generate income in the countryside, and here we are proving it with our businesses“, concluded one of the young entrepreneurs.