That was the title of the cover of WIRED magazine last October. It featured a picture of a 12-year-old Mexican girl, Paloma Noyola Bueno, who lives near a dump site in Matamoros, a small town bordering Texas, USA.

Cover of Wired Magazine from June 2014
Cover of Wired Magazine from June 2014

And what makes Paloma a likely candidate to become the next Steve Jobs? According to the article, a learning model that fuels curiosity, creativity, innovation and problem-solving skills, which are also the main traits of an entrepreneur. But Paloma is not alone. There’s competition ahead.

Many governments in Latin America have been fostering the creation of entrepreneurial ecosystems to build the next generation of entrepreneurs. Start-up Chile, founded in 2010, and fully financed by the Chilean government, is said to have had an impact on more than 100,000 people, with more than 30 million dollars in startup financing. Start-up Peru and SEEDS in Brazil, along with the private sector, academia and civil society, are also following suit.

Start-up Chile: attracting entrepreneurs from around the world @PulsoSocial/2014
Start-up Chile: attracting entrepreneurs from around the world @PulsoSocial/2014

In addition to their job generation and poverty reduction potential, these programs tap on an understanding of the needs and aspirations of millennials and the Y Generation, who make up the vast majority of children, adolescents and youth today.

The aspirations of Millennials and the Y Generation... @Huffington Post 9/15/2013
The aspirations of Millennials and the Y Generation… @Huffington Post 9/15/2013

With that in mind, and taking into account a shrinking aid environment, we have been working with the private sector in Nicaragua (Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa) to trigger an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tola, a rural community with a rapidly growing tourism sector.

Grethel, a young Toleña, embodies the qualities of a social entrepreneurship @UNICEF Nicaragua/2013/Bach
Grethel, a young Toleña, embodies the qualities of a social entrepreneur @UNICEF Nicaragua/2013/Bach

After two months of an in-depth assessment of the situation of children in Tola, using a Human Centered Design approach, we have learned that the biggest problem affecting children is the lack of opportunities to grow to their full potential (Convention on the Rights of the Child). In an emerging tourism area, the tourism industry often shapes up children’s ‘choices, capabilities, and freedoms.’

Unfortunately, many of them, particularly girls, end up stuck in low-paying jobs, dropping out of schools, living in impoverished areas displaced by mega tourism projects, or as targets of sexual exploitation, abuse or trafficking. In other words, these children are stuck in poverty.

Just like Paloma, Alejandra is a 17-year-old girl from Tola, who could also be in the run to become the next Steve Jobs. But without opportunities to unleash her potential, she may just have to trade the entrepreneurship medals she won in school contests for dead-end jobs in the tourism industry – if she’s lucky.

Alejandra, an amazing entrepreneur from Tola, Nicaragua @UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Adler
Alejandra, an amazing entrepreneur from Tola, Nicaragua @UNICEF Nicaragua/2014/Adler

The Sociopreneur Initiative is working with 30 young entrepreneurs, and a community platform, Tola Conecta with over 300 members from public and private sectors, to lay down the foundations for the next Silicon Valley in a rural area in Nicaragua. We want to see Alejandra and Paloma trail in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, while combining entrepreneurial skills to solve social problems in their communities. This approach contributes in an innovative and collaborative way to tackle child poverty under Outcome 7 of UNICEF’s new Strategic Plan.

The Sociopreneur Initiative, an alliance with Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa and UNICEF has a big dream... @UNICEF Nicaragua/2013/Bach
The Sociopreneur Initiative, an alliance with Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa and UNICEF has a big dream… @UNICEF Nicaragua/2013/Bach

Perhaps it’s a crazy idea. But the world is changing fast. A few weeks ago, a Start-up Weekend event took place in a favela in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Similarly, Paloma’s teacher, Juárez Correa, had a crazy idea of his own. He developed an eight-month-long learning experiment, which eventually placed Paloma and some of her classmates to the top of the math and language rankings in Mexico.

Startup Weekend Favela edition: transforming entrepreneurship from necessity to opportunity @StartupWeekend/2014
Startup Weekend Favela edition: transforming entrepreneurship from necessity to opportunity @StartupWeekend/2014

Students in Matamoros “had intermittent electricity, few computers, limited Internet, and sometimes not enough to eat.” “But you do have one thing that makes you the equal of any kid in the world,” Juárez Correa said. “Potential.”

The same is true for Alejandra and her peers in Tola, Nicaragua. And there’s nothing crazy about believing in that.

Natalia Adler
Chief of Social Policy, UNICEF Nicaragua
twitter: nataliaadler19

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