Junior Achievement

Working with youth has been the highlight of my work experience as a volunteer in Costa Rica. Youth in rural communities are regarded as lazy and lack adult support community-wide. This year I decided to work with Junior Achievement to encourage entrepreneurship among youth through a program called: Empresarios Juveniles (Young Entrepreneurs).

The program focused on teaching youth how to create and run a business by putting theory into practice. This experience became one of my most successful projects. Out of 20 youth I invited, 10 attended my informational meeting and out of those that attended, nine made the commitment to do the program. Eight finished strong. The participants and I had no idea this would turn out to be one of our most stressful yet memorable experiences in Guaitil. The group involved youth between the ages 13 and 24, all with unique talents and work experiences. Four were high school students, one attended evening school, two were high school dropouts, and one was applying to go to college. Age differences didn’t matter. To this group, what mattered was the commitment, motivation and ideas each member brought to the company.

They learned how to create a business by meeting once or twice a week. They chose to produce and sale hand-made, 100% natural jelly. After careful conversations and analysis, they named the business Guaitfruit S.A., which also became the name of the product. The production process took around 6 hours for about 30 to 50 jars of jelly, all made on a wooden stove. One of the challenges we faced was the fact that we didn’t know how to make jelly so the first three times we tried, we failed. But, I tried to teach that successful businesses weren’t born without mistakes. I looked for recipes on the internet and asked community members for suggestions. After many tries, they perfected their first recipe – pineapple – which is known in the community for its unique flavor and color. Now they are trying to introduce to the market three new recipes: guava, apple and banana. Yet the job wasn’t easy.

For almost four months, I spent days doing research, getting familiar with the manuals and the content of the lessons, as well as going an extra mile to create PowerPoint presentations that better explained the material and made the lessons more interactive. I was also able to get sponsorships that enabled them to attend events in San Jose.

One of the things that made a big impact on these kids was developing their human potential. Many of them didn’t know how to publicly speak or use their creativity to create a skit. Some have never been to an auditorium or spoken in front of 100 people. Most importantly, I always emphasized the importance of reaching out to other people and networking. Something that motivated them was to hear from Octavio – a guest speaker I invited to the marketing lesson – how passionate he was about his job as a graphic designer and publicist. Octavio ended up being hired by the group to create the company’s product label, which they did a raffle to pay it off. He believed so much in the project that he donated the logo design to them as well as the product label design for their guava jelly.

In 2010, three members of the group decided to continue the endeavor and legalize the business. GuaitFruit was recognized by Junior Achievement for best stand at their Annual Product Fair and received Best Management award. Additionally, the group received a scholarship from a nationally renowned university to get professional training and financial assistance for the first steps of their business cycle. The group just became certified on good food management practices by Costa Rica’s National Institute of Learning (INA in Spanish).

 

Lastly, one of the group members received an invitation to attend this year’s Second National Training Meetup of Young Rural Leaders (II Encuentro Nacional de Formación de Jóvenes Líderes Rurales) with all-expenses paid by the Joint Programme of Youth, Employment and Migration. Unfortunately, many external factors deter the group and each of them went their separate way and the venture didn’t continue towards becoming legalized. This of course, affected me for a while but if it wasn’t sustainable, it wasn’t going to last. But I always remember what my boss said to me once, “What they have learned , business wise and personally will make a change in their life.” And, he was right.