Education Can Be the Most Powerful Social Transformation Tool in Latin America
The IT Services industry in Latin America can make a serious and sustainable contribution towards reducing the educational deficit for boys and girls at secondary school levels, especially for those that come from families in highly vulnerable socio-economic conditions, through the combined and converging forces of corporate volunteer programs, partnerships with specialized education foundations, and the development educational programs that focus on socio-emotional skills as well as technical ones.
gA (Grupo ASSA), a leading consulting & transformation services company in Latin America has developed such a program, “Formando Futuro”, (“Fostering a Future”) that is already in its 4th year. This program began in Buenos Aires in 2011, and since has expanded to Tandil, Santiago de Chile, Curitiba, Sao Paulo and Mexico City. Hundreds of students and corporate volunteers have both benefited from the Formando Futuro experience during this period.
We believe at gA that these initiatives can be replicated and scaled-up in Latin America, to create a broad and meaningful impact. We are convinced this can be achieved by creating a new standard in the technology services industry, working together through industry associations, in partnership with educational foundations, and leveraging the use of digital technologies. We are of the opinion that there is a need to create a new industry standard, introducing the concept of “Impact Sourcing” to Latin America, whereby corporations in North America and Europe that buy application services in this region will prioritize buying services from those firms that are actively supporting these educational initiatives, in favor of those that do not.
The Dilemma of Higher Growth and Lower Educational Standards in Latam
Latin America as a region has been growing at higher rates than the developed economies for the past last several years, fueled mostly by an increase in domestic consumption and favorable prices for commodities, resulting in strong foreign direct investment, job creation and upward social mobility. However, at the end of 2012 there were 6.7 million unemployed youths in Latin America, according to the OIT (Organización Internacional del Trabajo, 2010), with an unemployment rate of 15%, twice as large as the national average for the region.
Perhaps one of the most important factors contributing to this apparent contradiction is the increasing deficit of the educational system in Latin America. On average, only 1 of every 2 students will complete his or her secondary education; only 147 students out every 1,000 will complete their schooling in straight consecutive years, in spite of the fact that 73% of all kids that age enroll in secondary school (Fundación Cimientos research 2012, 2013). This deficit widens when you measure the performance of students in Latin America vis-à-vis those in North America, Europe and Asia. The PISA (OECD-sponsored Program for International Student Assessment) tests results are very eloquent: 50% of 15-year-old students in Latin America did not reach the minimum reading skill standards in 2012, and performed even worse in Maths.
Formando Futuro: A Grupo ASSA Education Initiative in Latin America
At gA we believe we are making a concrete contribution towards reducing the educational gap in Latin America, by sharing the collective knowledge of our 1,500 consultants in Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Mexico, with young students that are in their final year at secondary school. This is achieved though a carefully designed 10-module curricula that focuses on non-technical skills, such as leadership, self-confidence, teamwork and communication. The basics of our program include:
1. A Corporate Volunteer Program: As part of its Sustainability Program, gA developed a structured program through which employees from all levels of the organization can become tutors of the Formando Futuro program (see http://bit.ly/1nbKTlC). All volunteers participate in the training programs, and then go out to the schools in the community during at least one of the 10 weekly modules. Participation as volunteers in the program is assessed positively as part of the annual evaluation.
2. Partnerships with Local Educational Foundations: Since the inception of Formando Futuro in 2011, gA has partnered with leading foundations in the education area in Argentina, Chile, Brazil and Mexico, as they bring the specialized knowledge and experience in each country. Cimientos (http://cimientos.org) has worked with us to select the schools in greater Buenos Aires where we will take the program each year, and helps us work with the school authorities, infrastructure and the logistics of the program.
Fundación Evolución (http://fundacionevolucion.org.ar/sitio/) has partnered with gA to provide the educational contents of the 10-module curricula, which has been designed to cater to the different requirements of the different countries. Evolución remains our advisor for educational content and is working closely with gA on a strategic plan to scale Formando Futuro to make a much higher impact.
gA’s partners in the region are: Liga Solidaria in Brazil (www.ligasolidaria.org.br); Fundación Educa Mexico (www.educa.org.mx) and Servicios a la Juventud (www.seraj.org.mx) for Mexico; and Fundación Puente in Chile (www.fundacionpuente.cl), and Fundación Mundo Ideal (www.fundacionmundoideal.cl)
3. The Formando Futuro Curricula: A comprehensive set of skills have been prioritized and designed to address certain socio-emotional abilities, rather than provide formal technical ones. We believe strongly that these skills, combined with formal school education, increase the chances of success in later years for these students. A research project that is being conducted by Cimientos and supported in part by gA is showing evidence that students that receive consistent support on these so-called “soft skills” throughout their secondary schooling, will graduate earlier than their class-mates that do not; they will have a higher rate of moving on to university and increase their chances of getting a job.
Another research project led by the IDB when referring to socio-emotional skills has noted: “today it is widely accepted that this is a set of multiple skills that contributes to achieve different working and schooling achievements”. Formando Futuro has divided these skills into 5 groups: i) communication skills; ii) job searching skills; iii) vocational guidance and learning to research and pick the right universities; iv) tools: email, social networks, presentations; and finally v) developing teamwork and leadership talent.”
The Challenge: Scaling the Program
Typically the dilemma facing successful Sustainability initiatives is how to scale them, protecting those elements that made them special while at the same time expanding exponentially their impact. To deal with this challenge we worked with our partners Cimientos and Evolución to develop a 3-year plan with the objective to scale Formando Futuro, and came up with 3 drivers for growth:
1. Teach the Teachers: When gA takes Formando Futuro to a new school in the community, we develop a relationship with the school authorities and teachers. We recognize that these officers can become expansion agents for the program, if they receive the required training and materials, and reach out not only to a single class or session as we currently do every term, but to multiple activities. We are already organizing “FF Express” one-day programs with several of these schools, where we provide one volunteer and the materials to do a single-day crash course together with the local teacher staff.
2. Creating a Partner Program: We invite business partners, clients and competitors to develop Formando Futuro or similar programs, sharing our intellectual materials and methodologies. We have recently launched such a partner program with Argencon, the association of export services companies in Argentina. The mentoring program, dubbed “Abriendo Ventanas” was launched this week in Buenos Aires with the participation of 11 technology services companies members of Argencon (www.argencon.org), reaching out to close to 200 students in this initial pilot program. Grupo ASSA is one of the founding members of Abriendo Ventanas together with IBM.
3. Virtual Platforms: gA has developed its own proprietary e-learning platform and has developed its own internal collaboration social network (“GAIN”, or Grupo ASSA Inside). IBM also has a virtual mentoring platform (“Mentor Place”) that can also be leveraged. We believe this is clearly the most powerful means to scale our education program, but it is still in its early stages of development and needs to be carefully designed, to make sure the personal element is not completely lost in virtuality.
In Search of a New Industry Standard for the IT Services Industry in Latin America
At gA we believe strongly that the business community, in particular the Technology Services industry, can make a significant contribution to reducing the educational gap in Latin America. To this end, individual companies need to work closely together with clear objectives, partner to create economies of scale and productivity, and work closely with educational NGOs, foundations, and dedicated government departments.
There is a need to extend the concept of “Impact Sourcing” to Latin America, empowering underprivileged members of the society by providing them with an education that includes certain digital tools and soft skills. We understand this has been done very successfully in Africa, with the sponsorship and support of the Rockefeller foundation. Now is the time for Latin America.
About the Author: Paul A. Dougall is the Corporate Development Vice President at Grupo ASSA, responsible for M&A, Strategic Initiatives and Alliances, and Strategic Marketing at Grupo ASSA. He is also Vice Chairman of the Grupo ASSA Board of Directors, and chairs the Audit Committee.
He joined Grupo ASSA in 1999 as Director of Corporate Finance, after several years as Director of Equity Capital Markets at Deutsche Bank Argentina.
gA (Grupo ASSA) is the leading independent Latin American Digital Business Transformation firm. gA partners with leading global companies to meet their Latin American and global business aspirations, and with leading Latin American companies to meet their global and local aspirations.
gA was created in 1992 by a group of consultants with a deep entrepreneurial spirit and the idea of building information technology platforms to transform organizations. Today, gA is recognized by the information technology research company Gartner for it’s innovative Digital Business Transformation (dBT) approach.
 Cimientos: Los jóvenes y el desarrollo de habilidades que favorecen experiencias escolares significativas y la proyección a futuro. Buenos Aires 2012/2013
 IDB Education: Disconnected: Skills, education and employment in Latin America, 2012