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Youthful solutions to unemployment

Intellectual capital--the ideas, talent and energy required to start and sustainan enterprise--is plentiful among South America's young people.That was the conclusion of a meeting in Buenos Aires last November where youth from Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile and Bolivia presented 85 proposals for businesses that could generate income and jobs with small initial investments.

The meeting, "First Forum of Youth from Mercosur, Boliva and Chile: Alternatives to Youth Unemployment," was organized by former delegates to the IDB's 1995 youth conference in Israel and the IDB youth delegation to the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing. It was hosted by the IDB's Institute for the Integration of Latin America and the Caribbean (INTAL) and the IDB's Youth Development and Outreach Program.

Rather than review the well-known causes of unemployment in the region, the forum explored practical solutions to this problem as conceived by young people themselves. Specifically, the meeting sought to select innovative and well-structured business plans and match them to companies, nongovernmental organizations and government agencies that could be interested in providing start-up financing.

The proposals, selected in advance by a panel of employment experts in each of the participating countries, offered a vivid testament to the creativity and resourcefulness of the region's youth:

Three Bolivian participants detailed plans to expand the use of a hydroponic growing system that can produce nutritious, low-cost animal feed year-around in highland environments where low rainfall and poor soils make foraging impractical. The system has been shown to produce 12 tons of feed per year in a 32-square meter greenhouse, or six times the yield of an entire hectare of traditional pasture land, while consuming only a tiny fraction of the water.

A 19-year-old Argentine woman proposed expanding a cooking and restaurant management school run as a cooperative by low-income youth in the province of Santa Fe.

A 28-year-old microenterprise consultant from Chile described plans to offer a vocational training course in meat-processing techniques to young people in Santiago. The course is designed to help fill the demand for qualified butchers at supermarkets that have seen meat sales soar thanks to that country's trade liberalization and rising incomes.

Representatives of the Argentine division of Microsoft Corp., one of the corporate sponsors of the event, expressed interest in possibly financing several local proposals, as did Fundación Kellog and Fundación Antorchas, both based in Buenos Aires. German technical assistance agency Deutsche Gesellschaft fur Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) claimed interest in several ventures proposed by Bolivian participants, and representatives from the IDB country offices in Chile and Paraguay pledged to explore the possibility for financing proposals in those countries. The regional director of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture promised to consider financing for projects that could create jobs for rural youth.

IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias, who spoke at the conference, congratulated the participants for their creativity and ambition and said that the Bank is committed to supporting young entrepreneurs with financial and logistic resources, and through its ability to leverage cooperation among other international institutions. Iglesias also commended participants for the commitment to social solidarity that was evident in the goals of nearly all the proposals, saying that such values are currently "in a state of crisis" and must be cultivated if genuine development is to occur. More specifically, Iglesias pledged IDB support, in the form of equipment, for a proposed project that will benefit orphans in government homes in the city of Potosí, Bolivia.

Argentina's Ministry of Labor and Social Security will publish the conclusions and results of the forum, and intal intends to host a follow-up gathering in late 1998.


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