Sustainable economic development is not only a question of industrial space, infrastructure, or even investment—a lack of entrepreneurship can be a major barrier to economic growth and social development. José Manuel Pérez (Pericles) realized that few young people were thinking and acting like entrepreneurs, so he developed a strategy to infuse a more innovative, entrepreneurial mindset into society through the formal education system.
Pericles focuses on building a new entrepreneurial culture among youth—essential to creating new employment opportunities in today’s global economy and solving our social challenges. To fully transform society, Pericles knew he must influence large numbers of people at an early age. There should be a shared societal understanding that not only a few can make a difference, but all. Pericles is able to reach the largest number of youth in schools.
The training in schools must be consistent and long-term. To do this, he integrated the “Educational Chain System for Entrepreneurship” into schools’ official curriculum. Pericles’ system of entrepreneurial learning begins with students in the early grades and builds on the knowledge and experience gained each year, through various educational paths, until the students are prepared to enter the workforce. Moreover, Pericles’ believes that childhood is a time of life in which entrepreneurial values are best transmitted; children have the confidence to take risks when they are given opportunities and, of course, the chance to make mistakes.
According to a recent study by the Chamber of Commerce, “stability” is what Spanish workers are searching for in employment but also in other aspects of life, such as purchasing a home. While a desire for stability is quite healthy, it may also be a factor in their seeming lack of an entrepreneurial spirit. The results of the Eurobarometer (a periodical survey by the European Commission) shows Spanish workers’ perception about the balance between risks and gains in entrepreneurial ventures is negative, with more focus on the risks. This perception may be due to a lack of positive examples of entrepreneurs both in business and other sectors, and/or a generally negative view of businessmen. However, evidence shows a positive relationship between entrepreneurship and good economic results which has obliged the European Union to evaluate its entrepreneurial spirit, where it is lacking in comparison to most of the financially powerful countries of the world. One example from the Eurobarometer shows that North Americans are 16 percent more prone to work for themselves than Europeans.
Schools promote almost no focus to entrepreneurial ability. Currently, education seems to more often restrict than encourage children’s’ creativity from an early age. This was discussed in a Chamber of Commerce study highlighting the education system’s inability to promote innovative thinking and independent problem-solving. An education that focuses on memorization and transmission of knowledge fails to teach autonomy and the ability to assume risks; inherent in becoming effective entrepreneurs. Some initiatives have begun to explore curricula related to entrepreneurship but without an integral approach woven throughout an education, their impact is limited. Teachers may also lack the proper training to stimulate entrepreneurial and innovative attitudes in students.
Spain’s social and cultural context must also be considered concerning the lack of entrepreneurial spirit among youth. Recent surveys by the Spanish Youth Institute show that 73 percent of young Spaniards (under twenty-five) still live with their parents, and by the age of thirty half do not consider moving out. This percentage has doubled since 1990. The reasons may include extended studies (30 percent of youth in Spain are in university today compared with 6 percent in the 1970s) which delays entry into the labor market. Despite government efforts and economic resources available to promote entrepreneurship (both Spanish and European), the reality is that there are not enough young people ready and seeking to become entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, most existing programs focus exclusively on youth, and do not account for the influence that social and family circles may have on youth decisions and life plans.
Pericles has introduced an educational program into the official curriculum. Valnalon Educa is an Educational Chain System for entrepreneurship that links diverse programs (subjects) and educational initiatives to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset for youth and society. The initial programs target children as young as four years and continue throughout their education to the university level. Pericles’ strategy consists of building knowledge through practical hands-on experience, which gives responsibility and autonomy to youth within the school framework.
Pericles’ A Company in My School, guides primary school students (six to twelve years) through the process of creating and managing small businesses. Working in groups, students create and direct companies that actually manufacture and will later trade goods at a local fair. The focus is to create an entrepreneurial spirit, introducing ideas of teamwork and the basics of marketing and accounting.
By the age of fifteen, students build on this knowledge by organizing working cooperatives (a class of approximately thirty students will create a company), that rely on suppliers and customers in both local and international markets. This “European Junior Enterprise” program has gained recognition as an “EU Best Practice,” precipitating its spread throughout Spain, Europe, and around the world. Since 2000, more than 900 cooperatives have been created by students in Spain. These businesses focus on importing and exporting (something they are doing with other student enterprises in Europe, the U.S., and Latin America), as well as the regulations and business planning involved at each stage. In the regions of Spain where this program is being applied, 100 percent of the students are exposed to these topics by fifteen-years-old.
At University and Professional Training level, the students begin to apply their training to specific sectors in the economy according to their personal interests. The Valnalon project offers support and training to supervise the maturing and subsequent consolidation of feasible business projects through a business incubator and a support center. The Training Chain has several aims. First, it helps shape an educational environment which encourages entrepreneurial ideals among the younger generation; students learn that entrepreneurship is an attainable goal when they are taught the technical skills and more importantly, establish the self-confidence to explore new ideas and take risks. Pericles’ is providing students with the tools they need to discover the opportunities for starting an organization or business. By planting the seeds for entrepreneurial curiosity, he teaches students to analyze ideas, their viability, and how to implement them.
The goal of the Educational Chain System is not only to create for-profit businesses, as there have been initiatives to incorporate projects that emphasize entrepreneurial thinking around the environment and international development fields, such as Pericles’ “Young Social Entrepreneurs Program.”
Pericles has come to understand that the involvement and knowledge of professors and parents is critical to the success and spread of the program. Professors receive thorough training with follow-up and support. It has also proven beneficial for youth work to with their parents, through an established parent program called “Entrepreneuring with your children” which involves caregivers in the education and positive influence of their children.
Different “links in the chain” have now expanded both across Spain and into other countries. Replicas of the programs have been started in Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Canada, U.S., Sweden, Germany, Poland, and Portugal, with some similar initiatives beginning in Uruguay, Paraguay, and Mozambique.
Pericles is well positioned to leverage the current historical moment of public support and focus on entrepreneurship in Spain and Europe. He is laying the foundation with youth so that the recent EU Lisbon Strategy goal of becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world—to include better employment, social cohesion, and environmental protection—will become a reality.
Since childhood Pericles remembers being given a number of responsibilities that most children today do not have. He sees a direct link between those duties and his entrepreneurial spirit in adulthood. Pericles believes both parental overprotection and the education system are making society more passive and apathetic.
Pericles has made many attempts to launch different business ventures and some succeeded, while others failed. He sees great value in the experience of trying and failing, because each endeavor is a learning experience and provides a “teachable moment.”
When Pericles was fifteen-years-old he started playing handball and soon became a professional player. At the age of twenty-one he was elected president of his club and he stopped playing and started coaching several junior teams. At that time he began what he refers to as his “double life.” He spent half the day working as an engineer in a large company and the other half leading the club. It was during this period that his commitment to youth and their problems began.
In 1984, together with a colleague, he founded the Association for Young Unemployed in the sports club to help youth from the club find jobs or launch their own businesses. These were difficult economic times in Spain, with an unemployment rate of approximately 40 percent. This was his “first attempt” at a business incubator he later improved and made larger, learning from models in other regions and countries. Pericles managed to convince the regional government to invest in the creation of a support centre for business entrepreneurs and the Valnalon initiative was launched. This is when Pericles’ decided to combine “both his lives” and follow his passion: Educating young people for the future.