In order to compete on the world’s economic stage, Colombian business leaders must find innovative ways to generate jobs for young people, empowering their ideas and making them more competitive in a fast changing market. But business can only go so far in helping to reduce high unemployment rates – which currently stand near 11% – especially when more and more young people just want to go it alone, become their own bosses and capitalize on a potentially unique and lucrative business.

Colombia’s entrepreneurs are high-risk profiles with banks. Loans and access to credit are almost non-existent. Unless guarantees can be met with equity, thousands of creative and potentially brilliant entrepreneurs are left out of the jobs cycle and their ideas flounder due to the lack of seed capital. Sarah McMillan, director of network expansion for Youth Business International (YBI) recently came to Colombia to see how her organization can team up in partnerships with Colombian businesses to mentor young professionals on becoming successful entrepreneurs.

Buddying up for business

Founded in 2000 by HRH The Prince of Wales, YBI is a global network of independent non-profit initiatives helping young people start and grow their own business and create employment. Through a careful selection process, young people are given access to seed capital, plenty of mentoring and other business development services to start building their business from solid ideas.

For McMillan, Colombian businesses and their corporate cultures could do well to learn from the experience of YBI in working in countries across the world with persons aged 18-35 as 20% of those who enter the program become entrepreneurs and then go one to mentor others through the program. “We aim to foster entrepreneurship in all its diversity,” claims McMillan.

During a three-month process, potential applicants can apply for up to US$10,000 in seed capital and must respond to a rigorous mentoring process as well as, quality assurance from experts appointed to each and case. From starting a catering business in India to a dry cleaning business in Nepal, YBI works to minimize the risk of failure among those who enter the process and works closely with their major corporate sponsors on the mentoring or “buddy” process.

Create entrepreneurs, build an economy

Many countries in South America, including Colombia, are now catching on to the importance of creating entrepreneurs. One leading university, Universidad Externado de Colombia, created “Plan Padrinos” to help small businesses make “big changes.” The Business Reinforcement Program: Plan Padrinos aims to strengthen the management capabilities of small Colombian business while applying students to real-life situations to enhance their personal growth and thereby contribute to the economic growth of the country. The program also looks to inspire leadership and self confidence in those who are entering the work force for the first time and are keen to identify the challenges of many small to medium-sized business.

“We have too much disenfranchised youth,” claims McMillan. “For Colombia to focus on youth right now is really critical.”

To bridge these inequality gaps and train youngsters for a future with the right skills and vision, Colombian businesses can now “buddy” up with others, through educational initiatives such as those of the Universidad Externado or non-profit organizations such as YBI, to create a more stable future for its cash-starved youth.