WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Entrepreneurial talent -- an individual's innate potential to successfully create businesses and jobs -- can be found in every postal code in Mexico. But many of these individuals are not being identified and developed.
Just over one in four adults living in Mexico are employed full time for an employer, which is about average for Latin America, but it highlights a disappointing gap between the current state of Mexico's economy and its potential. The lack of "good jobs" could stem from the sizable informal economy, uncompetitive wages and sparse access to training, development and higher education.
To achieve the greater economic inclusion that Mexico needs, schools and government should work together -- casting a net earlier and wider to find and develop a new generation of business builders that spans all regions and socioeconomic classes.
Gallup began working with Mexico's Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Education and several public high school systems in Mexico City in 2014 to begin systematically identifying and developing entrepreneurial potential. Gallup created partnerships with 40 different high schools. Teachers, alongside Gallup coaches, helped students complete the EP10, an assessment that produces a developmental profile with an individual's top strengths as a business builder. That year, 10,000 students across public high schools in Mexico City were assessed for entrepreneurial talent, and another 15,000 were assessed in 2015. An additional 15,000 are set to be assessed in the coming school year.
As part of the program, business start-up conferences take place at all participating schools, and every student receives a business-plan workbook. Creating a business plan alone makes a student three times more likely to start a business. The government hosts workshops for those who show above-average potential and aspiration, to further develop their ideas. This past year, businesses ranged from healthy candy to electronics and robots to entrepreneurial education diffusion.
At program's end, students are invited to submit their business plans in a competition. Gallup chooses six students to represent Mexico's young aspiring entrepreneurs in Washington, D.C. The students present their business plans, meet with officials at the Mexican Embassy and receive business coaching by running a one-day business simulation.
Beyond the networking and development of their plans, the greatest takeaway for students is knowing their talent.
"Now that I know I have this talent to be an entrepreneur, it is my duty to my country and the world to make a change and create jobs for others," Leonardo Gonzalez from CECyT 14 high school told Gallup Chairman and CEO Jim Clifton. "And I won't stop until I do."
Xochitl Martinez from IEMS Emiliano Zapata high school shared that if it wasn't for the program, she wouldn't have had the impetus to start a business. "It has allowed me to see my potential and for others to believe in me as well," she said.
Less than half of adults in Mexico believe that most children in their country have the opportunity to learn and grow every day, and 55% of Mexicans are satisfied with the educational system or the schools. Both scores are on the low end for OECD-member countries. Mexico is not alone in lacking educational infrastructure that nurtures students who have the talent and the dream to start a business. On the other hand, Mexico has some advantages for a promising entrepreneurship culture among its youth. More than 30% of high school graduates do not go into higher education, which limits the country's student debt -- a common barrier to starting a business for their U.S. counterparts.
More partnerships between education and economic development will allow other high-potential entrepreneurial students such as Leonardo and Xochitl to know their talent, use it and create space for themselves in the economy. They are the future that bridges the gap between what the Mexican economy is and what it could be.