Re-educating our educators

 
The same week that the United States and Peru signed their long-awaited free-trade agreement, I was speaking in Lima at the Latin American Congress on the Entrepreneurial Spirit. While the trade agreement was the headline news all week, promising new economic opportunity for 27 million Peruvians and giving a political victory to the country’s pro-growth government, the large conclave on entrepreneurship I addressed, hosted by Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola (USIL), was also a total success.

But the most interesting aspect of the week was not the conference or the historic trade agreement – it was the hosting university. It is the most innovative, entrepreneurially focused academic institution I have come across.

USIL was founded 15 years ago by Raul Diez Canseco Terry, a Peruvian serial entrepreneur who brought to his country KFC, Pizza Hut, Chili’s and Starbucks. He also served as Peru’s economic minister and, for three years, vice-president.

“I come from a middle-class family,” he explains. “My father worked in a chocolate factory, which was taken over by the military in one of our earlier military coups, and he lost his livelihood. So I was only able to go to college because I was awarded a scholarship by Pacific University, a Jesuit college in Peru. Because of that, I had a dream early on to start a prep school to help poor but deserving kids get into college.”

After begging and borrowing to get the franchise fee, Terry was somehow able to convince KFC to give him a chance to start its Peru business. This not only made him rich but also enabled him to become Peru’s notable “social entrepreneur” by fulfilling his dream of helping poor people help themselves.

His social mission really took hold during a terrible flood, when he opened dozens of KFC free-food tents to feed victims. “I was working with poor people, and I saw two ways to go with my entrepreneurial success,” he recalls. “The first way was to say this is not my problem – poor people don’t affect me one way or another. The second way, I could say that if we don’t change all this poverty in Peru, the country can never succeed politically or economically. It was an easy choice for me, to devote the rest of my life trying to help good but often poor people help themselves.”

Terry’s educational ventures began when he founded a unique high school in Lima, a preparatory academy that served as an innovative alternative within the Peruvian education system to promote vocational and professional training. Expanding that concept to the university level, Terry founded the USIL. With 14,000 students, USIL is Peru’s fastest-growing college and is recognised as one of Latin America’s most prestigious private schools. Terry has also expanded his original mission statement to “preparing enterprising professionals for a globalised world”.
 
The most innovative thing about USIL is its faculty. Every professor is required to imbue every student with the idea of seeing his or her
education as an entrepreneurial possibility.

The profound – and unique – thing going on here is who gets hired to teach the kids. The university has a teaching staff with vast entrepreneurial experience to complement their academic studies at the best universities in Peru and abroad. Not simply educators, they exhibit an enterprising mentality, along with solid ethical and moral training.

So how do you get more teachers and schools like this up and running? The sad fact is that educators like the ones at USIL couldn’t get hired to teach anything at most high schools, let alone universities. They wouldn’t have the right “qualifications”. After all, we live in a world where any school with the word vocational in its title is looked down upon and where the vast majority of students are shuffled through high school and college without the foggiest idea of how they’re going to make a living.

We have isolated examples of universities that try to leverage the power of the entrepreneurial spirit. But even these positive efforts are typically rear-guard actions coming from the entrepreneurship centres connected to the universities’ B-schools.

We do have the occasional pleasant surprise of a high school that actually tries to prepare its students for our modern entrepreneurial economy. My current favourite example is the entrepreneurship programme created by Maynard Brown at Crenshaw High School in downtown Los Angeles. Brown, who graduated from Crenshaw himself, went to Cornell on a basketball scholarship, received his MBA there, and became a successful entrepreneur back in Los Angeles. As a part-time volunteer at his old high school, he was “overwhelmed by the students’ hunger for business and financial education.” He ultimately returned to Crenshaw as a full-time teacher to run the school’s entrepreneur-development programme. Today, he is devoting his life to “giving students the practical tools to fend for themselves”.

Brown recently introduced me to one of his prize students, Marquis Davis. Davis created a $300,000 (Dh1,101,749) print-on-demand business. He started by printing McGraw-Hill textbooks after he flew to the firm’s giant printing plant in Ohio, made his pitch, and got his initial printing contract – as a junior in high school. He’s living proof of a couple of Brown’s most famous slogans: “If you believe it, you can achieve it” and, “If you are self-employed, you’ll never be unemployed.” In a community constantly challenged by drug use, shootings, and underachieving schools, Brown and his students are beacons of light and hope.

But there are far too few Maynard Browns. So what to do? One possibility is to find enough Raul Terry types to start a thousand San Ignacio-type high schools and universities. But maybe a more practical approach would be to start re-educating our own educators on how they can start making a real difference in the lives of their students, particularly all those disadvantaged kids who really need an entrepreneurially minded mentor to rise above their gloomy circumstances.

- Larry Farrell is the founder of The Farrell Company, a worldwide organisation that researches and teaches entrepreneurial practices. (Courtesy The New York Times Syndicate’s Global Business Perspectives)
 
 
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