The social entrepreneur equipping youth with skills of the future

Commodity producing nations must stop young people feeling complacent

Juan David Aristizabal, founder of Los Zuper
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The first obstacle to meeting the challenge of job creation in commodity producing countries is breaking a mind-set among young people of complacency and engaging them enough to develop the skills needed for the roles of the future, according to a leading social entrepreneur from Colombia.

Juan David Aristizabal is the founder of social enterprise Los Zuper, which uses a mix of media content and live events to inspire young people to equip themselves with the capabilities needed for the future.

At the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos this week, Mr Aristizabal will be encouraging the private sector to do more to engage young people – including providing more grants and challenges aimed at developing specific skills. Secondly, he will be saying that young people should be paid more when they start employment, to keep them motivated and engaged once they enter the workforce.

Companies “are not doing enough, they can do more”, he says. “They feel the problem [of finding suitable candidates]. It is a pain for them” which should make the issue a priority, he says.

Mr Aristizabal believes the private sector is looking for solutions and ideas and in particular those that allow companies to take responsibility amid frustrating efforts to persuade governments to tackle the problem of the youth skills gap.

The gap is a result of the workplace being rapidly transformed by what the Forum calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution, driven by technology including automation and the adoption of artificial intelligence.

In September, the Forum said – in a more upbeat assessment than in previous years – that shifting trends in technology will create 58 million extra jobs by 2022 rather than replace humans in the workplace. While 75 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms, 133 million new roles may emerge "that are more adapted to this". The jobs forecast to be most redundant by 2022 are middle-skilled white collar roles, including data entry, accounting and teller positions; however, there will be increased demand for human resource professionals, data analysts and scientists, software and app developers and social media specialists, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

For these new jobs to be filled, candidates will require new skills. There have been concerns for some time that traditional education systems around the world are not doing enough to equip young people in time.


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At the forum’s annual meeting, Mr Aristizabal hopes to encourage the public and private sectors to “work together to fix the system” by showing how his platform Los Zuper has successfully engaged thousands of young people in Colombia to learn new skills.

He is a co-chair at the global gathering, which starts on Tuesday and marks the culmination of his five years involved with the World Economic Forum’s efforts in his home country. The forum has chosen six young leaders from its ‘Global Shapers’ network to be among the annual meeting’s co-chairs. The aim is that their experience – also in sustainable building, food banks and governance – informs the discussions around this year’s theme of ‘Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution’. The other two co-chairs are outgoing World Bank president Jim Yong Kim and Satya Nadella, chief executive of Microsoft.

Growing up, Mr Aristizabal experienced the suffering caused to the Coffee Triangle region in his home country when the coffee industry – in which his family had been involved for more than a century – was decimated by a crash in prices. However, he believes that what had turned his home in Pereira into a “ghost town” was not external forces but in fact, an “abundance mind-set” common to commodity producing countries where complacency about wealth being perpetually sustained becomes entrenched and damaging for young people’s ambitions.

This “abundance” thinking must be replaced with a “productive, sustainable mind-set” in order to inspire young people to begin to learn the new skills they will need for jobs of the future that will require a combination of philosophy, design and technology, says Mr Aristizabal.

“I saw a lot of my classmates lose their jobs, or their parents [lost jobs], their dreams were broken. A lot of them became involved in violence and drugs,” he says.

He has been working on coming up with a successful formula since 2006 and has developed a special curriculum with role models as the building blocks. He founded Los Zuper at the start of 2017 and its 24 “teachers” include a mix of influencers, athletes, writers and even a former Miss Universe.

They produce multimedia content online that are a mix of lessons, challenges and gaming to encourage its 10,000 students to develop specific skills including critical thinking, problem solving, communications and collaboration, creativity and innovation and career and life skills such as adaptability, initiative and self-direction.

Los Zuper's teachers include Jorge Franco, the writer of novel Rosario Tijeras, Colombian freediver Sofia Gomez and footballer Vanessa Cordoba. The platform has been successful, not just with its virtual content but also with live events. Many schools have invited Los Zuper to come in to show them their innovative curriculum. This is their advocacy moment, says Mr Aristizabal and hopes that his organisation can help promote real change with regards to education regulations in Colombia. Globally, the challenge for education is the typically slow pace of reform of state systems. The private sector can help persuade elected leaders that it is in their interests to help speed up changes, he says.

Los Zuper is a non-profit which currently operates with eight employees, through a mix of grants and support from private sector partners which include IBM. However, Mr Aristizabal is exploring ways to monetize the massive engagement online that the platform is creating. He is wary though of finding a balance between independence and sustainability for the enterprise.

“Young people are very disappointed with the system”, he says, and he would not want to add to that feeling by compromising Los Zuper’s values by switching to an advertising or sponsorship model in the wrong way.