Young radio hosts spread the word about technical training and entrepreneurship on the Caribbean Coast

BLUEFIELDS — A group of young Nicaraguans sit huddled around a small table, leaning in toward a standing microphone.

They’re taking to the radio airwaves on the Caribbean Coast to spread the word about the ways in which their peers can make better lives for themselves – through technical and vocational education and self-employment.

Their “Enterprise Voice” radio show is helping to raise awareness about the availability of technical training and careers in a region traditionally plagued by higher rates of unemployment than other parts of the country.

The show is one piece of a larger effort to increase work opportunities for youth by fostering entrepreneurship and improving access to technical training and jobs through a program called Technical Vocational Education and Training Strengthening for At-Risk Youth, more commonly known by its Spanish name “Aprendo y Emprendo,” meaning “I Learn and Undertake.”

“What motivates me is that we get the chance to influence other youth. What we can’t achieve, other youth can because we are providing them with the information to achieve whatever they want to.” Laura Hernandez Hodgson, co-host of the “Enterprise Voice”

The project is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It is implemented by Creative Associates International, with support from The Palladium Group.

Aprendo y Emprendo seeks to improve the career prospects of youth on the Caribbean Coast, particularly ethnic minorities, by providing them with scholarships for technical training courses, strengthening vocational education institutions, and helping those institutions become an integral part of the local workforce.

And while technical careers are a promising path for youth in this region, many young people never consider pursuing a technical skill. Aprendo y Emprendo – and the radio show – are trying to change that.

“What motivates me is that we get the chance to influence other youth. What we can’t achieve, other youth can because we are providing them with the information to achieve whatever they want to. We get the chance to be leaders,” says Laura Hernandez Hodgson, one of the show’s hosts.

Raising awareness on the air

Across Nicaragua, people receive less than six years of schooling on average. On the Caribbean Coast, the average is less than three years.

Rose Mary Garcia, Chief of Party for Aprendo y Emprendo, says that, in some cases, the private sector in the region offers little opportunities for young people – so one of the project’s focus areas is equipping youth with the skills to support themselves.

“These youth need to come out with a sense of innovation and a sense to have their own destiny in their own hands rather than just simply relying on an employer and on career opportunities that do not exist,” she says.

According to a survey across four municipalities in the Southern Caribbean, 63 percent of youth ages 14 to 29 said they had not received information about technical careers or work enabling courses. And less than 23 percent said they would be interested in either a technical career or employment enabling course, with the vast majority opting for a traditional college career.

Through radio ad campaigns, social media, and youth ambassadors, Aprendo y Emprendo aims to increase awareness and interest about technical careers, particularly on the Caribbean Coast, where the scarce technical and vocational education and economic opportunities contribute to a high risk of youth engaging in crime, gangs, or drugs.

Partnerships at work

The project has partnered with the Young Entrepreneurs Network in Bluefields, a local, youth-led organization dedicated to promoting entrepreneurial skills among young people in the area. The network kicked off the radio show in October 2014.

Hernandez and her radio show co-hosts broadcast from the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast, or URACCAN – one of the institutions where students are receiving scholarships through Aprendo y Emprendo.

She says the partnership between the Young Entrepreneurs Network and Aprendo y Emprendo creates an opportunity to connect members with educational opportunities and scholarships that can help them achieve their goals.

Youth who have completed technical courses through Aprendo y Emprendo often make guest appearances on the radio program, which airs for 90 minutes three days a week.

Staff of the Aprendo y Emprendo project say it’s helping to change the way community members along the Caribbean Coast perceive technical careers, which in turn will help to influence young people.

“Radio is a powerful tool to reach not only youth, but also community leaders, influencers and parents, who are key in career decision making for youth,” says Gretchen Robleto, the project’s Youth Engagement and Communications Specialist.

Robleto says “Enterprise Voice” is an opportunity to get the word out about opportunities in technical fields – as well as larger societal issues – from the perspective of local young people like Hernandez and her co-host Aldin Amador Laguna.

“Even though entrepreneurship is the main topic, we also talk about topics that affect youths’ lives. For example, risky sexual behavior, violence, gender stereotypes,” Amador says. “With the information, we give them they have more tools to manage these topics and situations in their lives.”

Hernandez says that encouraging young people to forge their own careers can have a positive effect across communities.

“The project’s name [Aprendo y Emprendo] is ‘I Learn and Undertake,’ so we in the radio show encourage that: learning and undertaking,” she says. “We should consider that young people that are already involved in entrepreneurial activity represent the opportunity to give other youth jobs as business owners, and this is really helpful for the economic development of our region.”

With reporting by Gretchen Robleto, Jillian Slutzker and Natalie Lovenburg.