National Entrepreneurship Congress and Competition

Last Wednesday through Friday was the National Entrepreneurship Congress and Competition, which is the culmination of a year of work for Small Business Development Volunteers, teachers, and students all around Nicaragua.

I didn’t have a team competing. My students had lost to Nagarote at the departmental competition at the end of October. However, I was still invited to attend the full event since I was going to be giving a talk on the importance of networking during the Entrepreneurship Congress. I also brought three students along from one of my schools to attend the Congress and observe the Competition.

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The funniest part of the whole event was how similar it was to camp! We had more than 100 students staying with us at the hotel and conference center in Managua. When we first got there on Wednesday I was asking the Directors of Small Business programs questions, mostly basic logistic stuff. They had no idea. Then we had a meeting with three Volunteers who were coordinating the event. Meet your Head Counselors! They had all of the nitty-gritty logistical details.

The first thing they did during the meeting was give us a list with everyone’s responsibilities and a brief description of what it entailed. At this point I was cracking up. It was just like an activity at camp. Malcolm, Aaron, Brent – you are with the kids. Henry and Michael – you guys are in charge of technology and music. It was just like that. I couldn’t believe it.

And the similarities just multiplied from there. The kids were split up into different rooms so that they got to know other students from all over Nicaragua. They had to be in their rooms at 10 PM, and then the Volunteers patrolled the hallways of the hotel until midnight to make sure all of the kids were there. Row Duty! Some kids got sick and we had to take care of them, and a few kids skipped out on sessions and we had to go find them in their cabins rooms. There was a pool at the hotel and they loved using it. I just thought it was hilarious, and the Volunteer coordinators did a great job despite the high degree of stress that the three of them were under.

As for the actual event, everything went great. I gave a talk on the importance of networking (in Spanish, to 140 people). On Friday, first place went to a group of students that made a pedal for an electric keyboard. My favorite product was a natural iced tea made by the students from the Caribbean Coast. It tasted like Thanksgiving to me. I wanted to buy a bottle but they sold out.

The kids were very outgoing and talented. I remember when male student stood up and told the whole group a little bit about himself, including that he loves poetry and has written more than 300 poems. Everyone was very impressed. At that moment I realized a stark cultural difference between the United States and Nicaragua. In the US poetry is seen as quite effeminate. But in Nicaragua, where the undoubtedly most coveted national figure is a male poet, Ruben Darío, all of the other students were extremely impressed and I don’t think attributed this kid with feminine qualities at all.

All of the teachers and students were extremely motivated.  I saw tears from some of the losers after the winners were announced. Some of my students were actually happy when they lost in the local competitions! I am hard pressed to find a student-teacher pair that are super motivated, but I guess that will be my challenge for 2015.

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