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Tue, Mar 01, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Training youths from low-income groups catches on

AFP , WASHINGTON

When American businessman Steve Mariotti was assaulted by a student gang for a paltry US$10, he did not go to the police. He threw his job and started a business training scheme to help students from low income communities make money the right way.

Two decades after the life-altering incident, his programs have become immensely popular in the US and are catching on in Europe, Africa and Asia, where governments are desperately trying to find jobs for their expanding youth population.

"Our program transforms street smarts into business smarts," said ex-Brooklyn trader Mariotti, the founder and president of the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (referred to as Nifty for NFTE).

Devised initially to prevent dropout and improve academic performance among pupils at risk of failing or quitting school, NFTE's "entrepreneurship education" schemes now cater to a wider group of mostly middle and high-school students in the US.

The programs are a hit because they are down-to-earth. Class activities include games on the benefits of global trade, business negotiation skills and using basic items like a sandwich to break down the cost of goods and labor.

Intricate mathematics, for example, is simplified to instill marketing and salesmanship skills.

"It's all about tricks of the trade yet stressing culture of ownership and self-employment," explained Victor Salama, NFTE's director of program partnerships.

The foundation now offers programs in more than 600 high schools and middle schools in the US and about 80 programs in 11 countries, including the world's most populous nations, China and India.

In China, particularly, they are attractive to young adults, including single moms, handicapped communities and prisoners. Elsewhere in Asia, participants have come from Singapore and the Philippines.

The foundation, backed by such sponsors as Microsoft and The Goldman Sachs Foundation, is set to launch a scheme in South Korea in March as part of an Asian expansion.

NFTE has signed a licensing pact with Young Professionals Institute of Korea (YPIK) and an agreement with its sister organization Y and P Publishing Co for translating the curriculum.

YPIK is sponsored by the Korean Junior Chamber and its members affiliated with NFTE are professors at some leading universities.

Salama said NFTE programs were becoming popular in Asia because they could help contain the serious problem of unemployment among youth in the region.

Most US students involved in NFTE are 14-to-16-year-olds but in China and India, the age group rises up to 24 years, including secondary school dropouts, Salama said.

To penetrate internationally, NFTE relies on partners with a good understanding of local accounting practices, business operation procedures and cultural norms.

Some 1,124 NFTE alumni have trained and completed their business plans in China since the foundation launched its programs about one-and-a-half years ago through local partner Bright China Management Institute (BCMI).

Wang Dechun, a 25-year-old daughter of peasants from Henan Province, was an apprentice hairdresser until she joined an NFTE training program that gave her the confidence to set up her own hairdressing business.

She said she was now running "the most profitable barbershop around the neighborhood."

In India, where NFTE has been working since 2000 with local non-governmental organization "I Create," 15,000 people have undergone business training so far.

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