22 February 2017

A line of orthopaedic shoes, a farm, a bus and taxi centre and a catering service. These are just some of the business ideas which the participants in the Empretec course, coordinated by UNCTAD, the UN organisation dealing with trade, international investment and development, could set up. The course was the focus of the International Entrepreneurship for Development research project, which involved six young graduates in Management, Economics and Industrial Engineering at the Politecnico di Milano (Andrea Invernizzi, Giordano Marchi, Alessandro Montrone, Federico Mentesana, Stefano Ponzini and Leonardo Spinelli) coordinated by Valentina Rotondi, Post Doc of the Department, in collaboration with UNCTAD.

The aim of the project is to assist entrepreneurship in Developing Countries 

Andrea, Giordano, Alessandro, Federico, Stefano and Leonardo analysed the theoretical aspects underlying the implementation of the project in their thesis, to then carry out the test phase directly in Panama, a small country in Central America, throughout the month of October 2016. 

We had the opportunity to be part of a challenging and prestigious project which led us to carry out field research, putting our polytechnic studies into practice and investigating the Empretec program (created and financed by UNCTAD) for developing entrepreneurial capabilities and skills in emerging countries such as Panama

The study group not only worked in the capital, Panama City, but also in country towns such as Chitrè and Herrera. The boys told us how the research project was structured:

Upon arriving in Panama City, we interfaced with the program’s local representatives; we met, interviewed and collected data on different groups of people belonging to various social classes: local entrepreneurs, students, young women living in hardship situations, but also criminals belonging to gangs, the so-called Pandilleros, who were trying to transform their cooperative "skills" into useful elements in order to create, from scratch, a new business on the territory 

All subjects were then subjected to economic experiments, a real role play in order to assess whether the training had had a positive effect on the creation of new businesses and to understand which psychological and attitudinal traits determine the decision to become entrepreneurs and escape from a situation of social distress and/or crime 

Finally, we provided assistance to entrepreneurship training courses, collected data - concerning the survey and the experiments -, both before and after participating in the course, and then compared these statistically. We also held some concluding seminars to narrate and share the experience

The people involved welcomed the project with enthusiasm, motivated as well by the desire and curiosity to work together and by the possibility of being able to express themselves and to rise to a challenge.

The research team worked hard and obtained interesting results: the training course favours the decision to set up a business and those who most showed their willingness to open a business were women, marginalised people and those who did not know anybody who had already opened a business activity.

The coordinator Valentina Rotondi stated: "What impressed me most about this project was the human and professional training of the graduating students who were able to actively contribute to reduce the poverty in a Country by supporting the creation of entrepreneurship and social development".

No doubt, the work they carried out in Panama did not just represent a professional experience, but above all an important experience of life which they will not forget, and which made them grow both individually and as a team.

We dealt with a very different culture from ours, pursuing growth opportunities, learning to be flexible, strengthening our teamwork and the ability to open up to others

concluded the students. In December, just before graduation, they were invited to Geneva to the United Nations conference to present the results of their work. These are still preliminary results however, the project will in fact be carried forward by other graduating students from the "Center for Global Business and Institutions (GBI)", and by Professors Paola Garrone, Lucia Piscitello and Stefano Elia.

All the Panamanians who had a key role in the research, will in fact be monitored on a quarterly basis for a year and only at the end of this period will we know whether they were able to fulfil their dreams: their business ideas.