Like a tasty dish requires a mixture of ingredients to satisfy our palate, so do young entrepreneurs need to develop a good balance of business, technical and ‘soft’ skills, such as communication and problem solving, to be successful. At the launch of YBI’s latest report Entrepreneurial soft skills for the future, we spoke to Andres Jimenez Villegas, Chairman of Manq'a Bolivia, to discuss how they’ve introduced soft skills in their training programme.
Manq’a is a social enterprise established in 2013 that sets up and runs cooking schools training low-income youth as chefs and culinary entrepreneurs. The schools focus on locally produced, organic ingredients, boosting local demand and promoting healthy and sustainable consumption. Started in El Alto, Bolivia, it has now set up twelve schools across Bolivia and Colombia, where they work with victims of the armed conflict.
Developing new skills on the kitchen floor
Manq’a’s approach has successfully integrated the soft skills element in their training by dedicating one day per week to soft skills, with the remaining four days focused on developing technical, vocational and business skills. According to Andres, the schools’ kitchen is the perfect environment for students to practice and develop these skills. While students certainly need strong technical skills to create a great dish, they also need to be able to communicate effectively with each other, demonstrate leadership skills and build confidence.
An innovative mindset is also key: cooks often need to use whichever seasonal ingredient is available, leading to the creation of some imaginative dishes. Of course, innovation is only possible if students are open to share their experiences, reflect and learn from others.
Not all students will open their own business after the five and half month training. However, the skills they develop are transferrable and will help them find a job in the food industry or start a business in a different sector. According to Andres, this is something they would be much less likely to achieve if they were only offered technical skills training.
Building a sustainable and scalable model
The programme has already had a positive effect on its participants. Manq’a has ten schools in Bolivia, five of which are in El Alto, one of the largest cities in the country, populated mostly by Aymara people. Andres says “Aymara people are typically very shy and it’s difficult to know what they’re thinking”. However, he’s noticed a significant change in the students – who are now much more confident at sharing and discussing the challenges they are facing.
With only a 5% dropout rate and 58% of graduates in employment, Manq’a model is a growing success. There are plans to expand into other countries and strengthen the income-generating side of the business by launching new initiatives, such as restaurants, catering businesses or gastro-tours, which could provide financial support to the cooking schools.
Manq’a is equipping young people with the skills they need to change their lives. As Ariana, one of the students in Colombia says: “Nobody believed in me. Manq’a has given me an opportunity to show the world what I’m capable of”.