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Gustavo Gennuso is battling unemployment in Argentina by providing low-income youth with "experiential" entrepreneurship training and institutional support for new business ventures. To engage middle-class professionals as mentors and create sustainable backing for youth business initiatives, he has built a strategic alliance with universities, businesses, microentrepreneurs, grant institutions, and the local government.

This profile below was prepared when Enrique Gustavo Gennuso was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.


Gustavo Gennuso is battling unemployment in Argentina by providing low-income youth with "experiential" entrepreneurship training and institutional support for new business ventures. To engage middle-class professionals as mentors and create sustainable backing for youth business initiatives, he has built a strategic alliance with universities, businesses, microentrepreneurs, grant institutions, and the local government.


Gustavo is convinced that the answer to unemployment, one of Argentina's most unrelenting social problems, lies in a combination of training in entrepreneurship and backing for new, productive initiatives. He has initiated a new approach to community development that builds alliances among local institutions like universities, companies, small businesses, local authorities, and grant-making foundations. To give young people coming from poor families better opportunities, Gustavo pairs them up with middle-class professionals and offers initial seed funds to start a business.

Gustavo offers a wide range of experiential training programs to foster entrepreneurship. The training focuses on shaping attitudes, such as attentiveness to new opportunities and adaptability in a changing world, rather than on honing particular skills. As participants begin to set up their own ventures, Gustavo supports the participants in project implementation, assessment, and management. Through training, institutional support, and funding, Gustavo sees to it that young people have job opportunities, and he combines the efforts of local institutions to foster collaboration on regional development.

Gustavo's extensive experience in launching, advising, and planning educational institutions throughout Argentina provides all of those involved in his organization–the New People Foundation–with valuable knowledge, unique networks, and opportunities for individual and community development.


One alarming consequence of Argentina's economic recession is the persistent increase in unemployment. While the 2001 National Institute of Statistics and Census Report shows an unemployment rate of 16.4 percent (2.2 million Argentine workers do not have jobs), specialists maintain that the unofficial unemployment rate approaches 22 percent. Unemployment is even higher in some provincial towns like Bariloche where a quarter of the population does not have work. In urban neighborhoods, the rate can reach an alarming 75 percent. Because of budget cuts, the state offers no protection to the unemployed. Only 6 percent of the jobless have access to unemployment insurance and existing employment programs are vanishing.

This lack of opportunity reinforces a general sense of apathy, hopelessness, and gloom, particularly among the young. Early in life, before they can even decide on a profession or avocation, many find themselves in despair that can easily drive them to addiction, violence, or crime. Students question the meaning of their studies, and Gustavo is aware that there is an emptiness to the axiom that good grades will lead to good jobs–how could they, with unemployment so rife? Gustavo believes that education offers cultural and personal benefits much greater than employability, but he knows that such bonuses are secondary to people who have no work. Without jobs, graduates and current students alike tend to discount the value of education.

Even though citizen sector organizations are making efforts to support productive enterprises, these tend to offer initial training only. Though the training may come off well, these projects fail in the midterm because training is particular to individual abilities–how to make a specific product, how to raise a chicken, for example–and do not address the overall entrepreneurial qualities that allow one to create and compete in small business. Besides, within an individualistic society, none of these projects strives to build social networks that can support ventures that create jobs. In addition, credit institutions, which were created to make grants to microbusinesses, have such tough criteria that organizations hardly ever receive the loans they need.


Since 1989, when Gustavo started the New People Foundation, he has been developing and experimenting with strategies to promote persons from impoverished sectors. During his first 18 years, Gustavo's work was primarily based in the province of Bariloche and focused particularly on innovative education projects aimed at training in-trade skills. To date, he has opened 10 education institutions whose core work is to provide good quality formal education to children, youth, and adults coming from underprivileged backgrounds. Gustavo has developed some key strategies to battle unemployment. At this point he is piloting and refining the work in Bariloche to prepare for a larger launch nationally and possibly internationally.

Gustavo's work includes a training component focused on entrepreneurial qualities. Instead of developing particular skills suited for a trade, students are involved in activities that stimulate creativity, promote decision-making, build self-esteem, and encourage attentiveness to the world around them. In his past work, after students graduated, Gustavo saw that demand for job opportunities began to increase. Accordingly, three years ago, he started special training on entrepreneurial qualities and included project development in the secondary school curriculum. Experiments started in the first year with developing an idea and ended with a feasibility assessment by the fifth year. After that, students could receive small grants for implementing their plans. By analyzing why some students succeeded and some failed, Gustavo realized that entrepreneurship training could be effective if students were supported for a longer period of time; if the training was experiential; and if there were supports for the ventures themselves.

Gustavo's next step was to develop a strategy to offer these ventures real sustainability. To begin, he joined low-income youth with middle-class professionals in a mutually beneficial relationship. Next, he built a strategic alliance with local institutions engaged in productive activities–like university, education centers, businesses and microenterprises–to back the projects. The system involves several components. A group made up of youth (80 percent) and middle-class professionals (20 percent) is trained on productive project development. The training covers technical and administrative tools, the development of entrepreneurial attitudes, situation analysis, and other knowledge to launch the project successfully. The group is then divided into three-to-six person teams, each of which is invited to present. The New People Foundation assesses the feasibility of each team's project. If a project passes, the team is awarded seed money for implementation. The New People Foundation follows the project's technical and organizational development throughout the process. One pilot project, for example, involves a group of 15 young people working in three areas. One group of women offers deep cleaning services for special occasions, another group is devoted to cleaning cars at public places, while a third works with niche markets in iron-working, such as the remaking of mailboxes.

Because he believes that real change cannot be attained without a strong influence on public policies, Gustavo has been struggling to modify the syllabus of adult schools in employment-related areas. He has exerted his influence on the opening of the employment and business office of the government. Also, a teachers' training program is being implemented on methodologies to encourage entrepreneurial attitudes.

The local actors associated with Gustavo's model are institutions and organizations already working with the New People Foundation. These include the Balseiro Institute of the Cuyo University (offering technological training to entrepreneurs); the Kitll Foundation of Bariloche (training in business planning); the FONTAR (which has agreed to fund ventures backed by the foundation); the Secretariat for Scientific and Technological Innovation of the Province of Rio Negro; the Micro-entrepreneurs Association of Bariloche; and the Antorchas Foundation. Gustavo also believes that it is necessary to associate local companies with the model, either as fund contributors or as technical advisors.

From experience Gustavo knows that processes starting with a slow but confident pace have a better chance for replication. Though pilot projects are being conducted with graduates from the New People Foundation schools–around 1,100 students attend these schools with 140 graduating every year–in the future the model will involve low-income youngsters from other schools and will be replicated at a regional level. Gustavo is already working in seven schools in Neuquén province and has important contacts to launch the project in Chubut province. Based on existing and future strategic partnerships, Gustavo's new idea has the potential for national and international spread. At present he is testing some of the program strategies with the support of the MLAL (Latin American Lay Movement) and the European Union together with the SES Foundation (by Argentine Ashoka Fellow Alberto Croce).


Born in Azul, a conservative rural town in the province of Buenos Aires, Gustavo remembers sensing discrimination between the privileged landlords, his own immigrant middle class, and the poorest sectors. He decided early on to make change. To his mother, a teacher, he owes his passion for education. His first contact with extreme poverty was during his military service, when he met and became friends with illiterate boys from poor backgrounds. He organized educational trips for them to learn about the sea and other places.

In 1980 Gustavo moved to La Plata to study engineering and two years later won a scholarship to continue his studies at the prestigious Balseiro Institute in Bariloche. Although classes were rigorous and students were entirely devoted to their studies, Gustavo needed something else, a place where he could belong. He became acquainted with a parish group and started to collaborate on the construction of a primary school in an extremely poor neighborhood called Virgen Misionera. His involvement in these activities grew, and he became a leader, identifying needs, organizing, and launching a community newsletter and radio program. Reacting to one of the major community demands for learning trade skills, Gustavo received a subsidy from Misereor, a German aid organization, and opened the Carlos Mugica Trade Skills Workshop in 1985. Two years later it became the first primary school in the province to offer training in diverse trade skills for young people and adults. Although Gustavo had no technical training in this field, he successfully founded three more teaching institutions, including a daycare center, a secondary school for young mapuches (indigenous people), and a secondary school for adults, in Virgen Misionera between 1987 and 2000. Gustavo was able to develop a model of the open, participatory school, in which both adults and youth are encouraged to make decisions and implement activities involving and affecting their community.

In 1994 UNICEF recognized the Carlos Mugica Workshop experience and invited Gustavo to replicate it in 34 Hectáreas neighborhoods, the poorest in Bariloche. He then founded the Angelelli Workshop, a primary and secondary school for adults and youth, offering specialization in diverse trade skills. This school has had an important link with the community and students are developing numerous activities, including elder care, home construction, and assistance to vulnerable groups. In 1994 a teacher training school was launched and a new trade skills institution has been added to a third neighborhood.

All 10 institutions have both developed innovative education methodologies specially designed for underprivileged sectors in formal education and been officially recognized and granted by the Education Ministry of the province. Gustavo is now a regional reference in youth and adult employment training. In 1991 he was called by the Province Education Board to draft the education syllabus for adults in the employment field, and in 1997 he advised the National Ministry of Education, revising the basic contents of the Technological Education teaching courses. He has rich experience as a teacher and has written several documents on training and innovations in education. In 2000 he won a contest organized by Antorchas and YPF Foundations with an Innovation Project in Scientific and Technological Education between Balseiro Institute and Amuyén Secondary School.

Gustavo worked at the National Atomic Energy Commission, mostly in health and science research. He left that job in 2000 to devote himself to the New People Foundation.