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Mexico's Claudio X Gonzalez is a good example of a new generation of Latin American entrepreneurs that through venture philanthropy assume greater commitment to their societies and seek to influence social change. (Photos: Mexicanos Primero)
Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Latin America Venture Philanthropy and Education

Venture philanthropy can promote change in Latin American education.


"Few innovations in education today offer as much potential to transform how students are educated as the rise of  blended learning”  says Laura Vanderkam, author of the report on new trends in education developed by Philanthropy Roundtable, an association of business leaders and investors grouped to boost donations and philanthropic initiatives in the United States.

Blended learning is a recent phenomenon in the United States promoted by some thinkers, particularly by the famous Harvard innovation expert Clayton Christensen and Michael B. Horn, who  it on the bestseller Disrupting Class along with the early experiences of companies like, Connections Academy and schools like Rocketship or Carpe Diem. They are joined by institutions such as the incubator Imagine K12, the investment fund New School Venture Funds and other entrepreneurs who are focused on incorporating technology to improve educational quality.

What began as a small movement that tried to combine online teaching with presence in the classroom and was initially directed to the "non-consumers" of formal education, as those students who had left school or who were educated at home (homeschooling: a segment with more than 2 million students in the United States) is becoming a phenomenon that is reaching thousands of primary and secondary schools across the country.

The interesting thing about this innovation is that it has been promoted almost entirely from the private sector. Entrepreneurs, investors and academics have not only introduced the subject on the agenda of educational policy in the United States, but have also funded pilot experiences. Being up and some with proven results ends up being easier for the public sector to adopt and scale them  in order to offer them to the general population. That is, the private sector has played a key role in introducing an innovation that according to recent evaluations, is showing positive results in terms of improving the performance of pupils in national examinations.

It's a lesson we can learn in Latin America, where business leaders have begun to support institutions that generate awareness about the importance of improving education, as Todos pela Educação in Brazil and Empresarios por la Educación in Peru, Colombia and Guatemala. However, there are few who have gone beyond by funding specific experiences that generate observable effects that can be incorporated by others and especially by governments, the largest providers of education  in the region. This is where philanthropy can play a big role, identifying potential ideas, nurturing its growth with smart investments and expanding them as much as possible.

"Philanthropy focused in education is growing in Latin America," says Claudio Gonzalez, a prestigious Mexican businessman who founded UNETE  and most recently Mexicanos Primero, which advocates greater quality of education in his country. Gonzalez and his brothers also found that to be involved in private enterprise in education is another way to contribute to the social impact and therefore have invested in companies like UniversoNet, a chain of high schools.

Gonzalez is a good example of a new generation of Latin American entrepreneurs that through venture philanthropy assume greater commitment to their societies and seek to influence social change. "This has not been seen for 20 or 30 years in Latin America. Currently there is a new group of leaders in the region, many second or third generation of the leading business families of their countries, which combine investment with a search of impact on different social issues" says Eliza Erikson, who has co-invested with several of them. Erikson is one of the directors at Omidyar Network, an investment fund created by Pierry Omidyar, who decided to destiny his fortune obtained from the sale of  his business eBay to impact investments and venture philanthropy and to date has done more than ten investments in the area of education.

The Philanthropy Roundtable report focuses on recommendations to venture philanthropists interested in promoting quality education through the use of technology in education. Recommendations ranging from advocating for this transformation by supporting conferences, panels, or a new publication, to fund teacher training courses, or the creation of new schools and provide seed capital for entrepreneurs.

The current low quality of education in Latin America requires new ways to think about the problem, different models to promote change. Venture philanthropy has an important role to play.

Gabriel Sanchez Zinny is president of, a Latin American Blended Learning company, working in incorporating technologies to reduce drop out rates. Follow him on Twitter at @gzinny. He wrote this column for Latinvex


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