Bolivia entrepreneurship has surprised the world. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM, based in London) revealed in January 2009 that Bolivia registered the highest entrepreneurship potential in the world in 2008, despite being one of the poorest countries in Latin America.
The GEM measures enterprising spirit and activities during the initial phases of the entrepreneurship phase. Maestrías para el Desarrollo (MpD) (Bolivian Catholic University) was the academic institution selected and acknowledged in Bolivia to carry out this research.
The GEM study evaluated the results of entrepreneurship in 43 countries during 2008. The findings show a relationship between a country's economic development level and its types of enterprise, according to the Programa de Investigación Estratégica en Bolivia (PIEB).
This organization states "In countries with less income the percentage of the population involved in enterprising activities is higher and as the national development level increases, enterprising activities decrease."
The main results of this research show that in Bolivia 29.8% of the adult population is involved in initial entrepreneurial activities, which means new and recently established companies that have existed for less than 3.5 years.
Bolivia is followed by Peru (25.6%), Colombia (24.5%) and Angola (22.7). On the other extreme, the countries with the least amount of entrepreneurial activities are Belgium (2.9%), Russia (3.5%), Germany (3.8%), and Romania (4%).
The GEM is a research program established by Babson College and the London Business School, leading academic institutions in the world on matters involving entrepreneurship.
Why this does not surprise Bolivians
We have a saying in Bolivia: "de la necesidad nace la creatividad" (creativity is born from need). Bolivians are given a very early start in the "entrepreneur" mentality. Most families cannot afford to send their children to school or university. Children work from a very early age, much earlier than in more developed countries and often under very harsh or adverse conditions. They learn to sell, bargain with a customer, make change, do inventory, figure out exchange rates and convert currencies, etc.
By their pre-teen or teen years they are often responsible for large parts of the business. They may be left alone to mind a store, sent out to do marketing or meet with customers, (this is a common sight), and often can be seen at banks paying bills, making deposits, or changing currency.
It's sad that so many young people are kept out of school to work. However, the upside is many of these young people go on to own their own small to HUGE businesses.
Among the sector of the population that can afford to send their kids to the best schools and foreign universities, most parents teach their children that they should always strive to own something rather than end up working for someone else. In fact, a great majority of young people who are sent to overseas universities are expected to study Business Management, either because they are being pruned to take over an existing family business (which may be very large) or to start their own. Because of this, many Bolivian entrepreneurs are very very young.
So this is not surprising to us. But it may be to the rest of the world.