We Can Be Better Tomorrow Than We Are Today: Q&A with Juan David Aristizabal

This week, GBC-Education had the opportunity to speak with Juan David Aristizabal – Founder and President of Los Zúper, a non-profit organization based in Colombia equipping young people with the skills needed in the 21st century. We spoke with him about his views on the role of education, his recent experience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, and what role business should play in making an impact for children and youth throughout the world.

Please find an abridged version of the interview below:

Q: What drew you toward working in education and youth empowerment?

A: I am from a coffee-growing region in Colombia. When the price of coffee plummeted after the Cold War, our towns turned into ghost towns – friends and family had to migrate to find new opportunity. I saw a lot of people who did not have the skills or education for the workforce. My sister – she was good at data science and Excel – wanted to support the Red Cross after a deadly earthquake struck my town. Her experience showed what happens when you have skills and use it in the right context.

These experiences lead me to a passion for youth empowerment, as I realized that having a good education was vital to having a good life.

Q: What role do you think business should play in ensuring young people receive a quality education?

A: Business needs to be bold – not just when they are talking about workforce development and skills. Corporate leaders should go to schools to understand what kids are thinking and see first hand how the school system works. The private sector needs to inspire kids about what they want to be in the future, and they need to be more involved in high schools – rather than just college and universities.

Unpaid internships is the slavery of this century; the private sector has a responsibility to give youth money for their work. In addition, it’s important that business advocates to governments, in countries like Colombia, to make it easy for students to receive a certificate or diploma. You want to create a certificate that isn’t difficult to receive due to bureaucracy. By making sure that youth receive the proper certification, it will provide them with more opportunities to participate in the workforce and realize their potential.

Q: How has your experience with the World Economic Forum – and your recent experience in Davos – informed your work as a social entrepreneur?

A: We need to revolutionize the way that business talks about education. The vocabulary is around productivity and skills rather than youth having opportunities and living a happy and fulfilling life. One of my main takeaways from the meetings in Davos was that business needs to listen from the perspective of people who are actually involved in education. It’s important to explain that when we are talking about 70 million youth who are unemployed globally, that we are talking about lives – about human beings.

Also, we want to ask ourselves – how do we measure impact? How do we know young people are really learning the skills of the future? These are the kind of questions that leaders – including those who attended Davos – should take into account.

Q: If you could solve one problem in education, what would it be?

A: Inspiration is essential. We need more role models, and we need to create a mindset where students – old or young – believe that as human beings we can be better tomorrow than we are today. Sometimes inspiration is not a part of the conversation around education, when it absolutely needs to be.


Juan David Aristizabal is the President and Co-Founder of Los Zuper, a non-profit organization equipping young people with the skills needed in the 21st century. He is also the co-founder of Todos por la Educacion, a social movement in Colombia dedicated to pushing the government to prepare people for the new roles and jobs in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. To learn more about Juan, you can find a more extensive biography here or follow him on twitter at @JuanDavidAristi.




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