A lot of firms doing business in the Latin America BPO ecosystem complain that more should be done – by governments and schools and universities – to build a broader pool of knowledge professionals. Honduras-based Grupo Karims is actually doing something about it.
Grupo Karims, a prominent player in textiles and real estate in Honduras, owns the Altia Business Park in San Pedro Sula which has become a hot bed of BPO activity since opening there four years ago. As part of its corporate social responsibility program in Honduras, the conglomerate is initiating a bilingual educational program in public schools from kindergarten through high school.
The bilingual education program will begin this year with the Grupo Karim’s Foundation funding two classes at different schools. At first a total of 70 pupils (35 at each school) will benefit from four hours of classes a day (two hours each in English and Spanish) from kindergarten onwards, although the plan is to then extent coverage to more schools. Yusuf Amdani, the CEO of Grupo Karims, revealed details of the initiative during the November Central America Nearshore Summit in Managua in a panel discussion moderated by Nearshore Americas’ Kirk Laughlin. Amdani quietly devotes times and energy to worthy causes in Honduras, but this particular project is especially illustrative of a leader who is not content to wait on others to make things happen.
“(The schools) are going to give us the frame of a classroom and we’re going to build it up completely, putting in windows, doors, the ceiling and floor, air conditioning, an electric system, all the furniture including desks, chairs, table and cabinets, and all the educational materials like textbooks, pencils, pens, paints, crayons, and all the teaching equipment like computers, and we’re going to pay the teachers’ salaries,” Altia’s Marketing Director Kathia Yacaman tells Nearshore Americas. “This will come at a total cost of $32,645 USD per classroom, rising by another $10,000 in cases when the Foundation has to build the classrooms from scratch. The backing includes bilingual teachers, teaching materials and guarantee nutritious meals to preschoolers.
By introducing preschool children to English as a second language, the program will help them “develop their skills, language and communication, in a natural way,” a Grupo Karim’s presentation states. The program will serve as “comprehensive training” for the challenges that the pupils will face in later life and will “strengthen their values and opportunities, making them eligible for scholarships and in the future providing opportunity to work in Altia, Green Valley, Pride Performance Fabrics, Pride Manufacturing” and other companies under the Grupo Karim’s umbrella.
Prior to the establishment of the Grupo Karim’s Foundation last year, Altia and the Green Valley industrial park had been certified corporate social responsibility companies for three and five years respectively. All Grupo Karim’s companies engage in corporate social responsibility activities focusing on issues such as health and the environment, Altia’s Marketing Director Kathia Yacaman tells Nearshore Americas.
Grupo Karim’s President Yusuf Amdani serves as head of the Honduran Association for Corporate Social Responsibility (Fundharse), having been elected by the business community and the Chamber of Commerce. He was chosen “because of all the jobs that he’s generated, all the money that he’s invested in the country and also all the work that he does in the community,” Yacaman says.
Investing in Education
“One of our main focuses has been education,” Yacaman adds, noting that Altia has been helping a nearby school named 18 de Noviembre for the past three years. Altia sponsors children at the school and has repaired broken doors, locks and ceilings there, redecorated the rooms and even built some classrooms and an auditorium/sports facility from scratch.
The company has now helped three schools to recover from a state of disrepair and 2014 will mark the first year of Grupo Karim’s bilingual education program, which aims to boost Honduras’ English-speaking population. Honduras is home to around eight million people, but Yacaman notes that “We have about 35,000 people who speak English in the whole country, 45% in San Pedro Sula, 45% in the capital Tegucigalpa, and the other 10% in the rest of the country.”
“They currently only teach Spanish in public schools but the new government just passed a law to start teaching a quarter of all classes in English. But we … want to implement bilingual education in public schools from kindergarten upwards,” Yacaman says. Teaching kids English from a young age will give them “the opportunity to become bilingual and to get a job immediately after graduating from high school,” she explains.
“We, as a private company, are contributing to the bilingual education system, so as to give opportunities to people who wouldn’t have had opportunities,” Yacaman says. Although the government is supportive of the Foundation’s efforts and the education department has approved the program, she notes that, “We cannot always rely on the government so we do it ourselves and try to contribute to the growth of the economy.”