Focus on Bolivia

Training is in its infancy in Bolivia. Most training conducted is technical in nature, but there is a need for supervisory and leadership programs.

Located in South America, Bolivia is famous for its beautiful topography. The country has both rainforests and one of the largest lakes in the world, Lake Titicaca. Mount Illampu, located on the outskirts of capital La Paz, has an elevation of more than 20,000 feet. Depending on where in the country you are training, be prepared for the high altitude and the need to acclimate yourself to the “thin air.”

The population of Bolivia is approximately 11 million, and it has two capitals. Its administrative capital is La Paz, while Sucre is the constitutional capital. It is bordered by five countries: Peru, Chile, Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil. It is considered to be located in the middle of South America. Bolivia is culturally diverse, with more than 30 languages spoken in the country. Spanish is the language of business.

Bolivia exports mainly oil, natural gas, some textiles, tobacco, agricultural products such as soybeans, minerals such as zinc, and tin.

The global downturn of the last few years has negatively affected Bolivia as it has not been able to maintain and grow its economy. But the Bolivian government has not yet enacted market-oriented reforms. Most developing countries seek to convert their raw materials into finished products, but the Bolivian workforce currently does not have the skills to produce finished higher-level products (computers, electronics, pharmaceuticals, etc.).


Bolivia offers many challenges to organizations interested in doing business there. Half of the population lives below the poverty line. Many of these citizens have not received the education needed to compete on a global basis. The middle class is small in Bolivia. The domestic market is limited in purchasing goods and services. Without a well-trained workforce, companies are not able to produce and export the finished goods necessary to grow the economy.

Training is in its infancy in Bolivia, and many Bolivian companies do not offer training to their employees. There is no organizational culture for training. The training that does take place typically is held at the worksite. These companies usually are located in the La Paz, Santa Clara, and Cochabamba areas.

Most training conducted is technical in nature. Classes involving Western management practices, including supervisory and leadership programs, are needed. Computer training also could meet a definite need. Programs in English as a foreign language (EFL) could help globalize Bolivian organizations, as the majority of the workforce does not speak English. Because training resources are not widely available, the cost of training programs is higher than in the U.S. as resources need to be obtained and shipped to Bolivia.


  • Bolivia is a formal country in terms of dress and how participants need to be addressed. Trainers should wear appropriate business attire, and call participants by their family name unless asked to be less formal.
  • Because English is not widely spoken,all materials need to be translated into Spanish, and trainers need to be fluent in Spanish. If the organization asks you to teach the class in English, you will need to speak a bit slower and include visuals. Also, be sure to gauge if the vocabulary you use is understood by all.
  • Bolivians like training to be action oriented, with most activities involving skills practice in groups. The trainer is not expected to stand in the front and lecture to the class.
  • Singling out individuals is not expected or encouraged. When debriefing activities, you will need to speak about the class as a whole group. Trainers are respected, and a certain distance is expected when feedback is given.

While the lack of a trained workforce and the low standard of living in this country are not easily overcome, change can happen quickly. Currently, neighboring Brazil has a growing middle class and a trained workforce that produces goods and services for some of the largest multinational organizations in the world. This could be Bolivia someday.

Dr. Neil Orkin is president of Global Training Systems. His organization prepares corporate professionals for global business success. For more information, visit