Questions and Answers on the President’s Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative


This could be a great opportunity for our young people across the Americas. [Many thanks to Sally Everson for bringing this item to our attention.] The U.S. Department of State writes: “Find out more about President Obama’s exciting new program to help young leaders in the Western Hemisphere build a brighter future.”

What is the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative?

The President’s Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) will be the United States’ premier exchange program in the hemisphere. Building on the success of similar young leader initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, YLAI will provide 250 fellowships each year, beginning in 2016, to enable participants from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States to develop joint business and civil society initiatives. The preponderance of the fellowship will take place at universities, incubators, and non-governmental organizations across the United States, while follow-on exchanges will send Americans to their counterparts’ countries to continue the collaboration. Fellows will receive ongoing support through a continuum of networking, mentorship, and investment opportunities.

Why is there a need for such an initiative?

Youth between the ages of fifteen and twenty four in Latin America and the Caribbean now number more than 100 million; in many of the region’s countries, more than 70 percent of the population is under 35. Significant challenges continue to hold youth in the region back from reaching their full potential, including limited access to jobs, capital, and advanced educational opportunities, and the continued presence of illicit alternatives. Young civil society activists, including social entrepreneurs, can also play a critical role in advancing the development of their countries, including in partnership with governments. However, they need additional tools, resources, connections, and know-how to play a stronger and more effective role in contributing to development, prosperity, and improved governance and rule of law in their societies.

What are the broad goals of YLAI?

The fellowship will develop the knowledge, skills, and networking capabilities of young leaders across the Western Hemisphere. Through the initiative, we will be able to significantly expand ties between the most promising entrepreneurs and civil society activists in Latin America and the Caribbean with their counterparts in the United States. As part of this effort, we will work with partners to build a more supportive entrepreneurial environment to facilitate increased youth entrepreneurship, particularly for innovation-driven, high growth startups. Finally, YLAI will help to create a more supportive environment for civil society, including social entrepreneurs across the Americas, and enhance civil society’s capacity to respond to citizens’ needs and expectations for greater development, improved governance, and stronger rule of law.

What will YLAI specifically accomplish?

Each year, starting in 2016, 250 fellows will have the opportunity to create and accelerate the growth of their businesses, start-ups, and civil society organizations, including social entrepreneurship ventures. YLAI aims to foster over 50 formal business and civil society partnerships each year between emerging entrepreneurial and civil society entities in Latin America and the Caribbean with their counterparts in the United States. As part of the President’s Spark Global Entrepreneurship initiative, YLAI will contribute to the United States’ global goal of generating $1 billion dollars for emerging business and social entrepreneurs by the end of 2017, by helping fellows attract new support, investments, and in-kind resources for their business or organization each year. For startup businesses, social enterprises, and civil society organizations, this infusion of funding, resources, and support will play a critical role in enabling their development, expansion, and sustainability.

What will the fellowship involve?

The fellowship will include six weeks of training, immersion at an incubator, accelerator, non-governmental, or civil society organization, and a summit to facilitate mentoring, networking, and investment opportunities. A summit in Washington, DC will provide participants with the opportunity to showcase their initiatives and attract investment, learn from others, network with leading figures in their field, and hear from the President and top business and civil society leaders. YLAI will provide participants returning to their countries or communities with access to virtual resources, training, mentoring, and most importantly, platforms to continue their collaboration. For example, participants will have the opportunity through embassy programs to expand their networks and share what they have gained from YLAI.

Who is eligible for a YLAI fellowship

Entrepreneurs or civil society activists between the ages of 21 and 35 will be eligible to apply. They will need to have already distinguished themselves as a leader in their field, and demonstrated a commitment to give back to their communities and continue to serve as leaders.

How can I apply for a YLAI fellowship?

Applicants to YLAI will be chosen from an open, competitive process. This will start by developing a proposal online to initiate or expand an entrepreneurial or civil society initiative between the United States and countries throughout the hemisphere. Proposals for participants to the program should focus on opportunities to build business, social, as well as academic ties between the United States and countries across the hemisphere. For example, a tech entrepreneur from Mexico could propose to collaborate on creating an app with a young entrepreneur in Seattle. An anti-gang activist in El Salvador could propose to develop fundraising campaigns with social entrepreneurs in New York. Interested applicants can sign up for updates on the fellowship on the YLAI ShareAmerica page.

What is the pilot program for YLAI?

A group of 24 participants will be selected by American embassies, including Cuba, in 2015 for the pilot program of the initiative. Participants in the pilot program will come from both entrepreneurship and civil society tracks. The pilot program will focus on the creation and expansion of business and civil society initiatives that utilize technology by embedding participants in incubators and accelerators across the United States. Participants will work on new technological applications that their host company or organization uses or seeks to develop.

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