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Q&A on the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative
August 29, 2016

President Obama Speaks

Find out more about President Obama’s exciting new program to help young leaders in the Western Hemisphere build brighter futures.

What is it?

The president’s Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, or YLAI, is the United States’ premier exchange program in the hemisphere. Launched in 2016, YLAI provides 250 fellowships each year to enable Latinos — from Latin America, the Caribbean and the U.S. — to develop joint business and civil society initiatives. The work is done at universities, incubators and non-governmental organizations across the U.S., while follow-on exchanges will send Americans to their counterparts’ countries to continue the collaboration. In addition to the networking and mentorship built into the experience, fellows receive investment opportunities.

What is the YLAI Network?

The Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative Network, or YLAI Network, is a community of thousands of young entrepreneurs, changemakers and aspiring leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean. Anyone interested in acquiring the tools and connections to foster positive change at work, in the community or even across a country can join the YLAI Network.

Members are primarily between the ages of 21-35. Many are thinking about starting their own businesses or organization, and many have already done so and are ready to grow. They connect with experts across the region and share ideas for developing their businesses and helping their societies. Members access digital content, interactive chats, events, and tips on leadership, entrepreneurship and other topics.

Why was YLAI launched?

Youth (ages 15-24) in Latin America and the Caribbean now number more than 100 million. In many of the region’s countries, 70 percent of the population is under 35. Yet for this large generation, young adulthood comes with limited access to jobs, capital or advanced educational opportunities, along with a persistent lure of illicit alternatives. Young activists, including social entrepreneurs, can play a critical role in improving their countries, including in partnership with governments. However, they need additional tools and connections to each other and to mentors to effectively boost prosperity and improve governance and rule of law in their societies.

What are YLAI’s specific goals?

YLAI aims to develop the knowledge, skills and networking capabilities of young leaders across the Western Hemisphere. The initiative also seeks to expand ties among the most promising entrepreneurs and civil society activists in Latin America and the Caribbean with their U.S. counterparts. As part of this effort, YLAI will work with partners to build a supportive environment to facilitate entrepreneurship, particularly for innovation-driven, high-growth startups by young people. Finally, YLAI will support civil society, especially social entrepreneurs across the Americas, in order to shore up society’s response to citizens’ expectations for greater development, improved governance and stronger rule of law.

What will YLAI  accomplish?

Each year, 250 fellows will have the opportunity to create or accelerate the growth of their businesses or 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 U.S. 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 businesses or organizations 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 growth.

What exactly does the fellowship involve?

The fellowship includes

  • six weeks of training;
  • immersion at an incubator, accelerator, non-governmental or civil society organization;
  • a summit to facilitate mentoring, networking and attracting investment; and
  • a summit in Washington for participants 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 also provides 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 the fellowship with the broader YLAI Network.

What was the YLAI pilot program?

In 2015, American embassies, including the embassy in Cuba, selected a group of 24 participants for the pilot program of the initiative. Participants in the pilot program came from both small businesses and civil-society organizations. The pilot focused on the creation and expansion of business and civil society initiatives that use technology. Participants worked in incubators and accelerators across the U.S. They worked on new, high-tech applications used by their host companies or organizations.