Q&A on the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative

Find out more about this exciting program to help young leaders in the Western Hemisphere build brighter futures.

What is it?

The 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 and the Caribbean — to develop joint business and social entrepreneurship initiatives. The work is done at universities, incubators and nongovernmental 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 the opportunity to expand their leadership and entrepreneurial skills with their U.S. counterparts.

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.

Many members 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 the 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 works with partners to build a supportive environment to facilitate entrepreneurship, particularly for innovation-driven, high-growth startups by young people. Finally, YLAI supports 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. This program is open to young entrepreneurs 25–35 years of age. They are selected for participation via a competitive application process. 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. YLAI will help fellows attract new support, investments and in-kind resources for their businesses or organizations. For startup businesses, social enterprises and civil society organizations, the infusion of funding, resources and support will play a critical role in enabling their growth.

What exactly does the fellowship involve?

The fellowship includes:

  • Five weeks of training.
  • Immersion at an incubator, accelerator or civil society organization.
  • A forum to facilitate mentoring, networking and attracting investment.
  • 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 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 important, with platforms to continue their collaboration. For example, participants will have the opportunity through U.S. Embassy programs to expand their networks and share what they have gained from the fellowship with the broader YLAI Network.

To apply and learn more about eligibility requirements for the fellowship, visit ylai.state.gov/fellowship.