Telephonic Press Briefing on YLAI Professional Fellows

Telephonic Press Briefing on YLAI Professional Fellows
Sarah Heck, Director for Global Engagement, National Security Council, White House and
Gonzalo Gallegos, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy,
Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs,
U.S. Department of State

Washington, D.C.
Tuesday, August 30, 2016

MODERATOR: Greetings to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Media Hub of the Americas in Miami, Florida. I would like to welcome our callers who have dialed in from across the region. Today, we are joined by Sarah Heck, the Director for Global Engagement on the National Security Council at the White House and Gonzalo Gallegos, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. They are speaking to us from Washington, D.C.

We will begin with brief remarks from the Director for Global Engagement at the National Security Council, Sarah Heck, followed by remarks by Deputy Assistant Secretary Gonzalo Gallegos and then we will open it up to your questions. For those of you listening to the call in English, please press( *1) on your phone to join the question queue. If you are using a speaker phone, you may need to pick up a handset before entering (*1).

For those of you listening to the call in Spanish, you may submit your questions in Spanish via e-mail to Today’s call is on the record and with that I’ll turn it over to Ms. Sarah Heck.

SARAH HECK: Thank you so much Lydia. It’s great to be on the call with you all today and thank you for your interest. We are thrilled to be announcing the first class of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative Fellows that will be traveling to the United States later in the fall.

I’d like to talk to you a little bit about President Obama’s vision for youth engagement around the world and then I will ask DAS Gallegos to tell you a little bit more about the work that we’re specifically doing on this program but we’re thrilled that you all are interested in this and know that this is going to be a great partnership that goes forward.

President Obama has prioritized connecting with youth around the world since the beginning of the Administration. With over 50 percent of the world’s population under the age of 30 it’s important that we engage with this demographic because they’re engaged in helping solve global challenges that we all face across the hemisphere and around the world.

Unlike any other generation before them, this age group has access to the tools and technology that gives them the unique capacity to connect with one another, share their ideas and positively contribute to their communities. The US Government wants to build lasting relationships with this next generation through areas of mutual interest like entrepreneurship and education which is what YLAI is all about.

The U.S. Government youth programs aim to expose young people to the broad marketplace of ideas and enable them to create and contribute to a future with strong institutions, secure communities and thriving economies. President Obama started the Young Leaders Initiatives with the Young African Leaders Initiative in 2010. And since then we’ve been targeting promising young people in Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe and Latin America from across sector– private sector, public sector and nonprofit sector.

We want to connect them with the United States but also with their American counterparts and peers. While the length of participant’s time in the United States with these programs ranges depending on the program, all of these young leaders programs have three components. There is the educational exchange component, professional development experiences here in the US, there is always an online community that cultivates networks across borders that allows young people the tools to build experiences online and take action offline, as well as opportunities where they live in their own communities through grants, funding alumni communities, mentorship, et cetera.

In April 2015, President Obama launched the Young Leaders of the America s Initiatives (YLAI) to expand opportunities for emerging entrepreneurs and innovative civil society activists in Latin America and the Caribbean. It’s about shaping the way that we engage the hemisphere. We’re connecting in areas of mutual interest and working together to find solutions to shared problems across the hemisphere.

YLAI helps address the opportunity gap for youth by empowering entrepreneurs and civil society leaders with the training, tools, networks and resources they need to transform their communities into the future that they want to see. We focus on entrepreneurship for a YLAI because we know that entrepreneurship is the number one thing young people around the world want. In a CSIS International Youth Foundation Report that came out last year, it said that youth care the most about jobs, the chance to start their own business and high quality, relevant education.

In Latin America we’re seeing unemployment rates rising and particularly so for women and marginalized communities. We also know that limited job horizons are associated with increased crime rates and insecurity, which affects us all no matter what side of the border we’re on. Young people that are out of work and out of school often feel out of options. We want this program to help them gain the skills and provide new options for them, their communities and their countries.

Additionally we see a generation that is not just starting and scaling businesses, they’re also using the innovation to start ventures, for-profit ventures, nonprofit ventures, social profit enterprises that solve shared problems in issues that affect us all across the hemisphere. We know that not all good ideas come from one country and we need to find ways to connect more people with the good ideas to each other.

We’re taking a bet on the talent of the next generation with YLAI, that making sure that young people have the skills and tools and connections because they are taking action now and will continue to do so for years to come and help us all build a stronger hemisphere together. Thanks so much and I’ll turn it over to you, Gonzo.

DAS GALLEGOS: Thanks a lot, Sarah, I appreciate your attention today. This is a great opportunity to speak about a really substantial program that really fits the mold of what the President has been doing since the beginning of his Administration.

I know a lot of you have heard this before but the bottom line for us in this region is not what we, the United States can do for you all but what we the United States and you all can do together. And this is the type of program that really fits into that mold, this idea that we are going to find individuals, in this case specifically youth, who have the fervor and the desire to make changes to help them to develop processes, to provide them with mentors in the United States who can help them design their business plans and hone them so that they can grab a foothold in their own countries and move forward successfully.

The bottom line for us really in the Western Hemisphere is we are looking at a region that is middle class, secure and democratic and we know and understand after years of security programs that just developing police and security forces is simply not enough. We cannot arrest our way out of some of the problems in the region. And in reality what we have to focus on is this idea that we engage with people, create opportunities for work and that we provide a basis for employment and for opportunity so that people can work, move forward and create and resolve issues within their own countries.

And so many times we seek people that we can work with to do this and in this youth group, this youth bulge that we see in the region, because of their connectedness, because of their desire for change at this moment and because of the technology that happens to have all coincided at this time, we really believe that this is an opportunity to coordinate, to assist, to create the network that they’re looking to participate in and to help them to move forwards with their programs.

In April 2015, President Obama launched YLAI to expand opportunities for emerging entrepreneurs and innovative civil society activists in Latin America and the Caribbean. YLAI helps address the opportunity gap for youth, especially women, by empowering entrepreneurs and civil society leaders with the training, tools, networks and resources they need to transform their societies.

More than 3,800 businesses and social entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean applied this year and I think it’s important to note that we aren’t just looking for business entrepreneurs but also social entrepreneurs, the idea that people in their communities can develop programs that will help each other out, not simply for profit but for processes that will allow each and every one of them to advance in their society. And so a good percent of our YLAI participants this year are not just business entrepreneurs but social entrepreneurs who are devising methods and means to address problems in their communities that they’ll be able to work through.

It’s a six-week fellowship, fully funded by the United States and the fellows represent nearly every socioeconomic group in Latin America and the Caribbean in order to foster inclusiveness and diversity in the fellowship. In October the YLAI fellows will travel to the United States for six weeks, engaging in individual fellowships targeted to their interest. They will work with colleagues at American host institutions to develop a specific action plan aimed at accelerating the success of their commercial or social ventures.

The YLAI fellows will also take part in the YLAI Entrepreneurship Institute through online and in-person training and will cap off their experience in the US with a three-day summit in Washington DC where they will interact with top US Government officials and key private sector leaders.

I think it’s interesting, one of our examples that Sarah and I were discussing last week during a meeting about the program was we’ve got a beekeeper coming up from one of the countries who is actually going to work with a beekeeper in, I believe Alabama to talk about how to successfully improve their beekeeping operation and the opportunities that it provides.

We really were able to pick from a widespread of business opportunities and social opportunities. We believe that this is a really important aspect of what we’re doing to provide opportunities across the board. So with that, I think we’re ready to open it up for questions.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you Ms. Heck and Deputy Assistant Secretary Gallegos. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. For those of you asking questions on the English line, please limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing. And I’ll just remind you for those of you on the call in English, please press (*1) on your phone to join the question queue and if you’re using a speaker phone you’ll need to pick up the handset to press (*1).

Those of you listening in Spanish, you may submit your questions in Spanish via the e-mail address which you RSVP’ed. And we’re receiving questions in Spanish as well. We will actually start with the first question in Spanish and this one comes from Jessica Guzman from El Diario de Hoy in El Salvador. She is asking how much is the United States investing in the program and will there be economic support to help the fellows strengthen their businesses or implement their ideas upon return to their country?

DAS GALLEGOS: Sarah, do you have the bottom line number on this program for the 250?

MS. SARAH HECK: Sure. We’re happy to follow back up with a precise number but there is funding that comes from various parts of the US Government as with all of our young leaders programs, we don’t just think of it coming (from one source). It’s really a whole-government approach.

We have human resources and financial resources that come from not only the State Department and USAID, but expertise coming from the Small Business Administration, the Department of Commerce, especially with a program like this that’s focused on entrepreneurship, which is something that President Obama has really focused on throughout his administration.

We’re drawing on the expertise and the resources from across government. But I think it’s also important to note that we’re not just thinking about government resources. Because we have robust private sector interest in this, both in the US and also in Latin America, we’re working very hard to build those partnerships with private sector entities and nonprofit entities that are promoting entrepreneurship both business entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship as Gonzo talked about, to make sure that this is something that is an investment that communities across the hemisphere made.

And so we have been working with some great partners initially and will continue to do so to ensure that there are opportunities for a great project from somebody in El Salvador or in Argentina, Mexico or Guyana or Bolivia, that they have the financial resources, the skill resources and the mentorship resources to ensure that their business or venture thrives. So it’s really the bottom line number, we can work to get you but I think it’s a much more holistic view of how we’re making an investment in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, but also our youth initiatives across the board.

DAS GALLEGOS: Yes, Sarah, I appreciate you pointing that out. I think the bottom line is that it is hard to get to what the real bottom line number is when you include the volunteer support that we’re getting from the private sector herein the United States when you look at how this program is spread across multiple departments here in Washington. When you look at the fact that all the participants, everybody who applied, the 3,800 people who applied for the program, many of them opted into a YLAI network that is online in which we communicate with them and share information, ideas and opportunities and programming for them to participate in down the line.

It really becomes a much more expansive program than simply bringing 250 people up here, running them through a program and then sending them back to their home countries. In reality what we’re talking about is a dynamic that we feel is important to create a network that is truly functional and will benefit everybody who participates in.

MS. SARAH HECK: Yes, and for just a little perspective on the network, Gonzo, because I think it’s a really important point, we launched the YLAI network about three months ago and we already have 15,000 members that are working together online. Our other young leaders programs in different regions of the world that have been around a little bit longer but you can sort of see what the growth trajectory is. The Young African Leaders Initiative now has nearly 300,000 members that are young Africans that are working together on their initiatives. Our Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative which is about two and a half years old looking at an online network that’s 100,000 young people from across the ten ASEAN countries.

We know that this is a model that really works. There is a want and a yearn from young people around the world to be engaged and to find their peers that are also thinking about similar ideas, but also the need and desire to gain skills and opportunities. We are confident that over the years to come, this network will grow to be of equal or greater strength to their contemporaries across the world.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Just a reminder for those on the English call, you can press (*1) to join the question queue. The next question comes from the line of Velia Argucia from the Diario Metro in Nicaragua. And the question is how can this program help improve entrepreneurship in each country that has fellows and really across the region?

DAS GALLEGOS: Well, Velia, the important thing here is that we create the opportunity and we spur the effort for people to be creative, to see if they have an idea, how do they pull that idea together and how they coordinate and make contact and build clientele and effectively offer a service or product to people.

We think that it’s important even if it’s one person, to have them here, to help them out and we hope when they go back to Nicaragua that they will share that information, that they will be an example to others of how to do this and that they will begin their own network to start talking about how they can help each other there in Nicaragua to advance their businesses and social entrepreneurship.

MS. SARAH HECK: I would also just add to that that we have a lot of different entrepreneurship programs across the US Government and in partnership with folks outside of government that do really excellent entrepreneurship training. For example, while Meridian International is our primary partner, they’re working very closely with Entrepreneurs Organization which is a global organization that is devoted to ensuring that entrepreneurs around the world have the skills and training and networks to make their businesses thrive.

And so as a part of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative we have put together an online curriculum so everybody, all 250 fellows will have sort of this baseline training that is everything from how do you scale your business, how do you make sure that your finances are in order and obviously from country to country with different policies and different laws, not everything is applicable. But I think that that’s also part of what Gonzo is talking about, being creative and saying, “oh, this person in this country is doing that, I wonder if that would apply to me?” And then making sure that they’re plugged in with people that can continue to be mentors, both peer mentors and mentors who have gone before to help them as they scale their business, their enterprise or their social venture into the future. Because we know that entrepreneurs need support at every level in every stage, so whether or not they’re learning how to make a pitch to their investors, angel investors or series A, B or C round of investments from a venture capital firm or a larger business, or it’s someone that can talk to them about how you hire your employees 20 to 50 or even something larger, about how you go public or how you get bought.

We want to make sure that we give both the hard skills and the soft skills and the network to make that happen for them. So we really feel like this starts with an individual but it spreads to communities and countries and around the world. And we’ve seen this through many of our entrepreneurship programs, including Global Entrepreneurship Summit that the President started seven years ago and held in Silicon Valley this year.

MODERATOR: Great, the next question comes from Silvia Pisani from La Nación in Argentina and this is specific to Argentina but also opens a broader question, how many leaders were selected for Argentina and what kind of specialties, but also does the number of participants that are selected relate to a new and renovated relationship with the Macri government and looking broader, how does the selection of participants relate to the U.S. relationship with those countries?

DAS GALLEGOS: Well, let’s see, we have 10 from Argentina. Four of them were business entrepreneurs. Four of them were social entrepreneurs or civil society organization entrepreneurs. And two of them could be considered both, both of that. I think that when you look at the numbers there are a couple of countries with more than the 10 that we pulled from Argentina but the reality of it is of course that we 7 do have a new and substantial relationship with the Naukri government. We believe it’s important and we believe these kinds of opportunities are important to move forward with the relationship.

When we have opportunities to support the Argentine government, we do what we can. But if you look at the numbers, I think that they balance out in terms of sizes of the countries and how many participants from each came.

MS. SARAH HECK: And also just to add that all of these folks went through a fairly rigorous application process that their applications were reviewed not just by government officials but people with expertise in entrepreneurship and innovation. It’s a balance of things and how we choose folks but these are really sort of the crème de la crème of amazing — we had almost 4,000 applications as Gonzo pointed out and to have to choose 250 out of them really meant that we’re getting the top-notch folks.

OPERATOR: Thank you. The next question, Moderator, comes from the line, the English line of Tanuna Thomas from Nationwide News in Jamaica.

QUESTION: Great, I was able to ask this same question. How is the selection process done across the board?

DAS GALLEGOS: Well we went to our embassies and we spoke to our Public Affairs Offices who each of which have deep reach into the business communities, the education, the universities, the ministries and we asked them to reach out to contacts and to advertise for participants to register and to see if they would make a final grouping.

So it’s a pretty standard thing that we’ve done. Then the bottom line is as Sarah said, with the tremendous number that we had, what we really found was that by the time we got down to the 250 that we actually were able to get, mostly what we’re talking about really are people with some experience who had great ideas who have done some substantial work on their programs already. And who have a clear idea of the direction they want to take and are really looking for that final push to be able to be successful and to operate in their countries.

MODERATOR: Thank you, the next question comes from Francia Reyes from TVS Television Satelital in Honduras asking specifically about Honduras. And how many participants were selected and what stood out and who they are.

DAS GALLEGOS: From Honduras we had nine, six of them came from business entrepreneurship programs and three of them were social entrepreneurs, civil society organization entrepreneurships. They of course, Honduras is a country that we look to provide as much assistance as we can. We believe, especially based on our new Central America strategy not only is it important for us to assist in security matters in Central America but it is extremely important for us to work towards economic development opportunities.

When we look at Honduras, although a small country, we believed it was important for us to get a substantial number of groups and entities from that country. Our bottom line here really is that that is a country that really needs assistance; that we are working hard towards providing opportunities too and 8 that is part and parcel of the larger strategy that we are implementing throughout the region in terms of not just Honduras but the Northern Triangle and the other Central American regions as well. Economic opportunity is very important there to ensure that the youth in particular have alternatives to criminality and to engaging in other behavior.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

MS. SARAH HECK: Sorry, Lydia, I just wanted to point out that actually all of the bios of the chosen fellows are online through the Meridian International YLAI website so for those that have specific questions about who from their country is coming or who from the region to get a little bit more of a flavor of the organizations, businesses and social ventures that were chosen, there are great bios.

DAS GALLEGOS: Thanks, Sarah, you’re right and I do believe that most of the embassies, if they don’t already, will soon have their participants’ information up on their websites as well.

MS. SARAH HECK: Yes, if you go to you will see a button that says “Meet the YLAI fellows” and you’ll be able to see all of their bios.

MODERATOR: Okay we have another question from Alan Valdez from Periodico El Norte of Grupo Reforma in Mexico. And he’s asking what is the work plan for these young leaders during their five weeks in the United States and then what is the expected impact of the program when they come back to their communities?

DAS GALLEGOS: Well they, as I said before, they will do a session in Dallas first where they will get oriented and discuss the goals and objectives of the program. They will then go off for a six-week fellowship where they have been matched with entrepreneurs in the United States who are either working on similar programs as they are trying to develop or have experience in the type of programs that they’re able to develop.

During those matching, one of the most important aspects for them will be talking about the basics of starting up an operation, of financing, of scaling up the programming, of identifying opportunities there that you have. They will then meet back up in Washington DC where they’ll be in Washington right around the time of the election so they will wrap up the program there and then like we said, especially with the YLAI entrepreneurship website, what they’re going to be doing is this isn’t going to just be a one-and-done type program. We plan on maintaining contact with them through the YLAI website. We are hoping to coordinate visits to some of them from their mentors to their home countries and to continue providing information and opportunity to them via the YLAI website so that they can continue growing in the process, sharing their success and have a central location to build the network.

MS. SARAH HECK: I also think that they are changing something that’s near to some of our embassies, they’ll end up being mentors to some of their peers who are entrepreneurs or social entrepreneurs.

I think a really important aspect of this young leaders program is that this is actually a two-way exchange. We have set aside funding additionally for some of the Americans that the young Latin 9 American and Caribbean leaders will work with while they’re here in the United States, to travel to Latin America and the Caribbean later this year to continue to learn and grow.

So it’s really a program that is not just about Americans telling Latin Americans how they do what they do, but ensuring that it’s a two-way learning process and also a two-way network building process. We know that trade and investment crosses borders, especially with this generation, sort of this idea of border geography is much less. So we want to make sure that we’re seeing collaboration flow in all directions, both between Latin American and Caribbean countries but also with the United States.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from the line of Tanuna Thomas from Nationwide News in Jamaica.

QUESTION: I was going to ask about the Jamaicans, what it’s suggested is that it’s on the website, to know what sectors they’re coming from.

MODERATOR: Can we transfer to the speakers?

DAS GALLEGOS: My understanding is that she was going to ask about the participants but she knows she can find the information there on the website.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you. We have another question from a couple of journalists that are interested in the Mexican participants and any comments you have on those and specifically from Virginia Arenas from Periodico El Informador in Guadalajara, Mexico. How can young people who want to participate in the future apply for future programs?

DAS GALLEGOS: Well I think that the first thing they should do is sign up for the YLAI network so if they go to the website that Sarah mentioned, I think they’ll find an opportunity to register for that and we are hoping in the next year or so that we’ll be producing another program and that we will of course be providing information on that on the website.

MS. SARAH HECK: Yes, anyone that signs up for the YLAI network will get information about participation in online courses and opportunities as Gonzo said. Additionally when things are happening in their local country or communities through our embassies, they can receive information and then when the YLAI fellows’ application becomes available next year, there will be lots of advertising, et cetera. That is, as Gonzo said, the best way to be informed and then of course for people that want to know more broadly about the public diplomacy and entrepreneurship programs that we view across the hemisphere, our embassies are the node for that and there is lots of opportunity. Everything from YLAI but also our Fulbright programs and other things like that.

MODERATOR: Thank you. This question comes from Banis Encelnadas from the — sorry, that cut off, just a second. Her question is how were the numbers selected from each country and how did they decide how many would participate and is it based on the type of entrepreneurial activities that they are pursuing or on the country and then what is the investment in their personal projects?

DAS GALLEGOS: Well, I have to tell you, while we had a general idea of the numbers based on the size of the countries, because our belief was we would get a higher percentage from the bigger countries, in reality we had to wait and see what numbers we got from each country, what were the types of programs that were being offered. We took a keen look at the number of women, the number of men and we really sat down and had long talks about who should participate, the quality of the programs themselves and then what was the right mix that we were going to have based on not just what types of programs that they were looking to do but who were the people themselves who were trying to do them.

So it was not science inasmuch as we really took a hard look at what people had made themselves available and what were our ultimate goals in terms of a balance of business versus social entrepreneurship and then men and women. So those were all taken into consideration as we looked at the final numbers.

MODERATOR: Okay the next question is from the line of Luis Lopez Garcia from Nuestro Diario Sololá in Guatemala and his question is will this capacity building be done with the same group of people every year, year after year or are they looking to expand the number of people that benefit from this in each generation of participants?

DAS GALLEGOS: Well I think the key here is going to be who applies, what types of programs are they looking to do and as we put together what we consider a balanced program, I think that is where we’re ultimately going to see the final mix.

Our bottom line really became a good number of social and a good number of business entrepreneurs and then we took a look at the universe of people who applied and really that’s what’s going to be the determining factor each year as we look to put together each of the programs.

MS. SARAH HECK: But we won’t take the same people back year after year as with really all of our programs across public diplomacy and entrepreneurship. And especially our young leaders programs. The President’s goal is to really ensure that we are activating as many young people who are raising their hands to say I want to participate in programs like this where I gain the skills and the networks and the opportunities and the tools to continue to do the work that I do at a faster, more robust, more energized pace as a result of being part of these cohorts.

So while we will continue to have long-term relationships through programming that we do for our alumni additional things that happen in countries with this first class, the next class will be a new set of people that will join this growing network of young leaders across the Americas.

MODERATOR: Okay so we have finalized the time for questions and answer. Ms. Heck and Deputy Assistant Secretary Gallegos do you have any final words for the journalists on the line?

MS. SARAH HECK: I was just going to say that we’re very excited about this program at the White House. The President really sees this as a part of an emphasis throughout his eight years on ensuring 11 that young people have the tools to do greater things in their own communities. This is a generation that he believes is not waiting for somebody to tell them that they can take action, but is doing it now.

So we’re thrilled to expand the young leader initiative programming to the Americas, especially at this really important time with our policy relationship with many countries throughout the hemisphere and so we’re excited to continue to work with you all to tell the stories about young people that are doing amazing things for us all and solving many of the shared challenges we face.

DAS GALLEGOS: Sarah, I just wanted to add, I appreciate your interest and I hope that you all will follow up with stories on the participants in your country. I think not only are they very interesting people but they are really looking to solve difficult solutions throughout the region. And I believe that they’re going to be a great source for you all in the future in terms of stories and what’s happening in the business sector. So wishing you all the best and thank you.

MODERATOR: Thank you. This will conclude today’s call. I want to thank Sarah Heck and Gonzalo Gallegos for joining us and thank you to all of the callers for participating. We will send an English transcript to the participants by tomorrow and both the English and Spanish recordings will be available for 48 hours. Our operator will explain how to access those recordings and we will be in touch with you to get the information that you might not have been able to hear on the call. Thank you very much.