News Americas, KINGSTON, Jamaica, Thurs. April 9, 2015: U.S. President Barack Obama today launched the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) in Kingston, Jamaica at the University of the West Indies before an audience of 350.

The goal is to expand opportunities for emerging entrepreneurs and civil society activists across the Caribbean and Central America.  Building on the success of the President’s young leader initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, YLAI will incubate and accelerate the work of young business and civil society leaders from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States.

YLAI will provide 250 fellowships each year to enable participants from the United States and the region to develop joint business and civil society initiatives.  The preponderance of the fellowships will take place at universities, incubators, and non-governmental organizations across the United States, while follow-on exchanges will send Americans to Latin America and the Caribbean to continue the collaboration.  YLAI fellows will receive ongoing support through a continuum of networking, mentorship, and investment opportunities.

Fifty-eight percent of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean is under 35.  Despite important economic gains over the last decade, significant challenges – including limited access to jobs, capital, and advanced educational opportunities, and the availability of illicit employment opportunities – hold many youth back from reaching their full potential.

YLAI will help 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 and contribute more fully to economic development and prosperity, security, human rights, and good governance in the hemisphere.

YLAI Goals: Connections, Co-Creation, and Contributing to Growth

Building linkages between young leaders across the hemisphere is a central objective of the initiative.  Through its fellowships, 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.

The YLAI Fellowship: Building Business and Social Innovations

The fellowship will include six weeks of training, immersion at an incubator, accelerator, or civil society organization, and a summit in Washington, D.C. to facilitate mentoring, networking, and investment opportunities.  The summit will provide participants with the opportunity to showcase their initiatives and attract new investments, learn from others, network with leading figures in their field, as well as hear from top business, government, and civil society leaders.  YLAI will provide participants returning to their countries and communities with access to virtual resources, training, mentoring, and, most importantly, platforms to continue their collaboration.  The first class of 250 fellows will begin in 2016.

The YLAI Pilot: Focus on Technology

YLAI will commence in 2015 with a pilot program involving 24 participants from Latin America and the Caribbean, including Cuba.  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.   American participants will also have the opportunity to travel to their counterparts’ countries as part of the pilot program.  Interested applicants can sign up for updates on the fellowship on the YLAI ShareAmerica page:  .

Increasing Investment in At-Risk Youth in Central America and the Caribbean

Promoting social development is a key aspect of the United States’ comprehensive approach to partnerships in the Western Hemisphere.  Achieving regional stability and long-term prosperity in the global economy depends on equipping youth with the skills they need to compete in the 21st century workforce.  There remains a significant need in Central America and the Caribbean for youth to access high quality education and vocational training.  Through $68 million in new funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Labor, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the United States is expanding education, training, and employment programs for youth throughout Central America and the Caribbean.

Starting this year, USAID will invest $35 million in a new higher education program designed to strengthen the capacity of technical training institutions in the region to provide market-relevant training for disadvantaged populations in Central America and the Caribbean.  This program builds on lessons learned from the $50 million initiative Scholarships for Education and Economic Development Program, a 2009 Summit of the Americas initiative, which provides scholarships to marginalized individuals for training opportunities in the United States.  Additionally, a $13 million Department of Labor program in El Salvador and Honduras will build partnerships with employers to develop market-relevant skills training for at-risk youth.  Through this project, young people will gain valuable skills in secure learning environments, in some cases living in a residential center while receiving training.  An extended period of follow-up support will help ensure they obtain and retain jobs, or can pursue opportunities for self-employment.  Finally, recognizing that low levels of human capital are a constraint on economic growth in Guatemala, MCC will launch this year a $20 million education project under its threshold agreement that will improve the quality, equity, and relevance of secondary education to better prepare the country’s diverse youth to succeed in the labor market.  The MCC program will also support efforts to mobilize additional resources from the Government of Guatemala that would allow increased public funding for education.  These initiatives complement the Multilateral Investment Fund and International Youth Foundation’s New Employment Opportunities Initiative, launched at the 2012 Summit of the Americas, to train one million youth in partnership with private sector organizations by 2022.

Building on Robust Investments in Youth and Entrepreneurship

These new efforts build on a strong foundation of United States’ support to and engagement with the region’s youth.  They also complement American programs working to advance the frontiers of entrepreneurship across the hemisphere.  The President’s 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative has helped to substantially increase the number of educational exchanges between the United States and countries in the region.  The number of students from across the Americas coming to study in the United States has increased by over thirteen percent since the start of the initiative.  The number of Americans studying in the hemisphere has risen by more than twelve percent in that time.  The 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative will help ensure that our region is the most competitive in the world, because of its ability to reach across borders to solve common problems and find new opportunities.

The Small Business Network of the Americas, launched by the President Obama in 2012, supports the establishment of small business development centers (SBDCs), incubators, and other community-based centers where entrepreneurs can get help to grow their business.  To date, the United States has assisted governments, universities, and local partners in creating 68 SBDCs, and 102 more are planned by 2016.  President Obama launched the Women Entrepreneurs in the Americas (WEAmericas) at the 2012 Summit of the Americas.  WEAmericas leverages public-private partnerships to encourage inclusive economic growth in the Western Hemisphere.  The initiative is reducing barriers and increasing opportunities for women entrepreneurs to start and grow small and medium-sized enterprises by improving access to markets, access to capital, skills and capacity building, and leadership opportunities.

The President wrapped his town hall meeting at 4:07 and worked the rope line for about 10 minutes as reggae music blared from the sound system. His  motorcade left the Mona Campus at 4:29 p.m.

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