Connecting entrepreneurs in the Americas to networks in the U.S.

The Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Fellowship Program will bring together 260 business and social entrepreneurs from Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada for a virtual fellowship. From January to April 2021, fellows will complete the customized YLAI entrepreneurial curriculum, work with a U.S. host organization and collaborate with U.S. mentors to address shared business challenges.

The fellows represent 37 countries throughout the Western Hemisphere. They work in diverse industries including agriculture, clean energy, e-commerce, education, food and beverage, health care, hospitality, marketing and branding.

What is it?

YLAI is the United States’ premier exchange program for young entrepreneurial leaders in the hemisphere. Launched in 2015, YLAI provides up to 280 fellowships each year to enable participants from Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada and the United States to develop joint business and social entrepreneurship initiatives. The work is done at universities; incubators; small, medium and large businesses; and nongovernmental organizations across the United States, while follow-on exchanges will facilitate continued collaboration with their counterparts’ countries. In addition to the networking and mentorship experience, fellows receive the opportunity to expand their leadership and entrepreneurial skills with their U.S. counterparts.

What is the YLAI Network?

The YLAI Network is a community of over 49,000 young entrepreneurs, changemakers and aspiring leaders from Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada. 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 organizations, 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.

YLAI logo (State Dept.)
(State Dept.)

Why was YLAI launched?

In many of the region’s countries, 70% of the population is under 35. Yet many in this large generation have limited access to jobs, capital or advanced educational opportunities, and face the persistent lure of illicit alternatives. Young activists and business owners, 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 business and social entrepreneurs in Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada 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, up to 280 fellows 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 new partnerships among emerging entrepreneurial and civil society leaders in Latin America, the Caribbean, Canada and the United States. YLAI helps 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?

Please note that if safe travel is not possible at the time of the YLAI Fellowship Program, this program will be conducted virtually.

  • Four-week professional placement: In cities across the United States, YLAI fellows gain valuable professional development skills and experience at U.S. entrepreneurial organizations from the fellow’s business sector. Fellows will collaborate with their placement host on their Entrepreneurial Leadership Action Plan (E-LAP), which the fellows will implement upon return to their home countries.
  • YLAI Entrepreneurial Leadership Curriculum: The YLAI Fellowship Program includes online and in-person coursework, developed by IREX and Arizona State University (ASU), that combines technical entrepreneurship training and leadership development. Using the E-LAP, fellows will set and achieve their entrepreneurial leadership goals.
  • U.S. orientation and YLAI closing forum in the United States: YLAI fellows participate in the U.S. orientation in Tempe, Arizona, and YLAI closing forum in Washington, as well as networking events with businesses and social entrepreneurial leaders, and U.S. government representatives.
  • Post-fellowship sustained engagement: After successful completion of the fellowship, YLAI fellows continue their collaboration with U.S. partners and have access to ongoing professional development opportunities, mentorships, networking and alumni activities. YLAI fellows will have the chance to welcome a U.S. host to their country through the Outbound Exchange Program, sharing their expertise on the entrepreneurship climate in their country.

To apply and learn more about eligibility requirements for the fellowship, visit

This article was originally published February 5, 2018.