Photo Source: ylai.state.gov

Photo Source: ylai.state.gov

The day was June 9th. I was looking forward to this day to be able to review the applications of President Obama’s Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative(YLAI). YLAI is a program that seeks to address the opportunity gap for youth, especially women by empowering them and other civil society leaders to enhance economic development, human rights, security, etc. in the region.

Unless you have the chance to go through the applications, you don’t know what “potential of the youth” and YLAI really mean. Lots of great ideas both in untapped markets and new areas of development, that show positive signs of prosperity that is soon to come.

I must quote what Rachel Jacobs, a Post-doctoral Scientist at George Washington University, who was also reviewing the applications said about the YLAI. Her research focuses on genetic, behavioral, and ecological variation in wild primates, with particular emphasis on the lemurs of Madagascar:

“I was not familiar with Atlas Corps or the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) until a friend sent me a link on Facebook about the Evening of Service event. I read a little more about the mission of YLAI, as well as that of Atlas Corps, and I knew I wanted to volunteer. I have worked extensively abroad and understand the impact that such an experience can have in a young person’s life. I know in my own career, working and training abroad was essential in my development as a primatologist. Unfortunately, such opportunities are not available to many young people around the world. I was thrilled to learn that Atlas Corps and YLAI are working to provide these opportunities. These programs are helping to develop and empower young leaders all over the world. I left the Evening of Service event with a feeling of hope, and I was grateful for the chance to participate in the event and learn about these incredible programs.”

Keep reading, as I share my learning outcomes from reviewing the applications below!

The learning outcomes that I had from reviewing the applications:

  1. The Youth want to work as the Catalyst of change – You can be an engineer, an economist, a philanthropist, a government official, an entrepreneur, a social scientist but you can bring social change if you just want to. It is your eagerness that can show you the path. If you just have the guts to apply in a program like the YLAI you can make it happen – the program is designed to help you build your capacity and find your way out.
  2. They are aware of the learning outcomes and values gained from US State Department’s International Exchange Programs – The international exchange program like the YLAI or Atlas Corps Fellowship gives immense opportunity to the young people to immerse themselves in the culture of the United States and to gain different perspectives. International Exchange Alumni in the State-Dept supported programs naturally gain a lot of confidence, get access to network, and hone their leadership skills that enable them to go back to their home countries and make positive changes in their own countries’ economic development and supporting the Sustainable Development Goals. In is interesting to note that after the alums go back to their home countries, a lot of different organizations recognize them  for having added new and relevant professional skills in their career arsenal.
  3. They understand what it means to step out of their comfort zones – As it turned out from reading the applications, they were truly ambitious in learning from other participants from other countries besides the program itself. Although the entrepreneurial experiences varied, they were all equally excited to learn the tools by participating in this program, they couldn’t wait to go back to their countries and implement the learning outcomes ! Certainly, prior experiences in jobs, entrepreneurial ventures, or living abroad help to extract the optimum learning output but the program is designed in such a way that one can also start from the beginning! Prior to my Atlas Corps Fellowship, I did not have the experience of living abroad (although I have been to short trips to other leadership programs). I have learned first-hand what it means to immerse yourself in a totally new place and learning opportunity!
  4. They understand the Potential of the Young People to contribute to the country’s GDP – The young people are patriotic and want to manifest their urge to develop the economy which is reflected through the country’s GDP in the long run.  Immense potential of the youth to tap the untapped market was highly recognized not only by the youth but also by the various stakeholders within and outside the countries. The beauty of this program (like other programs of the White House such as the Atlas Corps Fellowship) is that you get the opportunity to touch a whole new market segment. Be it a social venture or not, your application says the whole story about your interest to tap the untouched sector of your economy or you want to do it in a whole new form.
  5. The youth of the Caribbean have come equipped with the work experiences from varied industries regardless of their academic background – As I found out from the applications, the applicants were open to new experiences all the times in their past and also came from a diverse educational experience. This does not necessarily mean that you would have to be successful in all the new things that you tried. But the key IS to go out of the comfort zone and try out new things.

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