YLAI participants join a network of alumni that help them grow their business back home. Photo: State Department

Atlanta will host a group of vetted entrepreneurs from across the Americas looking for feedback as they seek to solve business challenges across a range of industries. 

The Young Leaders of the Americas initiative, or YLAI, is a Western Hemisphere network similar to the prestigious U.S. State Department leadership programs focused on Africa and Southeast Asia that have brought hundreds of business, government and civil society to Atlanta. 

In each region, the selective programs choose the most outstanding young, mid-career professionals from large pools of applicants in parts of the emerging world where the U.S. seeks to extend its “soft-power” influence.  

Nationwide, the YLAI program will include participants from 37 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean who will visit 19 American cities including Atlanta. (Other host cities in the Southeast are to include Huntsville, Ala. and Charlotte, N.C., with Austin and Miami as other hosts in the southern part of the United States.)

The 14 Atlanta participants, who range from 25-35 years old, will receive coaching from local business leaders as they prepare to pitch a solution to a pressing problem within their business, with the goal of enhancing their venture when they return home. 

Over four weeks in the city, they will also be embedded within local organizations in the following sectors: 

  • educational tools and content teaching democracy
  • human rights advocacy
  • mental health services
  • sustainable clothing
  • health IT
  • SSI (self-sovereign identity)
  • youth empowerment
  • women’s health
  • environmental advocacy
  • sustainable skin care
  • music promotion

The winner of the pitch competition will be dubbed a “YLAI Ambassador” and will represent the Atlanta cohort nationally. 

Atlanta is no stranger to such elite programs. The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) have both landed here for many years, with participants experiencing a blend of civil rights, policy and business programming, depending on which university served as their host. 

Georgia State University, the University of Georgia and Clark Atlanta University have hosted 25 African leaders each for many years, giving Atlanta and Georgia the chance to shape leaders who return to their home countries energized by the experience and equipped with new networks, both among their cohorts and here in the Southeast U.S. Kennesaw State University held a recently expired three-year grant for Southeast Asia program. 

On this trip, the Latin American leaders won’t be tied to universities. Instead, their visits will be coordinated by IREX, a Washington-based operator of educational exchange programs. 

Locally, IREX will work with the Georgia Council of International Visitors, which also administers any leader visits to Georgia through the State’s International Visitor Leadership Program, or IVLP. 

GCIV is looking for coaches to help the participants practice and hone their pitches. 

Interested in helping YLAI Fellows in May 2023, or want more information about the YLAI program? Email GCIV Executive Director Emily O’Harris at emily@gciv.org. 

Learn more about the program from the U.S. State Department here. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...