“I am writing to you to tell you how grateful I am with you for all the support you gave me during my stay in Atlanta. Now that in my country I am applying what I learned in there. Thanks to the workshops and activities you organized for me I have gotten the tools I need to improve my venture and also to help my community. Let me tell you that my work was shown in two fashion magazines in my country and I have been nominated to the PESS Prize which will allow me to get money in order to invest in my company. Thank you for changing my life. GCIV is not only an organization but it is a place where dreams come true, a place which transforms lives and allow us to walk the extra mile. I hope to see you soon and I will be more than happy to help you next year if YLAI continues. Thanks Again for everything and for making me believe in me.”
YLAI Fellow, El Salvador
We first met as strangers on-line, through the YLAI Portal; then in-person, at the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Program Opening Summit in Dallas. It didn’t take long though for this group of 10, between the ages of 21 and 35, from 10 different countries and cultures including: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Venezuela, to become not only friends, but a family.
Out of close to 4,000 applicants, representing 35 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, only 250 innovative business and civil society entrepreneurs were selected to be the first cohort of YLAI Fellows. I was fortunate enough to serve as the GCIV program coordinator (and de facto mom!) for the 10 extraordinary young leaders chosen for Atlanta, one of only 21 City Hubs throughout the U.S. accepted for this prestigious program.
Arranging individual month-long local fellowship placements that closely aligned to the ventures that our YLAI Fellows have established in their home countries was one of the most challenging, yet ultimately most rewarding, aspects of the program. Researching possible matches, sending e-mail requests that did not sound like SPAM, phoning relentlessly to speak with someone to explain (and soften) the commitment, and refusing to take “no” for an answer when I was convinced this would be a great match, confirmed that they don’t call me “Schmoozy Suzy” for nothing!
Eventually, we did secure all 10 of our spectacular Fellowship Hosts, although it was a close call! One particular Host, Melissa Davis, CEO of Elev8 Hire Solutions, tried to politely decline several times. Ultimately, she reluctantly agreed, but fortunately, later commented, “I do appreciate you wearing me out and convincing me this was the right thing to do. Having Mariela [Melissa’s YLAI Fellow] was a highlight to my year and my team also greatly enjoyed her.” Melissa was not alone in her sentiments (regarding greatly enjoying serving as a Fellowship Host, and also being worn down by me!).
Had the fantastic fellowships been the only aspect of the YLAI Program, our Fellows would have been more than satisfied. However, the vast range of cultural, social, educational and networking opportunities that GCIV’s Global Partners, including The Rialto Theater at GA State University, The Coca Cola Company, Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport (HJAIA), The Mayor’s Office of International Affairs, City of Atlanta, The National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Regency Suites Hotel, and Kennesaw State University contributed to the success of the program cannot be understated.
Similarly, numerous Atlanta business and civil society leaders, such as: David Lefkovits of LEFKO Design + Build, Niche Digital Brands, and MyPoochFace.com; Marvin Banks of M. Banks Realty Partners; Rohit Malhotra of the Center for Civic Innovation; Ernesto Escobar of GA Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute; Rony Delgarde of Global Paint for Charity; Alrene Barr of HJAIA, Jen Ragland of The Coca Cola Company, and Mark Spratt of Cornerstone Investment Partners offered not only their expertise, but created incomparable opportunities for the YLAI Fellows to learn and enhance their skills. In addition, The Atlanta Chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization International, The World Affairs Council of Atlanta Young Leaders, and Books for Africa each generously welcomed our YLIA Fellows to their events and extended true southern hospitality!
In true Latin and Caribbean spirit, no matter how full their days, and how much they were juggling between their businesses at home and their fellowships here, the group still managed to conquer the town and discover all of the uniquely Atlanta attractions the city has to offer! More than their enthusiasm for the experience, however, what truly awed me about each Fellow was his/her heart, generosity, and sincere investment in one another, and an unwavering conviction to positively impact a rapidly changing world by taking on challenges like poverty, the environment, equal access to education, women’s empowerment, and human rights.
Echoing the words which President Obama spoke to a group of YLAI Fellows on November 19, 2016, (including four from the Atlanta cohort!) while in Lima, Peru during the final leg of his last overseas trip as president, “Across the world and across the Americas, young people are taking the lead. They’re seeing problems, they’re seeing injustice, and they are finding ways to take action… If you succeed, not only do your countries succeed, but the world succeeds. And I’m very excited to see all the great things you’re going to do in the future.” We couldn’t agree more!