From YALI to YLAI, Obama's youth tour continues

U.S. President Barack Obama at a town hall meeting during the 2014 Young African Leaders Initiative Summit. Photo by: Presidential Precinct

U.S. President Barack Obama is taking his youth initiative model on the road — this week, to Jamaica.

On Thursday, Obama launched the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, which closely resembles the Young African Leaders Initiative he launched in 2010.

The Latin American version of the youth leadership development program will begin in 2016, with a fellowship class of 250 young entrepreneurs and civil society leaders. The fellowship includes six weeks of training and “immersion at an incubator, accelerator or civil society organization,” and, as with the U.S.-African Leaders Summit last year, will bring fellows to Washington, D.C., for additional exposure.

While Africa’s youth boom has perhaps garnered more attention, Latin America’s demographics are similar: Fifty-eight percent of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean are under 35, compared to roughly 60 percent in Africa. In both initiatives, spurring entrepreneurship is a focus.

The fellowship 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,” according to the White House.

The U.S. Agency for International Development will commit $35 million 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.”

Notably, a pilot program commencing this year will include participants from Cuba. Cuban President Raúl Castro is representing the island nation at the Summit of the Americas this week — the first meeting between the U.S. and Cuban heads of state since their agreement to normalize relations late last year.

Whether normalization with Cuba will include any U.S. foreign assistance to the Caribbean country remains unclear. Past efforts by U.S. aid agencies to support democracy and civil society in Cuba, like an ill-fated social media scheme called “ZunZuneo,” have garnered widespread criticism and condemnation, both from Cuban officials and U.S. lawmakers.

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    Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.