In October 248 fellows met in Dallas Texas to kick of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Professional Fellows Program, which brings entrepreneurs and civil society leaders to the United States for a five-week program. This U.S. Department of State-sponsored program empowers young entrepreneurs to strengthen their capacity to launch and advance their entrepreneurial ideas and to effectively contribute to social and economic development in their communities.
Last week these 248 fellows gathered again in Washington, DC for the closing summit after spending four months in 21 different city hubs around the country were they were placed in diverse companies for their fellowship. I was lucky enough to work as part of the YLAI team for the summit as the YLAI intern and had the opportunity to meet all of these distinguished fellows. Throughout the week, each fellow I would meet would tell me about their projects and how they were changing their communities and countries. As a young Latin American myself, I was inspired by their passion and dedication to making the world a better place.
It made me think back to my eighteen year old self as I left Brazil to come to college in Washington, DC with dreams to study development to fight for a better educational system back home. With all the stress of our daily lives, it is easy to forget about your dreams and focus on the more tangible present. We are rarely encouraged to follow our dreams and it was not until I was listening to fellows talk about how they followed their own, oftentimes opening hands of profitable careers that I realized how little I had thought about mine these past 3 years.
I was out of touch with my dream, not because I was any less passionate about equal education for all in Brazil, but because with all the political and economic crises back home, it was hard to have an optimistic outlook. Many of my fellow Brazilian colleagues at the George Washington University had even given up going back and were looking for jobs here in the U.S instead. The sentiment was also similar back home. Every time I would tell a coworker at my summer internship in São Paulo that I lived in the U.S. they would tell me how smart and lucky I was to have left; only to look shocked when I would tell them I planned to return to the city after getting my diploma. The first time I did not get a surprised reaction to this statement was when talking to YLAI Fellows, they understood the need to fight for your community and to give back.
I want to thank all fellows for their perseverance and dedication to making Latin America a better place. They have not only inspired a young Brazilian student in Washington, DC, but judging by the awed faces of the pitch competition judges as they heard of the amazing projects the YLAI Fellows had created, they have inspired and continue to inspire many more. I wish the best of luck to all fellows in their ongoing endeavors. As President Obama, whose administration created our very own initiative, said let us never forget that “we are the change that we seek.” Thank you for all the fellows who will never let me forget that again.