“My First Day of YLAI” by YLAI Professional Fellow Ann-Sophie Ovile

YLAI Professional Fellows bond as a community during the Program Opening

Ann-Sophie at the YLAI Program Opening in Dallas, TX

Ann-Sophie Ovile is the Founder and CEO of Mennen’m La Tours in Haiti, and she is one of 248 fellows participating in 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 these 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.

Nina Vaca shares her story with the YLAI Professional Fellows

The day that we all have been waiting for has finally arrived! 248 young and dynamic entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean arrived in Dallas, Texas for the grand opening of the 2016 Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Professional Fellows Program.  On October 5, 2016, the young leaders gathered in the ballroom of the Crowne Plaza in Addison, Texas for what they thought would be an ordinary start to the program; however, the reality surpassed many expectations. In a room full of enthusiastic and brilliant change-makers, we learned from incredible speakers and were able to open our minds to the different ways this program can help us develop our businesses, social ventures, and startups.

Among them, we can talk about Nina Vaca, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Pinnacle Group.  Her mixture of humility and #girlboss attitude made a powerful impression on every single leader in the room. We can also mention Ambassador Stuart Holliday, President and CEO of Meridian International Center, who encouraged many of us to talk about people in our environment or family who have inspired us to be entrepreneurs. It is with very few dry eyes that we supported our new friend, Javette Nixon, from Jamaica as he was sharing his story.

The program opening has exceeded many expectations.  I have included reflections from my new YLAI colleagues below:

“I was excited about the program before arriving in Dallas, but this morning exceeded my expectations. Moving and inspiring stories from entrepreneurs across the region paired with warm greetings and compelling presentations from expert speakers made for a truly memorable start.” Latoya West-Blackwood, Jamaica

“I loved that the room and the speakers are clearly gender-balanced. Having Nina as the first entrepreneur who spoke to us was for me a powerful message about how much this program values women empowerment.” Liziane Dranka Silva, Brazil

“Today was a special opening day where we could notice the professionalism and seriousness of the program.  It’s time to enjoy and open your minds to success.” Jorge Mena, Costa Rica

“Today after the opening event I realize I’m at the exact place that I have to be and at the perfect time in history to become a woman entrepreneur.”  Jennifer Schell, Venezuela

YLAI Haiti

It seems like this kick-start did not only set the tone for the program, but also for something greater than ourselves. The community we are starting to build through this exchange is tightening bonds between young leaders from all across Latin America and the Caribbean. We all have our stories, our dreams, our accents, our cultures, and our backgrounds. One thing that we all have in common is the desire to be a piece of the puzzle that is a positive change for our communities.

In the profound words of Nina Vaca’s mother: “It is not about carrying the country on your back. It’s about doing your part.”

Follow YLAI on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the latest updates from our Fellows