As a new intern and a young professional in the making, one is always made aware of the multiple networking opportunities that arise in any given environment. We are encouraged to network, to update our LinkedIn profiles, and make eye contact when firmly shaking people’s hands. Flash forward a month into my summer experience interning for Meridian’s Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), I have learned the true value of creating a network. Needless to say, my networking awareness was not exclusively informed by my peers, colleagues, or from my fellow interns. Rather, it came from reading more than 300 applications out of the 3,800 Meridian received for its 2016 cohort. YLAI’s mission seeks to empower 250 social and business entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean through a four week fellowship in the U.S. During this time, the participants are paired with a fellowship host from a U.S based company with the goal of gaining valuable professional development skills to advance their own entrepreneurial ventures. The fellowship is then followed by an Entrepreneurship Summit in Washington D.C. For the application process, prospective fellows were asked a number of short answer questions and were required to submit their business plans and resumes. During the selection phase I was able to read some of these responses and I was surprised to see the extent to which candidates valued the networking opportunities that resulted from participating in the fellowship. Most commonly, the prospective fellows referenced the importance of seeking cross-regional solutions for the common problems that entrepreneurs are either facing or trying to address. Working on the selection process as a young Latin American woman allows me to see both the tangible potential in the prospective candidates and the complexity involved in the creation of programs that bring together 250 leaders from different backgrounds, and are at different stages of their venture development. Nonetheless, it is truly humbling to see so many individuals engaged and committed to the improvement of the region, as their business and social projects reflect. I am certain that the chosen finalists, once they have completed the program, will return to their respective countries with an expanded network to continue building the social fabric of their own communities. After all, I am sure that these young entrepreneurs from Latin America and the Caribbean do not lack the charisma needed to establish the links to create both a support and feedback system. As for myself, after this stage of the selection process, it is hard to not think of all of my personal interactions with my peers at Meridian, classmates and other acquaintances in Washington DC as a networking opportunity. The confidence that prospective YLAI fellows have vested on their expanding network highlights the importance of citizen diplomacy and how important it is to forge human connections, before even thinking about sponsorships or funding.
YLAI Professional Fellows Program 2016