Robert Kennedy once said that ripples of hope had the potential to produce a powerful current with a transformative impact on the world. Yesterday, those ripples of hope -- embodied in the voices of young leaders across the Western Hemisphere -- produced a powerful current that electrified the Americas.
In separate but mutually reinforcing events, President Obama launched the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) in Kingston, Jamaica, during a youth town hall; while 400 young leaders from 35 countries across the Americas participated in the Fourth Young Americas Forum during the Seventh Summit of the Americas in Panama City, Panama.
In Kingston, President Obama launched YLAI as a means develop joint business and civil society initiatives among emerging entrepreneurs and civil society activists across the Americas. YLAI builds on the successes of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) and the Young South East Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) and will incubate and accelerate the work of young business and civil society leaders from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the United States. There will be a fellowship component in addition to ongoing support through a continuum of networking, mentorship, and investment opportunities. A pilot program will be held at the end of this year, followed by 250 fellowships in 2016.
In Panama City, I personally witnessed 400 young leaders representing 35 countries across the Americas (including delegates from the United States and Cuba) engage in positive dialogue and meaningful discussion at the Young Americas Forum, demonstrating that young leaders from a diverse region can come together and find common cause. They heard from Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and regional leaders, including the Administrator from the U.S. Small Business Administration, Maria Contreras-Sweet; they engaged in discussions with one another about the challenges confronting youth across the Americas; and they produced a Youth Declaration of Commitments on a range of issues from education, security, environment, governance, and citizen participation that they will present to the leaders of the Americas. The Young Americas Forum, organized by the Young Americas Business Trust (YABT), is an official forum with the Framework of the Summit of the Americas and ensures that young voices are fully represented to heads of government.
Finally, contributing even more ripples to the current of youth engagement across the Americas is the continuing commitment of the U.S. Government to the 100,000 Strong in the Americas initiative, launched by President Obama in 2011 to foster region-wide prosperity in the Western Hemisphere by vastly increasing international exchange between the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean and Canada.
On a day that began for me with a brief visit to see the Panama Canal, a marvel of engineering and innovation that raises ships up and connects them across the Continental Divide of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the true inspiration came not from the ships, but from the voices of young leaders that reflect the hope and future of the Americas. The U.S. Government is happy to be a part of this inspiring energy.
About the Author: Andy Rabens serves as the Special Advisor for Global Youth Issues at the U.S. Department of State in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.