University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica- On April 9, 2015 at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica, President Obama announced the formation of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), an exchange program that will train, employ and educate young people throughout the Caribbean and Central America in partnership with the United States. The program will provide 250 fellowships per year to develop entrepreneurship, joint businesses and society initiatives.
President Obama spoke at a Youth Town Hall to an audience of students at the University of West Indies about YLAI. In near perfect Jamaican patois, he greeted the crowd, “Greetings massive. Wah gwaan Jamaica?”
He continued, citing the statistic that 58 percent of people in Caribbean are under the age of 35, a demographic that accounts for about 70 percent of Central America and the Caribbean’s population. Through YLAI, young people will have access to capital, mentors, and networks in the United States to develop their ideas.
“Through $68 million in new funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Labor, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the United States is expanding education, training, and employment programs for youth throughout Central America and the Caribbean.”
Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller welcomed President Obama to Jamaica on April 8, 2015. He was the first United States president to visit Jamaica in 30 years. Ronald Reagan is the only other president who has visited the country, which he did in 1982.
President Obama arrived with a delegation that included Secretary of the United States Department of Energy, Dr. Ernest Moniz. In a meeting between Jamaican Minister Paulwell and U.S. Secretary of Energy Moniz, the Governments of Jamaica and United States signed a statement of intent to develop natural gas and energy collaboration between the countries.
According to the Jamaica Observer, “The Government is aiming to have Jamaica identified as a possible hub allowing natural gas to be delivered to the rest of the region.”
In the White House press release, “YLAI 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.”
Jamaicans lined streets of Kingston to get sighting of President Obama’s motorcade. Jamaicans on social media shared photos and posted their excitement at Obama’s visit. The hashtag #ObamaInJamaica and #ObamainJA trended throughout Jamaican diaspora.
— celestial (@desliac) April 9, 2015
The youth and promise for the future was one of the main reasons the President visited Jamaica. In his speech, he pointed out two young leaders from Jamaica. First he acknowledged Angeline Jackson, a LGBT global activist who founded an organization that empowers women.
To hear the first black President of the United States say your name!!!!!! OOOOMMMMGGGGG!!!!! AAAAAAHHHH!!!! Me couldn’t stand up good.
— Angeline Jackson (@angie_jangel) April 9, 2015
President Obama left Jamaica on Thursday, April 9 to attend the seventh annual Summit of the Americas, held April 10-11, 2015 in Panama.
The White House press release following the event said “YLAI will help to create a more supportive environment for civil society, including social entrepreneurs across the Americas, and enhance civil society’s capacity to respond to citizens’ needs and expectations for greater development, improved governance, and stronger rule of law.”
YLAI will be a six-week program with an initial pilot program of 24 participants from Latin America and the Caribbean, including Cuba. Applications for YLAI will begin in 2016.
For more information about YLAI visit Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative