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YLAI Fellows start program at Notre Dame

| Monday, October 1, 2018

Notre Dame welcomed 14 fellows Sept. 24 to the South Bend region as part of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Professional Fellows Program. During their four week-long stay, the fellows will create professional connections with each other and their respective host organizations and between their home countries by working with companies in the Michiana area and building entrepreneurial skills.

YLAI is a program for entrepreneurs from the Americas funded by the U.S. Department of State. Notre Dame is just one of 20 other universities and cities given the opportunity to host 14 out of the nationwide group of 244 fellows through a grant from the Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD).

“They can interact with students, interact with faculty and learn more about American culture as well as their culture and business,” program coordinator for NDIGD Jennifer Krauser said. “The University is being portrayed as wanting to work with the community and develop business relationships with these organizations. The program has created a nice community partner within this area that we reach out to beyond this program.”

The program was created on a federal level by the Obama administration as a unique outlet for diplomacy and to provide entrepreneurs from other countries an enriching experience both professionally and personally.

The program is in its third year at Notre Dame, and thus far the fellows have engaged with 40 companies and organizations such as Goodwill, United Way, Martin’s, Meals on Wheels, South Bend Police Department and South Bend Civic Theater. Over 3,000 fellows applied to the national program this year through their respective embassies and 244 were chosen to participate.

“They can take back what they learned to improve their own livelihoods,” Krauser said. “There’s a lot of talk within the University about educating the whole person and that speaks to the goals that the program has.”

Communications specialist for NDIGD Luis Ruuska said he believes that one of major benefits of the program is that the fellows are able to learn from successes and failures of the entrepreneurs they are working for; as a result, the fellows learn how to expand their business models and accomplish their professional goals.

“They can see the path that most established businesses have taken to get to that point,” Ruuska said. “That’s something they work on while they’re here. They work on a joint action plan with their host organizations with the idea that it will be established in the YLAI fellows’ organizations back home.

Beyond hands-on work in the companies that the fellows are working for, YLAI has cultural enrichment and opportunities for fellows to participate in.

At the opening reception for the 2018 YLAI professional fellows on Monday, the fellows had the chance to meet with the mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, and interact with current faculty and students to kick start developing leadership skills.

After spending four weeks at Notre Dame, fellows will unite with other fellows across the country in Washington, D.C. for the closing conference and networking event with public, private and nonprofit leaders in addition to government officials.

Another crucial goal of the program is to increase collaboration between the fellows and their American counterparts and also with each other. Consequently, engagement with the local region increases and a global exchange of ideas ensues.

“For the hosts, it’s an opportunity to get international perspectives and younger perspectives,” Ruuska said. “The YLAI fellows are a younger group, and that’s a huge benefit for the businesses.”

YLAI fellow Matías Ballón is completing his fellowship at the DePaul Academy in hopes of incorporating the expertise he learns here into his nonprofit organization Proyecto Alto Perú he has been running for ten years.

“I decided to participate in YLAI after my mentor told me that I should start participating in these kinds of awards, mainly because I’ve been working in the social sector for over ten years and it’s always good to be part of an international network and fellowship,” Ballón said. “We just started this week, but it’s been awesome. It’s really interesting to understand how things work here. I’m sure I will arrive [at home] motivated and with fresh ideas specially related to our methodology and how to improve it.”

The first three years of the YLAI program at Notre Dame were spent under one grant. The University hopes to apply for another grant to continue hosting the program and the bolster the mutual benefits between the school, town and fellows.

Ruuska emphasized that the effects of YLAI and other leadership initiatives NDIGD offers extend beyond just the fellows that come to South Bend back to their home communities and businesses. As a result, fellows have the resources to scale up their businesses and provide additional employment in their community.

“These exchange programs have a ripple effect,” Ruuska said. “The amount of people that are going to be affected through these 14 people is exponentially larger. Long term, the goal of this program is that these fellows will become leaders in a grander sense in their countries and will help lead in a political and civic sense. They will rise up and become the next generation of people to lead their countries to prosperity.”

The graduation ceremony and closing reception for the 2018 YLAI professional fellows will take place Oct. 17 at 5 p.m. at the Forum in Jenkins Nanovic Halls.

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