Melanie Ozbun, a team lead manager at Goodwill on Muncie's south side, talks with a colleague and Jose Reyes, a fellow in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative.

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne aspires to develop a chain of sustainability-minded juice bars in his native Costa Rica. Another, from Trinidad and Tobago, has an MBA and uses theater and dance to cultivate teamwork among young people.

Both are among 10 young business and social entrepreneurs from nine Latin American and Caribbean nations who are visiting Ball State as part of a fellowship program the White House launched earlier this year.

Photo shows Ignacio Cubero, a fellow in the Young Leaders of the Americas program.

Ignacio Cubero, a fellow in the Young Leaders of the Americas program at Ball State, wants to expand his juice bar business in Costa Rica into a chain.

The Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI), which is sponsoring 250 participants in 21 cities nationwide this fall, is designed to stem an opportunity gap in participants’ home countries by providing training, resources and professional connections they might otherwise not receive. Those come in the form of skills-building workshops and the chance to shadow business and community leaders.

The program’s local participants, who arrived Oct. 8 for a four-week stay, are being hosted by the university’s Center for International Development and have been paired with organizations such as Muncie Public Libraries, Goodwill Industries and the accounting firm Whitinger & Co.

Ignacio Cubero, the juice bar entrepreneur, is spending time working with Second Harvest Food Bank. The name of his company, Zero Army, is a nod both to Costa Rica’s nearly seven decades without a military and his goal of achieving zero waste in his business.

“We’re trying to educate people about the effects of the retail industry on food waste,” said Cubero, “and we aim to be environmentally responsible — serving our smoothies in (glass) glasses, for example.

“I feel that, by coming here, I can learn a lot about the American way of doing business that might be applicable to my business,” he continued. “To our country and many others, it is still the American way of doing business that sets the standard for business practices around the world.”

Nelicia Adams, from Trinidad and Tobago, is attending the initiative because she wants her dance and theater arts school, Caribbean Youth Development Network, to survive long-term.

“The two main things I hope to take away from YLAI is to create a plan to make Caribbean Youth sustainable,” she said. “I also want to exchange ideas and contacts with the other young business owners who are participating in the initiative.”

Nelicia Adams talks with Monique Armstrong.

Young Leaders of the Americas fellow Nelicia Adams (right), of the Caribbean nation Trinidad and Tobago, talks with Monique Armstrong, her program mentor. Armstrong is also executive director of Muncie-based Motivate Our Minds, which works with children after school and during the summer.

Adams, Cubero and the other participants are spending Mondays through Thursdays working at their host businesses and organizations. Fridays involve sessions on strategic venture planning, many of which are led by Muncie business owners and managers. The fellows are also taking part in training sessions at the Muncie-based Innovation Connector, which provides aspiring entrepreneurs start-up assistance and resources, led by executive director and Miller College of Business management instructor, Ted Baker.

The fellows will give presentations about their plans before a panel of judges Nov. 4 at the Alumni Center. One fellow will be selected to compete the following week at the initiative’s national summit in Washington, D.C.

The Young Leaders program, which will return to Muncie and Ball State in 2017 and 2018, is sponsored by the U.S. State Department and managed by Meridian International Center, a Washington-based public diplomacy organization.

Meridian reached out to Ball State about helping Muncie be a host city, based on similar partnerships in recent years with the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program and the Pan-Africa Youth Leadership Program.

And for all the benefits the Young America fellows receive, one organizer noted, the program’s presence helps Ball State and Muncie.

“I think having successful entrepreneurs from nine different countries partnered with local businesses is an excellent way for Ball State to help in globalizing the community,” said Hanna DelaGardelle, project coordinator for Ball State’s Center for International Development. “There are benefits to both the fellows and the area businesses participating.”

Magazine editor Christopher Rickett contributed to this story.

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