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Vermont Works for Women hosts YLAI fellow from Colombia

News | Jul 19, 2022 | Back to List

By Jillian Scannell

VWW has participated as a host organization for the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) since 2017. YLAI is a program of the US Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that provides opportunities for young entrepreneurs and business owners from Latin America and the Caribbean to work with a US business or organization for four weeks. Through partnership and collaboration with the host organization, YLAI fellows learn strategies to address challenges to improve their enterprises back home.

Since 2017, VWW has hosted three amazing fellows from Peru, Canada, and Colombia who founded organizations that are working to educate, support, and advance women, creating opportunities for them despite the challenges of poverty and cultural norms that perpetuate gender bias. In 2018, one VWW staff member participated in a reverse exchange through YLAI and traveled to Peru to provide support and technical expertise to our fellow as she implemented VWW’s Women Can Do program in Lima, Peru. 

“What is so rich about the YLAI experience is that host organizations benefit just as much as the fellows, who bring a great deal of experience and knowledge. These relationships often continue even after the program concludes, creating ever-lasting networks and connections from which to learn, share, and grow. VWW’s relationship with our fellows has expanded our world view and given us new perspective and understanding of the issues that impact women globally.” 

-Alison Lamagna, VWW’s Director of Impact

Maria standing next to a program graduate holding a certificate
Maria with one of the graduates of her program

This year, VWW was excited to once again host a YLAI fellow, Maria del Mar Jaramillo Salcedo from Colombia. Maria is the co-founder and executive director of Fundacion Soy Oportunidad in Colombia, a program that offers empowerment, job training, and education to vulnerable single mothers. Twelve million women in Colombia are single mothers living in poverty. Maria works with these women to train them in skills that allow them to access remote work opportunities and feel empowered.   

While at VWW, Maria learned more about motivating and empowering women to pursue and find their dreams. From a very young age, women need to expand their possibilities to believe they deserve a better future. Maria supported our programs and led a workshop for the Viva el Sabor collective in Middlebury, a group of mostly women chefs and entrepreneurs from Latin America. The group discussed their dreams and how to organize their thoughts around business plans and finances. They really appreciated being able to talk about their business challenges in their own language. Upon returning to Colombia, Maria will begin developing a training program focused on working between mothers and daughters, so both generations can learn skills alongside one another, helping to break the cycle of poverty.  

Maria with members of the Viva el Sabor collective in Middlebury

“This is the first time in my life, that I feel I belong to a group of women willing to change women’s lives. It is the first time that I know an organization with such a genuine interest in sharing and teaching what they do, just for the fact of wanting to offer better opportunities for me and my work in Colombia. At VWW I found a wonderful team of talented women who don’t compete against each other. Everyone recognizes their qualities and supports each other to offer the best results to the women they support. I feel beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to come to this organization. Here I feel heard, I feel that my opinion is important and I hope to return so much love with a project that allows them to continue helping even more people in Vermont. They really gave me much more than I ever thought I would find and I can never thank them enough for that.”

– Maria del Mar Jaramillo Salcedo, YLAI Fellow

VWW staff meet with YLAI Fellows

During the four weeks, VWW staff also met with four other YLAI Fellows from Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, and El Salvador. Each young woman shared about how she was working in her country: distributing baby boxes and resources to families, designing and crafting goods, supporting women and families before, during and after pregnancy, and empowering female farmers to become crop suppliers. Several of the fellows mentioned how fortunate they had been to have family and financial support and shared their desire to provide that support to women who aren’t lucky enough to have it. VWW staff shared resources, offered advice, and connected the fellows with various partners and supporters in the community. We discussed ways to empower women, fundraising and storytelling techniques, and tools to track outcomes.  

We are grateful to be a part of this program and we wish Maria and all the other YLAI fellows success as they return to their countries to utilize what they have learned and continue making positive change. Stay up to date with Maria and Fundacion Soy Oportunidad.


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