Remarks by President Obama at YLAI Town Hall

Remarks by President Obama at YLAI Town Hall

15156778_10154662075682777_8912219502132400933_oPontifical Catholic University of Peru

Lima, Peru

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Hola Peru!  (Applause.)  Asu!  Muchas gracias.  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Thank you, Cyntia, for your kind words and your great work here in Peru in bringing people together across generations to meet challenges.  Please give Cyntia a big round of applause for the great introduction.  (Applause.)

So it is wonderful to be here in Peru.  I want to thank everybody at Catholic University of Peru for hosting us.  (Applause.)  I want to thank the government and the people of this beautiful country for your hospitality.


PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I love you, too!  (Applause.)

So, while I’m here, I’m hoping to enjoy some good food — some pollo a la brasa.  (Applause.)  Maybe a pisco sour.  But I will not be attempting the Marinera — (applause) — because I usually leave the dancing to my wife, Michelle.  (Laughter.)  She’s a better dancer than me.

But I want to thank all of you for being here — our Young Leaders of America, both live and online, representing every country in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Now, this is my final stop on my final trip abroad as President of the United States.  And I’ve had the usual meetings with world leaders, and we’ve done important business.  But whenever I travel, one of the things that I’ve been trying to do for the last eight years is to meet with young people.  First of all, young people are more fun than old people.  (Laughter.)  Second, because today more than half of the world’s population is 30 or younger.  And that means your generation will determine the course of our future — as individual nations and as a global community.  Now, the good news is, because I’ve had a chance to meet so many young people around the world, it makes me very optimistic to know that you are going to be in charge.  And that’s why I wanted my last public event abroad to be with you.

I often say to young people in my own country:  If you had to be born at any time in human history, it would be right now.  If you think about all the progress that’s been made, not just in your lifetimes, but even in the last few years, fewer people than ever around the world live in extreme poverty.  Scientific breakthroughs are paving the way for cures to new diseases.  More children are going to school; more girls in particular are going to school than ever before.  People across the world are securing their human rights.  And technology has reshaped the world, as you can tell, because everybody has their phones.  (Laughter.)  At a time when Earth is now populated by more cell phones than people, you have the power to connect with each other across borders, across nations.  You have the tools in your hand to solve problems that we couldn’t even imagine when I was your age.

Now, even as we make all these important strides in advancing the rights of more people, even as technology brings us closer together, this unprecedented change also brings challenges.  We see it in the widening gap between the rich and the poor around the world.  We see it in the forces of extremism and division that too often tear communities apart.  So the question for all of us is, how can we make sure that in this rapidly changing world, nobody is left behind and that all of us are stronger and more prosperous?

So over the last eight years as President, I’ve worked to strengthen our relationship with the Americas.  We’re more than just neighbors — we’re linked by trade and culture, and family and values.  Our students study in each other’s countries.  Our businesses sell goods across borders.  Our tourists travel back and forth.  And we’ve moved beyond many of the old arguments to create a new vision for the future — one that your generation, which is liberated from old ways of thinking, can lead.

During my presidency, the United States recommitted itself to the region, in partnership with your countries, based on mutual interests and mutual respect.  We increased trade.  We stood up for democracy and human rights, fought against corruption and organized crime.  We’ve promoted clean energy.   We’ve led the global fight against climate change.  We opened a new relationship with Cuba.

I strongly believe that this work has to be done with governments, but it’s even more important that it’s done by people — because government is important, but it can’t solve every problem.  So we have to work together at a people-to-people level — teachers, and doctors, and students, and entrepreneurs, and religious leaders — all trying to find ways in which we can promote those values of dignity and humanity and respect that so often are threatened.

And that’s why we developed this Young Leaders Initiative.  Our goal is to find the most innovative young entrepreneurs, the most energetic civil society leaders like you, and help empower you with the training, and tools and connections so you can make a difference in your communities and your countries.  This network already has 20,000 people.  This fall, we welcomed the first class of 250 YLAI Fellows to the United States.  (Applause.)  This is just 100 of them.  They’re from every country across the Americas.

We want to help — (applause) — so we want to help this generation with grants, seed funding, skills training.  Today, I’m announcing the launch of the Latin American and Caribbean Civil Society Innovation Initiative Hub, which is a way to virtually connect civil society organizations across the region so you can learn from each other, share your good work, support each other.  We’re investing $40 million in the talents and entrepreneurship of young people across the Caribbean to help start your own businesses and ventures.  We’re opening what we call the Global Innovation Exchange so that you can showcase your new business or enterprise to people around the world, and that way you can connect and hopefully get resources that you otherwise didn’t have.

And we’re moving ahead with more education partnerships, like the 100,000 Strong in the Americas.  By the end of the decade, we want 100,000 U.S. students studying in the Americas, and 100,000 students from the Americas studying in the United States.  (Applause.)  And today, we’re announcing a partnership between the U.S. Department of State, Sempra, and CAF, which is Latin America’s development bank, to fund the first Innovation Fund competition exclusively between Peruvian and U.S. colleges and universities so students can come together to work on climate change and environmental science.  (Applause.)

So we’re focused on the hemisphere, we’re focused on the region.  But it’s more than just North America, South America.  You’re now part of a global network of young leaders from Africa, Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas who are doing amazing work in their own communities.  And while my time as U.S. President is coming to an end, this network is just beginning — it’s never been more important.  We need you to stay connected, work together, learn from each other, so we can build that next generation of leadership who can take on challenges like climate change and poverty, can help grow our economies, make sure that women get opportunity.  (Applause.)  Make sure that every child, wherever they live, has a chance to build a good life.

And I’m going to just give you some examples of the amazing people that are involved in this process.  We need leaders like Dr. Valéry Moise.  As a young doctor in Haiti, Valéry saw firsthand how issues like acute malnutrition — hunger — affected the poorest children in his country.  So he and a team of social workers and doctors started an organization called Diagnostik Group, which focuses on improving health care for abandoned children at the largest pediatric hospital in Haiti.  His goal is for the group to become the standard for pediatric care and to expand so that he can reach even more children across Haiti.  So thank you, Valéry, for the great work that you are doing.  (Applause.)

We need leaders like Abbigale Loncke of Guyana.  Abbigale, are you here?  (Applause.)  So after struggling to find her own grandfather home care, Abbigale realized this is a problem for so many other families, so she started Community Health Care, a home care agency.  She started out as a service to help families take care of their loved ones but now has a social movement that also provides training and job opportunities for young women in the health care industry.  So thank you, Abbigale, for the great work you’re doing.  (Applause.)  And you already heard the great work that Cyntia is doing right here in Peru.

Across the world and across the Americas, young people are taking the lead.  They’re seeing problems, they’re seeing injustice, and they are finding ways to take action.

And the main message I want you to know is that you have a partner in me and you have a partner in the United States government.  (Applause.)  And we are going to work together — (applause) — we’re going to work together.  We expect the fellowships to continue, but I want you to know that I will also continue to be involved, even after I’m President, because I want to make sure that we continue to invest in your success.  If you succeed, not only do your countries succeed, but the world succeeds.  And I’m very excited to see all the great things you’re going to do in the future.  (Applause.)

So, muchas gracias.  Let’s take some questions.  And now we’re going to start with some questions.  I’m going to take off my jacket because it’s a little hot.  (Laughter and applause.)  I wasn’t trying to get a cheer out of that but — (laughter.)

All right, so we’re going to start with this question from this gentleman right here.  Please introduce yourself as you speak.

Hold on, the mic is not working.  No, not yet.  Do we have a second mic?  Testing — one, two, three.  Hold on, here’s the technical expert.  Here we go.  Here’s another one.  Not yet?  Uh-oh.  Uh-oh.  Here we go.  We got to try this one.  (Laughter.)  One of these is going to work.

Q    Testing.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Oh, there you go.  Hey!  (Applause.)

Q    Good afternoon, Mr. President.  My name is Luis Santiago (ph).  I’m from Caracas, Venezuela.  I’m a YLAI Fellow.  We’re working on the first electronic health records platform for Latin America, and I was a proud member of this chord of YLAI fellows.

I’m here to read a question from our YLAI network.  There were 200 questions posted on Facebook, but Carlos David Carrasco Muro from Venezuela asks:  In Venezuela, there’s a debate about what matters most for stability, whether it’s peace or democracy.  How can we create a world where we do not have to choose between them?  Both are important for development.

Thank you very much.

To read all of his remarks, please click here.