Be selected as a YLAI Fellow, was one of the best experiences of my 2018 year

YLAI is an exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by Meridian International Center. It empowers entrepreneurs to strengthen their capacity to launch and advance their entrepreneurial ideas and effectively contribute to social and economic development in their communities. The YLAI 2018 cohort consist of 250 entrepreneurs from Latin America and Caribbean. This year only 10 argentines were selected.

It was 25 of june when I received an email and read:

Dear Diana,

Congratulations! On behalf of the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Meridian International Center, we are pleased to announce that you have been selected as a Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI)Professional Fellow for the 2018 cohort.

After an extensive application and interview process in which over 2,000 talented young entrepreneurs from over 36 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean were considered, your application and interview stood out. You have demonstrated the commitment and initiative to overcome challenges and thrive as an entrepreneur

I could not believe it, I felt blessed! I remember my friends told me: “you deserve it! Is time to show in US the great work you are doing to improve the lives of people in Argentina”

I applied to this program as a Co Founder of FIP (Financial Inclusion Partners), a network of young professionals dedicated to promoting financial inclusion to alleviate poverty in Argentina. FIP aims to improve the state of financial inclusion in Argentina by undertaking research projects and training programs in the country.

About YLAI

YLAI is an exchange program funded by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by Meridian International Center. It empowers entrepreneurs to strengthen their capacity to launch and advance their entrepreneurial ideas and effectively contribute to social and economic development in their communities. The YLAI 2018 cohort consist of 250 entrepreneurs from Latin America and Caribbean. This year only 10 argentines were selected.

This exchange program placed us in a month-long U.S. company where we could learn, expand our network, strengthen our skills, and make connections that will contribute to social and economic development in our countries.

Perfect Match

My Fellowship placement was Unitus Community Credit Union, cooperative in the city of Portland (Oregon State) where I was afforded the opportunity to had a comprehensive learning about the worldwide Credit Union Movement, U.S. Credit Union System and Financial education outreach programs.

This Fellowship placement was coordinated by World Oregon. All this experience was possible thanks to the effort of Amy Barss, Director of international visitors and training programs, and her lovely team Alli Magee, Allie Collopy and Anna Schneider, Program Officers. Thank you for all that you did for the group of the Portland Fellows and all of the strings you pulled in order have the best YLAI experience possible!

What makes Unitus Community Credit Union different from others credit unions?

  • Is a not-for-profit cooperative (profits are returned to their members in the form of free checking, better rates and lower fees)
  • Unitus is governed by their members, who vote for a volunteer board of directors that manages the credit union.
  • Community Involvement: Giving back to the local community is part of their philosophy, including free financial education for members and local organizations
  • Convenient Access: they share branches with other credit unions and offer access to a large network of surcharge-free ATMs.
  • They are dedicated to the Financial Well-Being of their Membership. They help to make their members stronger financially by providing financial education, exceptional products and services, and personal service.

Why was important for me to be hosted by a credit union?

According to the World Council of community credit union (2016), there are 260.000.000 members of credit unions around the world. 89.000 credit unions in 117 countries are improve the lives of people.

Argentina is underdeveloped in terms of consumer banking and, consequently, of financial inclusion, showing levels both below the world average and Latin America. According to the last research study of the World Bank, 50% of the population declared not having a bank account. Also this country is not a member of the World Council of Credit Unions.

Is necessary spreading in Argentina the best practices in the international sector, encourage public and private sector to promote the growth and strengthening of this entities. With development of a cooperative credit union sector, individuals will be able to obtain capital for entrepreneurial development and financial self-sustainability. Cooperative financial institutions provide much needed avenues for deposits, loans, financial education, and resources to communities.

My experience as a fellow

Steven Stapp, President and CEO of Unitus, co-created a packed calendar and encouraged me to actively participate right from the start. During 4 weeks I was immersed in cross-functional meetings, all-staff events, strategic discussions, skill-building workshops and one-on-one leadership sessions. As a Fellow I was involved in lot of activities, one of them was developed survey/analysis tool for the Hispanic community to better understand financial service needs, challenges and opportunities.

The most interesting meetings were:

  • World Council of Credit Unions – Technical Exchange with leaders from Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru. It was an opportunity to have an overview of the international credit union system and partnerships.

  • Hacienda CDC and El Programa Hispano Católico. I felt very excited to learnt about community outreach groups to the Portland/Oregon Hispanic Population

One of the most amazing events was the Portland Business Journal Philanthropy Awards Luncheon. Unitus Community Credit Union named as a top 10 provider of philanthropy in the Portland-Metro area!

I took many lessons, and one of the most valuable was the strengthened relationships with the US Embassy in Argentina, US entities and with young entrepreneurs from different countries, personalities and backgrounds, especially from 12 of them of whom I have beautiful unforgettable memories together in Portland!

Through them I really confirmed that the social change is under our responsibility and is in our hands, as the future. They are the real example of: Don’t wait for change, create it!

Also I learnt about all the social leaders in Portland community and how they are making a difference. It’s incredible being part of different international networks and keeping in touch with people to learn how they are making good things happen for the people in their communities. After this experience I emerged with a sharpened vision of financial inclusion for the underserved.

I’m truly lucky to have been part of this cohort! I strongly recommend this program that will change your professional and personal life.


I really appreciate the effort and the support of the following entities to make the YLAI program possible: US Embassy in Argentina, US Department of State, Meridian International Center, Argentine Embassy in US, World Oregon and 3Day Startup.

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Diana Schvarztein

Degree in Sociology from the University of Buenos Aires and master's degree from the Autonomous University of Madrid of the International Master in Microfinance for entrepreneurship (current master in Microfinance and financial inclusion). She conducted the Microfinance expert course (CEMF) by the Frankfurt School of Finance & Management, Germany. She has been awarded a scholarship by the Santander Bank of Spain to study a semester the theme of economic development at the Autonomous University of Madrid. She has worked as a researcher in financial inclusion projects at the Microfinance Research Center at this university. He worked for an impact assessment study of the Microfinance program of the NGO FONDESOL (Fund for Solidarity Development) in Guatemala, financed by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID). A stay in the south of India, Tamil Nadu region, led her to learn in the field about the group methodology of microcredits. Collaborates in the formulation and coordination of entrepreneurial development projects for different foundations and NGOs. She is professor of the postgraduate course in financial inclusion, microfinance and development of the UCA.

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