Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Q&A: The Leadership Academy Spanning 17 Latin American Countries

Diego Ontaneda Benavides’s organization trains teenagers, most from marginalized communities, into budding changemakers.
Latin American Leadership Academy
Reading Time: < 1 minute

This article is adapted from AQ’s special report on Latin America’s election super-cycle

AQ: What is the Latin American Leadership Academy (LALA)?

Diego Ontaneda Benavides: LALA is a nonprofit that empowers young people to realize their full leadership potential through training and network-building. In six years, we’ve supported over 2,200 teenagers from 17 countries, with 70% coming from historically marginalized communities. Our graduates have started hundreds of social impact organizations and projects that now reach tens of thousands of people. This is our strategy to build shared, sustainable and scalable prosperity in Latin America.

AQ: How does LALA work?

DOB: We use social media and partner with schools, NGOs and public sector entities to find purpose-driven teenagers with a track record of serving their communities. At a one-week leadership boot camp, we teach them socio-emotional skills, for example, how to tell their story, mobilize others, form teams and fundraise. Then they enter LALA’s community for life, getting access to a global network of mentors, university support and career partners.

AQ: What motivated you to co-found LALA?

DOB: Growing up, I attended private international schools in Lima. But when I was 12, my parents went bankrupt, and I stayed in these elite schools thanks to scholarships. I later received a full scholarship to Williams College in the U.S. I kept thinking about how much potential the region was losing because other kids didn’t have these opportunities. This conviction brought me to the African Leadership Academy in South Africa. There, I met amazing young people who had this incredible sense of purpose and determination. I couldn’t get out of my head the idea that if Africa had those teenagers, Latin America must have them, too.


Reading Time: < 1 minuteHein is a Costa Rican political scientist and a public leadership analyst at VélezReyes+ and a former editorial assistant at AQ

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Tags: Q&A, Youth
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