The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) recently challenged young professionals across the country to infuse innovative solutions and diverse perspectives into America’s international development strategy, and FIU students answered the call.
In early October, the federal agency announced the prompt for the Innovation and Diversity Engagement Awards (IDEA) Case Competition: create a business model that would help Quechua Peruvian women achieve self-sufficiency through the production of potatoes. Out of all teams of two or more that entered the open-to-the-public competition, five teams were selected as finalists – four from FIU and one from Georgetown.
“I was inspired to work in this competition because I wanted to make a change while gaining research and project implementation experience,” said Andres Guevara, a finance major who was a member of the Panthers for Latina Prosperity team, made up entirely from participants of the Spring 2021 Future of Latin America and the Caribbean FIU in DC Fly-In Seminar. “From my experience with them in the Fly-In, I knew they were capable and dependable people, who would be assets in a group setting.”
The competition was one component of the second annual USAID Hispanic Serving Institutions Conference and Career Expo, which was streamed worldwide and hosted at FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus from Oct. 18-20. The decades-long relationship between USAID and FIU reached a level of exponential growth one year ago when Administrator Samantha Power gave a speech at Georgetown University stating that the agency would be updating its recruitment strategy after far too long “recruiting from Georgetown, but not FIU,” and came to FIU’s campus several months later to sign a talent development agreement alongside President Kenneth A. Jessell.
All three FIU teams are all-well connected to The Talent Lab at FIU in Washington, D.C.; in fact, the Peruana Arriba Foundation team was made up of three current Hamilton Scholars who prepared and pitched their presentation from FIU’s brand new center in D.C. Collectively, the students won $30,000 in prize money sponsored by PepsiCo Foundation meant to assist the teams with implementing their project ideas and pursuing their own educational and internship goals toward their public service careers.
“As a Latino immigrant, I think it is important to work to improve conditions with Latin America as China and Russia look to increase their influence in the region,” said Jhamil Pujols, a political science student who participated. “This competition helped gather aspects of international development that I didn’t know, such as budgeting.”
Each team’s live presentation focused on the financial, training and logistical support that the United States could offer Peru’s women potato farmers, while experts in international agricultural affairs from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, USAID, and the PepsiCo Foundation provided feedback for future direction.
“This experience made me stretch my skill set. As a biological science major, I thought that my major did not have enough context to contribute to the team's efforts. However, I learned that international development is a multidisciplinary task, and we all can contribute to it,” said Lillian Latchmin, an Honors College student from the Hamilton Scholars team.
The excitement experienced throughout the competition ignited participants to take further action. In the weeks since the conclusion, Carlos Padilla Monroy — an international relations and political science major, also from the Hamilton Scholars team — traveled to Peru to work with the think tank Thought For Action in their development of a campaign to raise awareness around social and economic informality, which is directly related to the competition topic.
“The research for the Competition allowed me to have enough background knowledge to be selected for this opportunity and to communicate with the Peruvians I am meeting here,” Padilla Monroy said.
— By Eric Feldman