2016 YLAI Fellow Germán Santillán Ugarte returns to Notre Dame

Author: Luis Ruuska

Two years ago, Germán Santillán Ugarte was one of 14 people chosen to be a part of the inaugural class of the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) Professional Fellowship at the University of Notre Dame; a place he now considers his "second home." This fall, Notre Dame was able to welcome Ugarte back with open arms and learn more about the positive impact the YLAI program had on him, his business, and his community of Oaxaca, Mexico. 

Ugarte is the co-founder and CEO of Oaxacanita Chocolate, a social enterprise that aims to alleviate poverty in the Mixteca region of Mexico. Since its founding in 2015, Oaxacanita Chocolate has taken special care to hire and work with the indigenous Mixtec people at all stages of production and today supports over 26 families through the employment it provides. The company also utilizes local raw materials and stays true to its Oaxacan roots by making chocolate using traditional recipes. 

In its first year of operation, Oaxacanita Chocolate revitalized the cultivation of cacao in the region. Impressed by his local and quick success, the U.S. Department of State and Meridian International Center—which fund and implement the YLAI Professional Fellows program—chose Ugarte to be a part of the first class of YLAI Professional Fellows in the fall of 2016.

During his time at Notre Dame, Ugarte shadowed and exchanged knowledge with a number of Michiana companies, including the South Bend Farmer's Market, Violet Sky Chocolate, Zen Cafe Coffee Roasters, and the South Bend Chocolate Company. John Pinter—a frequent partner of NDIGD on its exchange-based projects—also served as a mentor to Ugarte. After successfully completing the 2016 program and returning home, Ugarte invited Pinter to spend a week in Oaxaca in 2017 through the YLAI Reverse Exchange.

In 2018, Ugarte was invited by Meridian International Center to speak to the 2018 cohort of YLAI Professional Fellows as part of the two-day kickoff event hosted in Detroit. Ugarte then traveled back to Notre Dame, worked with NDIGD's 2018 cohort of fellows during their first few days of orientation, and gave them advice on how to make the most of their time in the program.

"Being here in South Bend again is incredible, I think that this is my second home outside my country," explained Ugarte. "I feel very welcome here."

The YLAI Professional Fellows Program was brought to Notre Dame through a three-year grant won by the Notre Dame Initiative Development (NDIGD) in 2016. Throughout the three-year grant period, the Kellogg Institute for International Studies provided integral support for the program. Both NDIGD and the Kellogg Institute are a part of the Keough School of Global Affairs.

Learn more about the YLAI Professional Fellows program at Notre Dame at ndigd.nd.edu/YLAI.

The Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development (NDIGD)—an integral part of the new Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame—works to address global poverty and inequality through policy, practice, and partnership.

Contact: Luis Ruuska, communications specialist, Notre Dame Initiative for Global Development, lruuska@nd.edu