THE BLOG
05/03/2013 04:14 pm ET Updated Jul 03, 2013

Innovative Leaders of Today, Not Tomorrow

I remember when the study by the Pew Hispanic Center came out where Hispanics were asked an open-ended question to name the person they consider "the most important Latino leader in the country today." Approximately two-thirds (64%) of respondents said they didn't know and an additional 10% said "no one." A lot of Latino leaders weren't happy with the result. I was thrilled ...

Actually, if I had been asked that question, I would named dozens of the young leaders I've had the privilege of meeting in my 12 years running the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. I truly believe that youth needs to lead not only the Latino community forward but America.

I actually cringe when I hear the term "future leaders" or "next generation of leaders" being thrown around when referring to youth. I did a TEDx Talk where I started by saying that when someone my age calls an educated, visionary, creative young person "tomorrow's leader" it's a passive aggressive way of saying "it's not your turn yet, it's still my turn."

I want to make this clear to young people - it's your turn. Right now.

We can't afford to wait. As a community or as a country.

And here's what makes our youth ready to lead right now in and what makes them potentially more impactful than anyone from my generation or before us.

Technology and innovation.

And innovative leaders are the kind of leaders America needs to move forward and to the top of the global rankings. It was Steve Jobs who said, "Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower."

Our young leaders are armed with tools and a fearlessness which allows them to change the business world, every industry and field, and socially reach more people faster and more effectively than Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Cesar Chavez put combined. (No pressure!)

Think about that. Our young leader's imagination, drive and commitment coupled with technology will be the catalysts for social, economic, educational change in the world going forward.

We as a community and country need to instill innovation as part of our youth's DNA through entrepreneurship, creative collaborations, multi-disciplinary education, access to resources and guidance, and innovation-based programs and pipeline efforts. On May 11, our Latinos On Fast Track (LOFT) program is hosting an Innovation Symposium at Stanford University and we will be hosting such efforts in Chicago, Houston, Boston and Miami. We're also developing an innovation track through creative partnerships with Fortune 100 companies, associations, government, educational institutions and other nonprofits.

My organization is gearing up to offset the current mad scramble for overseas talent coming on H1B visas to fill the American void in the technology space. And with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services capping H1B visas at 65,000, the LOFT program is offering an alternative - developing and tapping abundant but underused young talent right here in America.

As the youngest segment of the population whose median age skews approximately 10 years younger than the US population as a whole, focusing on young brilliant Latinos makes the most sense for the public and private sectors. By 2050, Latinos will constitute 30% of the nation's population so it's also a matter of necessity in terms of what our precious human capital currently looks like and will look like in our country.

As established leaders we also need to encourage, support and yes, step aside and allow our young leaders to lead. Today, not tomorrow.