Today in Rangoon, Burma, President Obama announced a significant expansion of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) at a town hall with 400 youth from the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
YSEALI is the President’s signature initiative to strengthen leadership development across ASEAN, deepen engagement with young leaders on key regional and global challenges, and strengthen people-to-people ties between the United States and Southeast Asia. Deepening collaboration with young leaders is a critical element of the United States’ rebalance to the Asia-Pacific region and of cultivating an ASEAN community. Recognizing that over 65 percent of ASEAN’s population is under the age of 35, YSEALI is a critical investment in the next generation of Southeast Asian leaders.
The YSEALI Fellowship will bring 500 exceptional young leaders from ASEAN countries to the United States on an annual basis, to further develop their professional and leadership skills in priority areas including entrepreneurship and economic empowerment, environment and natural resources management, and civic engagement. These emerging leaders, aged 18-35, will build on their ideas and experiences while further cultivating their skills to lead their region and the world.
The 500 YSEALI Fellows will be divided between the YSEALI Academic Fellows and the YSEALI Professional Fellows. YSEALI Academic Fellows will engage 250 current or recently graduated students from ASEAN member countries in five week institutes at pre-eminent U.S. universities and colleges. The institutes will include an academic residency, leadership development, an educational study tour, local community service activities, and opportunities to engage with American peers. The program will conclude in Washington, D.C. to allow for networking with policy makers, government representatives, businesses, and think tanks. YSEALI Professional Fellows will enable 250 young leaders from ASEAN to work directly with American counterparts in non-profit organizations and state and local government offices across the United States for five weeks to enhance their practical expertise, leadership skills, and professional contacts to address challenges and create new opportunities in their home communities and countries. Fellows will also travel to Washington, D.C. to engage with counterparts from other regions, as well as policy makers, government representatives, and other leaders. Upon returning home, Fellows will connect with their peers across the region through the larger YSEALI and U.S. exchange alumni network. This network will help young leaders build on their U.S. experience and address regional and local issues through grant competitions, regional workshops, and other opportunities. In 2015, a YSEALI summit will take place in the Asia-Pacific region.
More information on how to become a YSEALI Fellow is available at https://youngsoutheastasianleaders.state.gov.
YSEALI Regional Networks
The YSEALI Fellowship is part of a broader suite of programs and engagements that support the goals and aspirations of young ASEAN leaders. YSEALI Generation Regional Exchanges cultivate a regional network for ASEAN youth to collaborate on solving common challenges and creating new opportunities. In 2014, over 300 emerging leaders benefited from professional development workshops focusing on mentoring, hands-on training, and the tools necessary to successfully make a positive impact in their communities. The next YSEALI Generation Regional Exchange will be held in Singapore December 3-7, 2014, and will concentrate on workforce readiness. Working in partnership with the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council, participants will examine ways governments, businesses, civil society organizations, and young people can help new job seekers build skills in high demand by international employers. YSEALI Generation Regional Exchanges are also being planned in Cambodia and Vietnam, and will focus on developing young leaders’ professional skills and understanding of the environment, entrepreneurship, and civic engagement. Approximately 100 YSEALI members from across ASEAN will participate.
Since the President launched YSEALI nearly a year ago, more than 10,000 young people from ASEAN have become members of the YSEALI Network. YSEALI virtually connects leaders from across the region and offers an array of resources, networking opportunities, and trainings. The web-based platform encourages young people across the region to collaborate on tackling issues of shared concern, providing them with an avenue to further their own development through courses on leadership, entrepreneurship, and professional skills. The YSEALI website regularly updates network members about upcoming events, courses, resources, and opportunities.
Youth Action and Leadership Development
The United States is expanding YSEALI Seeds for the Future grants to support young Southeast Asian leaders’ most promising and innovative ideas for civic engagement, education, entrepreneurship and economic development, and environment and natural resources management. This groundbreaking grant competition helps match entrepreneurial emerging leaders with their peers in other Southeast Asian countries, and encourages them to work together to solve regional challenges in partnership with the United States. To date, one third of the over 60 international teams that competed to receive funding are in the process of implementing their solutions. The next competition will open in early 2015, featuring a per-team maximum award of $20,000. More information is available online athttp://www.youngsoutheastasianleaders.state.gov.
Science, Technology, and Entrepreneurship
Through the ASEAN-U.S. Science and Technology Fellows Program, the United States is developing a cadre of young science leaders that can effectively influence the policymaking process at national and regional levels. In its first year, seven scientists participated in the program. ASEAN has approved a cadre of 16 to participate over the next four years. Fellows are embedded within a government office in their home country for one year and work on a variety of tasks to increase their understanding of the governance and policy process. The program also trains the fellows to develop strong leadership skills and awareness of ASEAN goals and objectives.
The ASEAN Economic Community promotes skilled labor mobility to increase job opportunities and people-to-people connectivity across the region. In the Lower Mekong countries — Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam — skilled workers are in high demand by the private sector but in short supply. The United States is addressing this problem through the new Connecting the Mekong through Education and Training (COMET) program. This five-year (2014-2019) program will help universities and vocational education centers increase the number of skilled youth in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, accounting, and tourism through targeted curriculum and training that directly meets the demands of local employers in high-growth industries. COMET will leverage the interest and commitment of private sector partners, such as Google, which will provide technical services, training, and IT solutions over the life of the program.
The United States encourages youth to give back to their local communities, strengthening civil societies in their home countries. In August 2013, the United States and Malaysia launched the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Program, which encourages young volunteers (18-30 years old) from all ASEAN countries to serve in the region, while enhancing cross-cultural ties and understanding among ASEAN youth. Over five weeks, volunteers learn about community development and form lifelong friendships with peers from across ASEAN. Nearly 150 youth have participated to date in programs in Malaysia; the next programs will take place in Cambodia, the Philippines, and Burma. The ASEAN Youth Volunteers Program is funded through a $1.4 million grant from the United States, in partnership with the Government of Malaysia, the ASEAN Secretariat, and the University Kabangsaan Malaysia.
Thailand’s Khon Kaen University, with support from the United States, has established Southeast Asia’s first Center for Civil Society and Non-Profit Management to support and cultivate young civil society leaders. This innovative non-profit school will serve up to 140 university students and 40 practicing civil society leaders each year from throughout the Lower Mekong sub-region, offering coursework to build their non-profit management skills. Over the next three years, the University will develop Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs as well as executive certification (non-degree) programs, thus creating professional career paths for young leaders in Southeast Asia who want to give back to society through work in the non-profit sector. The school also will serve as a regional hub for coordination, best practice exchange, and networking among civil society leaders.