Currently a research associate at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Ulster University, Dr. Le Xuan Khoa is continually driven by the desire to pursue knowledge and develop a network of leading professionals in fields that contribute to a carbon-neutral future in Vietnam. As such, the YSEALI Academy’s seminar on Energy Economics and Policy has proven to be the perfect gateway to fulfill his goals – highly opportune for his keenness to become an expert and leader in renewable energy, while unveiling unexpected insight into energy developments in Southeast Asia that inform his next career move.      

A rare opportunity

Dr. Le Xuan Khoa begins telling the journey (and motivation) of his life with a childhood account: “My parents broke up when I was one years old, my mother raised me on her own. At a very young age, I realized that I needed to focus on my studies, to work hard so I could get a better future. It’s a gift I dedicate to her.”  

The 1987-born academic attended the Da Nang University of Technology and majored in Mechatronics. After a stint at Taikisha Vietnam Engineering Inc., one of the largest providers from Japan of green technology systems and automotive painting lines in Vietnam, his heart was set on furthering his education by studying abroad. Dr. Le came back to his alma mater and worked as a teaching assistant, then went on graduating with First Class Honor at the National Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences, Taiwan, and received a master’s degree in Manufacturing and Management. He now resides in the UK as a research associate at Ulster University, where he was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Research Scholarships to pursue a PhD degree in Energy and Buildings. 

Le Xuan Khoa at the Master Graduation ceremony at National Kaohsiung University of Applied Sciences, Taiwan in 2015.

Despite being an accomplished researcher with papers published in well-regarded journals – he was awarded Best PhD Research Paper of School of Architecture, Built Environment and Planning at Ulster University in 2020, Dr. Le still wants to further expand his field of expertise. “For my research, I only focus on a small section of renewable energy, namely the energy system in buildings,” he says. “I wanted to learn new things outside of my background in technology. That is why the YSEALI seminar was such an ideal opportunity.” 

Sparking ideas

At the Energy Economics and Policy seminar, Dr. Le was one of the 35 young professionals from 10 ASEAN countries and Timor Leste gathered to discuss and exchange ideas regarding critical energy issues in the region with prominent scholars and industry executives from around the world.  

For Dr. Le, the result was rather phenomenal. “I must say the seminar has helped me see the whole picture when it comes to the energy sector,” he tells us. “Not only did the guest speakers expound on technology issues, which is my research focus, but they offered detailed discussions on other aspects such as energy management, energy economics, public policies, and the environmental impact and issues of energy in Southeast Asia.” 

Le (center) at his PhD thesis defense with Dr Caterina Brandoni and Dr Trevor Hyde at Centre for Sustainable Technologies, Ulster University, UK.

Prior to the seminar, Dr. Le’s priority was to continue his research in Europe or America; now he looks forward to coming back to Vietnam and building a startup which delivers energy-saving systems into buildings. “Thanks to those valuable lessons,” he adds. “I have identified unique challenges but also once in a lifetime opportunity to make my contribution in Vietnam and hopefully, in Southeast Asia.”  

According to Dr. Le, there have been increasing proportions of renewable power in Vietnam in recent years, making it a leader across the region. Nonetheless, there are many emerging challenges associated with such rapid growth, such as grid resilience and energy efficiency. Dr. Le hopes he can apply his expertise and experience in renewable energy control systems such as PV/T solar panels, heat pumps/HVAC systems and storage to enhance energy efficiency, reduce energy demand and increase grid resilience – particularly in buildings. 

Le (left) with Dr Nguyen Quang Minh, Technical Expert of GE Grid Solutions, UK, at 2016 Purdue Conferences in Compressor Engineering, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning, and High-Performance Buildings at Purdue University, USA.

Impactful connections

Of all the takeaways from the seminar, the most memorable one for Dr. Le is about leadership. “My dream is to become a leader who can inspire the younger generation and impact positive change on this field we love,” he says. “The YSEALI seminar’s specific focus on equipping young professionals like us with practical skills such as communication, decision making, and team management was nothing short of comprehensive and helpful.” 

Dr. Le was also impressed with having the chance to meet and connect with high-profile experts and industry leaders in the seminar, whose thought-provoking conversations deeply inspired him. Likewise, the opportunity of exchanging not only knowledge and experience, but also culture with his brilliant fellows made the seminar all the more rewarding. “Before this, I seldom connect with people on social media. I simply read their work and research on journals, for example,” he says. “Now I don’t see why we can’t reach out and talk with one another. The informative conversations we’ve had definitely help my work.”  

Le was a speaker at the International Conference Symposium on Computer, Consumer and Control 2014 at National Chin-Yi University of Technology, Taiwan in 2014.

Asked to give a piece of advice for future fellows of the YSEALI Academy’s upcoming seminars, Dr. Le recites his favorite quote from Albert Einstein: “A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it is built for.” In other words, “Just take the challenge, and you will see yourself grow,” he says. “Another thing is to simply enjoy it. Never forget to have fun.” Dr. Le then talks about the many laughs he had during the seminar’s tea breaks, where fellows from each country presented a performance to demonstrate their national culture and identity. For his team, the Vietnamese fellows decided to give a presentation about the country’s beautiful sights, the deliciousness of ‘Phở’, and the infamous coffee culture.  

“As a firm believer in the power of technology with transformative visions, I am striving to make our lives better through innovation, knowledge, and research,” he says. “For that, YSEALI has been a great platform for me to have crucial connections, as well as great ideas to explore that will nurture my dream.” Together with other fellows, Dr. Le will join the network of YSEALI alumni – young future leaders of the Southeast Asia region. For him, this is one step closer to his lifelong ambition. 

Le (center) with his mother and Professor Tony Roskilly, Chair of Energy Systems at Durham University, Director of the Durham Energy Institute and Associate Director of the EPSRC Centre for Energy Systems Integration, UK, at the 5th Sustainable Thermal Energy Management International Conference (SusTEM2019) at Hangzhou, China, in which Le was a speaker.

Anh Thu – Bao Quyen

Two weeks of the YSEALI Academy’s flagship seminar on Energy Economics and Policy has officially culminated with its graduation ceremony on July 16, 2021. Throughout the seminar, 35 young professionals coming from different backgrounds across ten Southeast Asian countries and Timor-Leste have come together on a quest for knowledge and bonded under the name of YSEALI Fellows.  

Bridging world-class experts to local professionals

The two-week intensive seminar covered a highly interdisciplinary field from not only energy economics and policy perspective but also incorporated other YSEALI’s signatures such as leadership skill workshops and cultural exchange experiences. Converging all YSEALI networks, the Fellows were invited to participate in a wide range of activities from morning to evening with professors from well-known universities such as Harvard Kennedy School, Monash University, UC Davis, and industry experts from the U.S., Europe, and Asia Pacific region with diverse experiences in Southeast Asia. Joining the seminar were also guest speakers from leading private corporations such as Siemens, First Solar, Wärtsilä, Nami Energy, Asia Clean Capital Vietnam, and Baker & McKenzie.

The seminar discussed a variety of topics ranging from the basics of energy use and conservation to macroeconomic framework and policy tools for energy management. It also took a close look at energy trends and issues facing the region involving emerging technology and policies, encompassing clean and renewable energy. And with that, the seminar concluded with a discussion on the future of energy, how circular economy framework can be embedded in businesses and governments’ climate strategies.

Utilizing the interconnected and multicultural aspects of such cohort, Fellows from different countries teamed up to deliver the “capstone” Team Projects on critical issues relevant to the seminar theme, e.g. clean energy transition, solar power, hydropower, solid waste to energy, energy and circular economy, and power sector policy. This collaboration brought to the seminar practical and diverse examples from each Fellow’s work in their community, thus combined to deeply root into the region’s context.

“The seminar has been nothing short of an insightful and great learning experience for me. We have been hearing from experienced industry leaders and academic professionals who have shared their invaluable time and expertise with us. I think overall, the seminar has been a good balance of reality and ideals. It has certainly equipped us with the fundamentals that we will need to navigate the challenges we are facing today and in the next few decades, while also helping us build connections in the region, whom I can now call my friends. For that, I will always be grateful.” – Ng Clarisse, a Fellow from Malaysia, exclaimed.

Young leaders united to take on challenges

In his remarks at the closing session, Professor Jay Siegel, Provost of Fulbright University Vietnam, encouraged the young leaders to continue embracing new challenges as they have been taking climate change into their own hands: “I think [this] is an incredibly important seminar because it’s an empowering seminar, it highlights your qualities as young leaders and encourages you to take risks as young leaders, to reach out to the world globally, to reach out to problems that may have once been thought of and that need to be thought of again.” 

Though 35 Fellows of the inaugural cohort may come from different backgrounds and experiences, they all share a unified spirit to tackle the climate crisis. At the certificate granting ceremony, Ms. Marie Damour, U.S. Consul General to Ho Chi Minh City, applauded the Fellows for stepping up to address this critical challenge amidst the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Climate change represents an immense challenge to the security and prosperity of Southeast Asia. And the region desperately needs the contribution of leaders like you to confront this existential threat. Your success is our success as you lead the development of an integrated, sustainable, and prosperous Southeast Asia.” – Ms. Marie Damour emphasized.

Prof. Dr. Le Vu Quan, the Director of YSEALI Academy expressed genuine thanks to the U.S. government’s support in establishing YSEALI Academy and entrusting such grand responsibility to Fulbright University Vietnam. Despite the disruption of the global pandemic, the flagship seminar still carried weight in delivering crucial conversations and connecting young leaders in the region for an imperative cause.

“COVID-19 has separated us by distance, but not in our heart and mind. In fact, the pandemic has enhanced us in unity as we had demonstrated in the seminar. 35 strangers who would not recognize each other on the streets of Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, or Jakarta now become colleagues and friends, sharing common goals and aspirations for ASEAN. We are unity, ASEAN unity in one vision, one identity, and one community.” – Dr. Le Vu Quan remarked.

A milestone to success

Embodying the “we are unity” spirit as YSEALI cultural ambassador, Kuvarakul Thachatat, a Fellow from Thailand, looks forward to a promising future: “We are all going back to our own work after this seminar, where we will collect a lot more of knowledge and expertise along the way. And maybe in a few years, we should be in a position that we can give something back to the program, to YSEALI as well as to Fulbright University.” 

Thachatat is the youngest employee of GIZ Energy Thailand who earned Band 5 level “Deputy Director” in a German International Corporation. His previous experiences all revolve around energy, from being a part of the task force that supports the Ministry of Energy, Thailand in the development of the Thailand Smart Grid Action Plan, to lead and manage the Thai-German Climate Programme: Energy (4-year project with a budget of EUR 3 million); he was also invited as a guest lecturer on energy-related topics in many universities.

Kuvarakul Thachatat is like many other YSEALI Fellows, who as Dr. Le Vu Quan has described as young leaders with great talents and qualities. “[They – the Fellows] will succeed no matter where they are. But it would be our, the YSEALI Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam’s, honor to be a milestone to their success.” 

Bảo Trâm

When Dr. Le Thai Ha rummaged through the drawers looking for mementos of her student life, she found the brochure introducing the graduate research program of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. The photo on the cover of the publication shows Ha sitting on an ornamental rock among five other fellows from Singapore, China, India, and Finland.

The photo reminds Ha of the days when she was the only Vietnamese predoctoral fellow at NTU’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences. Her predoctoral fellowship was fully funded, and she was just nearly 22 years old and had just obtained Bachelor’s degree at NTU. Six months prior, she returned to Hanoi and worked in a Japanese bank there. Although she found her job, her colleagues, and the working environment pleasant, she always felt like she did not belong there.

When the announcement broke that she was granted the predoctoral fellowship with full funding for four years, she was a little worried. Thai Ha had seen the examples of other fellows who had to change their majors or topics of research because their dissertations came to a dead end. She was also warned by her instructor that it could take her 5-6 years to finish the program. She started studying like crazy. More than two years later, she finished the program at NTU with the highest score (4.92/5.0) in her class and excellent research achievement on energy economics with two papers accepted to be published in prestigious international scientific magazines. Energy economics has become a topic that draws a lot of attention for a decade now.

In August last year, 10 years after Ha started the predoctoral fellowship, she received an acceptance letter announcing her new scientific research was approved for publication in an international journal, making it her 40th international publication.

“The most obvious change in me after 10 years is probably the attitude towards research. Ten years ago, I felt a bit pressured – not because of the program or the instructor – but because I set my own expectations for the quantity and quality of scientific publications; gradually, I find the passion and love for research in the most natural way,” Ha wrote on her Facebook page.

After returning to Vietnam, Ha started her career as a lecturer at RMIT University. She emerged as an active lecturer in economics and made an impression in the field of research with a remarkable record of international publications. So far, she has more than 40 scientific research papers published by prestigious international academic journals, including leading journals in the fields of energy economics, environment, and other applied economics such as Energy Economics, Energy Policy, Energy Journal, International Review of Financial Analysis.

All of her research papers are in the ISI/Scopus category, of which about 85% are in the Scopus Q1 or ABDC (Australian Business Deans Council) group, with research quality rated A/A*. She is also a co-editor of an independent book publisher and has been (co-)author of chapters in nine books published by prestigious publishers such as Elsevier Science, Routledge (London), Springer, Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI-Japan), and World Scientific Publishing. The RePEc Economic Research project published in June 2021 ranked Ha third in terms of scientific publications in economic research in Vietnam.

Le Thai Ha was the only Vietnamese predoctoral candidate at HSS-NTU at the time, pursuing a Ph.D. on a full-ride scholarship at 22 years old, not long after she completed her Bachelor’s degree at this prestigious university in Singapore.

During the first decade of her career, Thai Ha focused on research with a variety of internationally published papers. Her career took a new turn after a meeting with a research fellow in late 2018.

An important encounter

 In late 2018, Dr. Le Viet Phu of Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM) met Ha while participating in the thesis defense committee of Vietnam-Netherlands Master of Economics program at Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics. As they had the same occupation of teaching and research on energy economics and environmental economics, they quickly connected and exchanged ideas on research activities.

“What impresses me is that Ha is very young but is among a few leading researchers in terms of internationally published papers. She has a great passion for research – a field that is usually dominated by males. With a good education background, a modern research mindset, and a large number of international publications, Ha represents the new generation of researchers in Vietnam,” Dr. Phu commented.

The encounter with Ha became an opportunity for Dr. Phu to connect Thai Ha with FSPPM. She began to engage in policy research – a unique strength of FSPPM, the school with a team of leading economic policy experts in Vietnam. For more than two decades, rooted as Fulbright Economic Teaching Program (FETP), the school has been deeply involved in policy dialogues to make a positive impact in the government’s policy-making process. The foundation for these dialogues is high-quality, independent, and objective policy research that looks directly at Vietnam’s weaknesses. With constructive criticisms and applicable research, Fulbright has been deeply engaged in the process of addressing major challenges that Vietnam is facing.

Dr. Le Viet Phu (left) and Dr. Le Thai Ha (right) in a seminar on environmental issues at Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management.

Dr. Le Thai Ha moderating a panel discussion on economics with her colleagues from Harvard Kennedy School and Vietnamese scholars.

During the few months of participating in seminars and other events at FSPPM, Thai Ha was really impressed with the school. This new experience made her realize the limit of her work – it was only known by the research community. She became excited about having her research applied to solve real world problems. On one occasion, Dr. Phu invited her to join a field study trip to a wind and solar energy project site. Although she had done some research on renewable energy, it was the first time she joined a field study trip. The stories of local people and businesses, their concerns over energy policies, and their experience in using energy broadened her horizons.

“It was an eye-opening experience for me. I realized that my research papers failed to meet real life expectations. And I realized that research that are not connected with the real world will be useless,” Ha said.

FSPPM had for decades focused on policy research and analysis, with priority given to institutional, policy, and legal issues that have a direct impact on Vietnamese society. FSPPM’s lecturers and economic experts had been involved in academic research for many years, and it was high time for the school to find the next generation of researchers.

In early 2019, Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh, FSPPM’s director, invited Ha to join FSPPM as Director of Research. FSPPM aspired to become a public policy school recognized for three aspects: teaching, research, and policy feedbacks that reach the global standards. In 2019, FSPPM received accreditation from the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administrations (NASPAA), becoming the first accredited public policy school in Southeast Asia. FSPPM’s Master of Public Policy Program is accredited by NASPAA for a period of 7 years, which is the highest possible accreditation outcome that one can expect.

The school’s policy feedbacks were mostly based on academic research or interpreted from the results of academic research. Fulbright experts always tried to interpret policy studies in an appropriate way for policymakers in a transitional economy like Vietnam.

“The difficulties that public policy schools are usually facing are how to associate academic research with both sound theory and sufficient practice and interpret them in the language that policymakers can understand easily. Dr. Le Thai Ha does academic research, but she also delivers policy implications via her studies. This shows the courage of the researcher to step out of the comfort zone of academic research. Presenting research with policy implications is a way to measure whether the research can be applied in real life. As such, researchers are more engaged, riskier, and potentially more impactful, and this is in line with the mission of a public policy school like FSPPM,” Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh talks about the role of Thai Ha.

Sweden’s Ambassador to Vietnam, Ann Mawe, and Dr. Le Thai Ha in the seminar “Nordic Green Capitals – Leadership, Governance, Sustainability and Innovation” organized by the Nordic Embassies in Vietnam (Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden), in coordination with the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management on the occasion of the Nordic Day 2021.

This year, Ha has just published two policy studies used for publication in the Asian Development Outlook by the Asian Development Bank and Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

“Having published papers that satisfy my passion for research while also is applicable in real life makes me even happier. Academic studies, to some extent, are not compatible with reality. If we can have policy implications in our academic studies, it would be ideal,” Ha talks about her goal of developing research at FSPPM.

As the Director of Research at FSPPM, Ha has participated in many policy dialogues with ministries, agencies, and organizations and joined many local, regional and international economic forums. This allows her to test her research and recommendations and see how they are perceived and reviewed.

“I remember my first meeting on environmental issues with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment chaired by Minister Tran Hong Ha. Although there have been many studies on the environment from an economic perspective, it was the first time that I heard directly from the ministry and other agencies about their feedbacks on my studies’ recommendations and policy implications. It helped me clearly see the applicability of my research,” Ha said.

The launch of FREP

Early this year, FSPPM announced the launch of the Fulbright Review of Economics and Policy, an international journal to be published on the platform of Emerald Publishing. FREP is an academic, peer-reviewed, open-access journal that publishes theoretical and empirical results in all the areas of economics and public policy.

As soon as the announcement was made, a friend asked Ha why she kept silent about the news for too long. Hardly he knew that Ha lost a lot of sleep preparing for the launch of FREP at the request of Dr. Vu Thanh Tu Anh for over a year since the outbreak of Covid-19.

FREP, by its name, chooses to focus on two distinctive fields of research: economics and public policy. Economics is a highly theoretical field of inquiry tapping into large datasets and utilizes sophisticated mathematical formulas in its approach. On the other hand, public policy explores more realistic problems making use of analytical observations in policies, law, and institutions that directly impact people’s lives. FREP aims to make the connection between these two fields by integrating theoretical findings in economics to seek effective policy solutions and providing empirical evidence for policy prescriptions.

“We want to create a forum for the exchange of serious, evidence-based researches that have clear theoretical foundations, solve problems, and make specific policy recommendations for issues in Vietnam, as well as in the region and the world. We want to measure the impact of research, not only by counting how many other studies cite them but by seeing how many people actually benefit from the right policies inspired by economics and policy studies,” said Dr. Tu Anh, the mastermind behind FREP’s content strategy.

As the editor-in-chief of the journal, Ha invested a lot of efforts in the first year of its launch. She describes thinking about it even in her dreams. When the whole world was severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, her discussions with the UK publisher in 2020 only focused on technical issues. Although she is also a member of the editorial board of several prestigious international journals, running a brand-new journal was still an unprecedented experience for her. Before reaching the agreement with Emerald Publishing, she failed to contact and find the right publisher many times. The biggest challenge was to gather researchers and maintain the quality of the journal as expected.

“It was an experience I’ve never had in my career,” she said.

What encouraged Ha to keep going is that although FREP is a new name in the international community of academic research journals, it had strong professional backup from leading scholars, just like FSPPM in the early days of its establishment. An editorial board consisting of famous scientists and scholars from leading universities in the world, particularly in the United States, accepted to serve as consultants for the journal. Many of them have strong connections with Fulbright school since the early days of its establishment more than 25 years ago, such as Prof. Dwight Perkins (Harvard University), Prof. David Dapice (Harvard University), Prof. James E. Anderson (Boston University), Prof. Terry Buss (U.S. National Academy of Public Administration), Prof. Eddy Malesky (Duke University), and Prof. Scott Fritzen (University of Oklahoma).

Stepping out of the comfort zone

In addition to doing research, Ha is a senior lecturer in economics at FSPPM. She finds the joy of life in doing research and teaching. An optimistic person, she always feels happy with little things every day. It can be an acceptance letter from a publishing journal or a fruitful lecture. She is usually asked by her students: “Why do you do so many studies?”

“Today I received the acceptance letter from a journal. I felt so happy like the sun was shining through my heart. I found the answer to the question of why I do so many researches: I want to receive acceptant letters so that I could be motivated to do other researches,” she shared on her Facebook.

Ha considers doing research a way to relax and relieve the pressure of work and life. When she was waiting for a reply from a journal to publish her paper or feeling sad during the days of social distancing in the Covid-19 pandemic, she focused on her research. Doing research is not always a path full of roses. Along with published papers, she had many papers rejected. Usually, the rate of papers approved by prestigious scientific journals in the ISI category is around 10%. Therefore, Ha attributes her success to hard work and perseverance.

After spending a year on technical preparations for FREP, Ha and her colleagues spent another six months preparing the content for the first issue in the summer of 2021. Her busy schedule also includes lecturing in the Fulbright Master of Public Policy program and the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Academy’s programs at Fulbright University Vietnam. The first special edition of FREP and a launching workshop with researchers will focus on the world’s and the region’s post-Covid policy response.

“At Fulbright, I have many opportunities to interact, not only with the government’s policymakers but also those in the private sector. With my current job, I also have many opportunities to deliver talks in other local universities. The more I expand my network, the more I appreciate the environment I am working in. It is an environment in which I can develop my expertise without being distracted. At Fulbright, I step out of my comfort zone in research and teaching,” Ha concluded.

Xuân Linh

On July 5, 2021, the YSEALI Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam welcomed the first inaugural cohort of 35 ASEAN Fellows to the flagship seminar on Energy Economic & Policy. The plenary session kicked started the two-week seminar with vibrant dialogues about the latest trends and their implications on the future outlook for the region.

Opportunities and challenges are always intertwined

Dr. Le Vu Quan, Director of YSEALI Academy at Fulbright, opened the session with a brief introduction on the skill sets and knowledge that the fellows will be exploring, entrusting that the world-class yet contextual experiences and pragmatic human capital development provided in the program will enable and amplify the voices of these young Southeast Asian leaders.

Prof. Dr. Le Vu Quan, Director of YSEALI Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam

It is established that ASEAN is one of the most vibrant emerging economies in the world – it is currently ranked sixth and expected to grow to become the fourth largest by 2030. As the world is woven with constant fluctuations and the digitalization platform is rapidly evolving, political and business models are changing relentlessly. Therefore it is critical that this young generation become tech-savvy, keen to explore new ideas and adapt dynamically to shape the future of the region.

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed countless challenges to the whole world, where there arise new disruptions and confusion constantly, testing the people’s resilience, the community mindset, and unity. Ms. Dam Bich Thuy, Founding President of Fulbright University Vietnam, attested that: “In these gloomy days of the COVID pandemic, if there is one thing that keeps us optimistic about the future, for me, it is the young people… I have been struck by [your] aspiration to initiate positive changes, [your] courage to take on challenges, and [your] willingness to act for other people.”

Ms. Dam Bich Thuy, Founding President of Fulbright University Vietnam

“Opportunities and challenges are always intertwined,” President Thuy stated. So with that, YSEALI Academy at Fulbright carries a grander mission to help young people from across ASEAN to make connections, learn new skills, and build cross-border networks, including with the United States, to solve big challenges facing the region. In her welcoming remarks, Ms. Dam Bich Thuy expressed sincere thanks for the United States government’s tremendous support to make this initiative possible swiftly just more than one year since the initial discussion about the YSEALI Academy project.

The unrelenting efforts despite Covid-19 disruptions

Joining the plenary session was also a representative from the United States, Ms. Wendy R. Sherman, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State. She resonated deeply with the notion that challenges always go hand in hand with opportunities if we approach them from the right angle. Studies have shown that among the many challenges of our time, climate crisis is a big one. Putting it in context to the Southeast Asian region, last year had more than half a million people displaced due to natural disasters. It is predicted that rising sea levels can swamp the entire region, where habitats 48 million people, by 2050 if we do not act now and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Ms. Wendy R. Sherman, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State

But, Ms. Sherman said, “addressing the climate crisis isn’t just about staving off catastrophe. It is also about creating opportunities. By transitioning to clean energy, we can prevent about half a million premature deaths a year in Southeast Asia alone. And if we prioritize clean energy, as we build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic, we can create 30 million jobs across the region.”

Speaking to the inaugural cohort of YSEALI Academy, she praised the Fellows for actively taking the matters into their own hands to “build NGOs, launch new businesses, and become advocates pushing [their] governments to do more,” which would help tackle the climate crisis, or get more clean energy on the grid, or create jobs for other young people. “That’s why the United States launched YSEALI in the first place and it’s why we’re so proud to partner with Fulbright University Vietnam.”

Ms. Baltazar Thea, a Fellow from the Philippines, shared that she decided to apply to the program despite the difficulties worn by Covid-19 because she truly believes that “there is no better time to open the discourse on energy security and carbon emissions than now, while the world’s economy is slowly recuperating from the effects of the pandemic.”

Ms. Baltazar Thea, a YSEALI Fellow from the Philippines

“As part of the delegates of the Philippines, it is also fitting to share with ASEAN our country’s energy goals, experiences, and the bottlenecks we encountered since the trend now is geared towards regional integration. And through this program, we can learn from the experiences of our Southeast Asian neighbors, such as Indonesia and Thailand, who, like us, are endowed with a multitude of islands. Moreover, I believe this experience should also involve a two-way process where we will gain insights and skills and at the same time offer value added inputs to further enhance YSEALI programs in the coming years.” – Ms. Thea delineated on her pay-it-forward mindset.

YSEALI culture ambassadors – Dream big while also focus on the details

This pay-it-forward mindset is precisely what draws the YSEALI community together and keeps them engaged throughout various shifts of time. They are committed to solving regional and global challenges via collaborative leadership, spearheading changes as the YSEALI culture ambassadors. This spirit does not only spread amongst the fellows but also among the YSEALI members, to the guest speakers and lecturers. These academic think tanks and industry-leading experts are openly engaging with the fellows to create an engrossing environment, where each can learn from one another. That spirit of unity, of sharing, and of lifelong learning commitment is the only way we can move forward onto a promising future.

In applications to the seminar itself, Dr. Thai-Lai Pham, President and CEO of Siemens ASEAN, delivered in his keynote lecture that: “The important thing about climate change is that it doesn’t stop at the border of Vietnam, it doesn’t stop at the border of Indonesia, and it doesn’t stop at the border of Thailand. It’s a global phenomenon. And therefore, it really requires a global initiative and global efforts to combat climate change.”

Dr. Lai brings with him almost 30 years of experience in executive management positions in R&D, corporate strategy, product development, and sales, in the telecommunications, healthcare, energy and building technologies divisions of his one home: Siemens. In addition to his leadership at Siemens ASEAN and Siemens Vietnam, Dr. Lai also serves as the Head of Smart Infrastructure (SI) ASEAN, steering SI’s business of intelligently connecting energy systems, buildings, and industries to enhance the way people live and work through greater efficiency and sustainability. His rich experience spans from both breadth and depths truly aid to liven up the discussion in YSEALI Academy’s seminar on Energy Economics and Policy.

In the first conversation with YSEALI fellows, Dr. Lai identified five megatrends that are changing the world and pose great challenges to the current generation, which are climate change, globalization, digitalization, demographic change, and urbanization. He pointed out that we are living in an increasingly complex world where new challenges can emerge overnight with Covid being a candid example. According to Dr. Lai, the youngest CEO of the multinational company, Siemens is strong today because they are relentlessly focused on tomorrow and provide solutions for today’s and tomorrow’s problems. And as ASEAN is projected to grow to become among the top largest economies, energy demand is going to increase, and thus requires new solutions to grow sustainably. However, if young professionals are equipped with the right tools, connected with the right people, and join hands together, these challenges should also present us with enormous opportunities.

Dr. Thai-Lai Pham, President and CEO of Siemens ASEAN

Dr. Lai covered in his brief lecture a number of topics, ranging from energy demand growth, renewable resources, grid distribution, to utilizing data as a game-changer, and touching on the new question of energy storage capacity. He remarked that despite the detrimental effects of Covid-19, it is no excuse to not promote renewable or clean energy or to not look for ways to mitigate energy crisis and climate change. The overall disruption on the supply chain should not deter us, but instead, motivate us to innovate and continue our fight against global challenges, in particular, the climate change crisis.

Advising the fellows, he urged: “We have to have a dream, for me that is a vision and an aspiration, which can be big, and maybe it should be big. On the other hand, it is very important to focus on what you need to do in order to make that dream reality. So dream big but focus on the details too.

Aside from the ripple of opportunities that the fellows will get out of participating in this program, there will also spark collaborations and friendships throughout the two weeks of the seminar. The fellows are to build networks that will endure beyond the virtual classroom and through time because ultimately, they all share a vision of a better world led by young minds across the globe.

Ms. Thao Bui, a YSEALI Fellow from Vietnam

Ms. Thao Bui, YSEALI Fellow from Vietnam, described her experience with the current ongoing seminar on Energy Economics and Policy in one word – “energetic”. Started her journey with YSEALI in 2015 and is now a working professional in the industry, she testified that the network has benefited her greatly in her career. To Ms. Thao personally and every other fellow in this network, “YSEALI momentum is never-ending”, hence this flagship seminar at YSEALI Academy Vietnam marks a significant leap and promises a strong launchpad for ASEAN young leaders.

Bảo Trâm