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.

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