The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), together with Fulbright University Vietnam recently hosted an online panel titled “Future of ASEAN: The Role of Youth”, with the participation of 3 YSEALI alumni from Vietnam, Cambodia and Brunei. The event was organized on the occasion of the establishment of YSEALI Academy at Fulbright, supported by a $5 million grant awarded by the US Department of State to support young people in Southeast Asia. There, our guests shared their experiences and journeys building community-focused start-ups.
Developing capacity, strengthening connection
Announced in 2013, the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) is a remarkable program by the US government to develop youth leadership and strengthen connectivity in Southeast Asia.
As announced by David Stilwell, US Assistant Secretary of State in charge of the East Asia – Pacific region, the purpose of YSEALI Academy is to organize seminars and workshops fostering the capacity for young professionals, juniors and middle management levels aged 25-40 from across Southeast Asia. The topics covered include technology and innovation, public policy, and entrepreneurship. Selected young talents will participate in workshops, group projects and field trips. They will also have many rewarding opportunities to expand their career network, and will receive their certification before becoming a part of a combined network of YSEALI and Fulbright alumni.
US Ambassador to Vietnam Daniel Kritenbrink explained the unique role Fulbright plays in cultivating talents, saying, “since it was established in 2016, FUV has served as a leading higher education institution to educate and develop Vietnam’s next generation of leaders, scholars, and critical thinkers.“
Meanwhile, the US delegation in Vietnam identified YSEALI as a distinctive program to help strengthen human resource development throughout the region. Since the program was launched in December 2013, more than 150,000 members have joined the YSEALI network, of which 30,000 are from Vietnam. “This partnership will bring together YSEALI — the U.S. government’s signature program to support future leaders from all 10 ASEAN member states and Timor-Leste – with Fulbright University Vietnam, the first nonprofit, independent, U.S.-affiliated university in Vietnam,” commented Assistant Secretary of State Stilwell.
“As an academic institution committed to creating a future generation capable of leading positive change, we are extremely excited and honored to join YSEALI in building new generations of leaders with creative thinking and the ability to find new ways and solutions to the challenges facing the region”, remarked Ms. Dam Bich Thuy, President of Fulbright University.
Acknowledging that he is inspired by Fulbright’s mission and remarkable efforts to “reimagine the higher education in Vietnam, building the next generation of Vietnamese leaders equipped with the skills to tackle global challenges,” Vietnamese Ambassador to the United States Ha Kim Ngoc believes that “FUV is quite capable of becoming a university of choice for the next generation of Southeast Asian changemakers.”
Underlining how Fulbright and YSEALI both constitute “the sweet fruits of the ASEAN-US strategic partnership and Vietnam-US comprehensive partnership in particular,” Ambassador Ha Kim Ngoc reaffirmed that the Government of Vietnam strongly supports Fulbright University Vietnam and YSEALI Academy in their efforts to help ASEAN’s young generation reach their full potential.
“In our capacity as the 2020 ASEAN Chair, we have worked closely with our US partners in so many areas to further cherish many young people’s burning dreams,” said Ambassador Ha Kim Ngoc.
The generation of change leaders
According to Ambassador Ha Kim Ngoc, young people make up over 65 percent of ASEAN’s population of 650 million people, which explains why ASEAN is one of the most vibrant emerging economies in the world. Last year, ASEAN’s digital economy passed the record level of 100 billion USD of which Indonesia and Vietnam witnessed the fastest digital growth of over 40 percent. Among these gloomy days of the Covid-19 pandemic, ASEAN can still be optimistic about the positive digital trade growth within the region and between ASEAN and major partners such as the United States. “Crisis always produces changes, and you, the young leaders of Southeast Asia, will surely lead the wave of change for the better,” said the Ambassador.
Ambassador Ha Kim Ngoc further remarked that the generation of technology savvy, dynamic and adaptive young men and women would shape the future of ASEAN.
“However, opportunities and challenges are intertwined. Disruptive technologies of the 4th industrial revolution, i.e. A. I., big data or Internet of Things pose tremendous challenges to ASEAN youths,” the Ambassador said.
“A recent survey showed that only 18 percent of ASEAN youths believe their current skill set will be relevant for the rest of their lives… Even young graduates with distinction often find themselves jobless or need re-skilling, or up-skilling, after some years on a demanding job,” Ambassador Ha Kim Ngoc noted.
During the following online discussion session, the three YSEALI alumni shared the challenges they face with entrepreneurship, as well as with starting science projects, economic development projects and community projects. All three guests further agreed that projects like YSEALI Academy would make a big contribution to creating a young generation of leaders with the skills to cope with global challenges.
Mr. Le Xuan Loc, a lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine, National University of Ho Chi Minh City, stated that “the YSEALI program is also an innovation idea because it changes young people like me from nothing to the best versions of ourselves, and it helps optimize everyone’s potentials… For the ASEAN region, the YSEALI Academy is a great innovation to create a generation of young leaders who can spread the impact to the community.”
Mr. Sarakk Rith, Managing Director of PEPY Empowering Youth in Siem Riep, Cambodia, YSEALI fellow in 2019, shared his hope for YSEALI to organize more seminars, events and meeting opportunities in the region for young people.
“I think the YSEALI Academy is a great opportunity, because education has always played an important role in helping us develop the skills we need for the future,” expressed Fizah Rashid, Project Founder at Big BWN Project, which promotes economic development and entrepreneurship in Brunei.