Ambassador Hachigian Remarks at 2016 YSEALI Summit

Ambassador Hachigian at YSEALI Summit in Laos, 2016

Ambassador Hachigian Remarks


Luang Prabang, Laos

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

(As prepared)


I am so pleased to be here with all of you in beautiful Luang Prabang.

This is my second YSEALI Summit, and, as always, I get so energized and inspired from being with YSEALI members!

I’ve watched YSEALI from the beginning and In my opinion, YSEALI, which will be three years old this December, has grown into one of the most successful programs like it that the United States has anywhere in the world. We now have more than 90,000 YSEALI members across all 10 ASEAN countries!

Isn’t that fantastic?

And to think that I knew you when you were only this big!

I’m going to talk for a few minutes but then want to take some time to hear from you any ideas you have about how YSEALI could be even better.

I flew in from Vientiane this morning to be here with you, because I like you so much, and I will fly right back to Vientiane after this for the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and East Asia Summit.

At the U.S. – ASEAN Summit, leaders of your ten countries and President Obama will sit together and discuss important topics including economic integration which ASEAN is leading, maritime security, and transnational challenges like trafficking in persons and climate change.

ASEAN is an important organization when it comes to dealing with challenges that cross borders, because it is trying to foster cooperation and develop common approaches among the 10 member states.

At the East Asia Summit, the ten ASEAN leaders plus the leaders of 8 other countries–the U.S., Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, and Russia will meet and share views on some of the most critical issues we face. It’s one of the great things about ASEAN that it convenes leaders of half the world’s population to talk about key strategic issues like the South China Sea and North Korea’s nuclear program.

Now last year, at the U.S. – ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, our leaders agreed that ASEAN and the United States have a “strategic” partnership.

That is the highest level kind of partnership you can have with ASEAN. The new name is recognition of the fact that we mean a lot to each other and that we cooperate on vital issues across all three of ASEAN’s communities:  Political-Security, Economic and Socio-Cultural.

As you may remember, to commemorate and further our strategic partnership, President Obama invited all ten ASEAN leaders earlier this year, in February, to attend a historic summit in the United States, in Sunnylands, California. That was the first ever stand-alone ASEAN-U.S. Summit in the United States and it was the first Summit that ASEAN after launching its Community. I was lucky enough to attend this special event –and it was quite informal and friendly (at least, for a leaders Summit) but the outcomes were tangible. President Obama announced a new economic framework called USASEAN Connect that focuses in particular on innovation and entrepreneurship. The YSEALI Innovation Challenge this year is one example of a program under USASEAN Connect.  I expect President Obama will talk more about this initiative in the coming week.

The United States is the largest cumulative investor in ASEAN and your economic future really matters to us. Other than economic integration, the other priorities of the US-ASEAN relationship are women’s opportunity, transnational challenges including climate change, maritime cooperation, and fostering emerging leaders. That last one–fostering emerging leaders – that’s YOU.

YOU are officially one of the very top priorities of cooperation between the United States and ASEAN.  President Obama even mentioned YSEALI in his opening remarks at the U.S. – ASEAN Summit in Sunnylands. He said he’s very proud that YSEALI is helping to empower young men and women who are shaping the region every day. I’ve been privileged to attend several YSEALI events, and I have met lots of inspiring and motivated young people like you. I apologize that I don’t always remember your names, but your passion, your talent and your optimism I carry with me.

My first YSEALI experience was at the YSEALI Women’s Leadership Workshop that my team organized in Jakarta in May last year for 40 women from all ten ASEAN countries. One of my top priorities as Ambassador to ASEAN is to promote opportunities for women and this was a terrific forum. I was joined at one session by several other ambassadors and we shared our experiences and inspirations and some tips based on our own lives and careers. That workshop spawned a series we call Women Who Lead and, following the inaugural event at @america in Jakarta, we took the program on the road, hosting events in Manila, Brunei and Kuala Lumpur.

The second workshop I attended was the YSEALI Power of Entrepreneurship workshop in Ho Chi Minh City, also in May last year. By then, interest in YSEALI was really building. Nearly 1,500 people submitted applications. I had the opportunity to witness the sixty young leaders who were selected from all ten ASEAN countries while they were preparing their pitches.

Then there was the YSEALI Summit in Kuala Lumpur, in November last year. I hope some of you watched the live feed? What an exciting day. I remember it well and can say that you guys are in for a treat when you get to meet President Obama tomorrow. Ask him some hard questions, OK? I know he can handle it. Ask him questions that your country or you are really grappling with. I think he is one of the wisest people there is and he will give you good advice.

There is nothing like being with YSEALI members in person but sometime that isn’t possible. You were all talented enough to earn coveted places as Academic and Professional Fellows. Hundreds of your friends, colleagues, and fellow YSEALI members will earn places in regional workshops. However, not every one of the 90,000 will have that chance. And that is why we have digital engagements too. When I haven’t been able to be present in person, the YSEALI team has made it possible for me to be present virtually. I recorded messages for the YSEALI second anniversary event in the Philippines in December last year organized by YSEALI alumni, and also for the YSEALI Innovation Challenge Bootcamp in Singapore in July this year. I hope you will also connect to YSEALI online. And, later, when I ask you about how we can improve YSEALI, let me know if you have ideas how we can make our digital offerings better.

The YSEALI program is a successful program because of the talent and dedication of the participants and the amazing work you and they are doing in their home countries and across the region. For example, we have, Ngin Lyda, from Cambodia who is currently working to support eleven projects on topics ranging from the environment to policy development. Daniel Devan from Malaysia co-founded a youth initiative that works towards solving community issues using young people as catalysts for positive change. And we have Dave Albao from the Philippines, who developed ecotourism and environmental education programs for a marine reserve and wildlife sanctuary. Those are just a few examples.

I’m sure every one of you here, and many more YSEALI participants and members out there, all have done great works and have brilliant ideas to contribute to a better and greater ASEAN. Knowing you makes me confident that the future of ASEAN is in good hands. As President Obama said at a YSEALI Town Hall in Vietnam just a couple of months ago, we need your passion and energy and talents to tackle some of our biggest global challenges — whether it’s reducing poverty, or advancing equality for women and girls, or fighting climate change.

At this YSEALI Summit you will learn more about rural development and the development gap in ASEAN. I encourage you to take advantage of this Summit, brainstorm ideas and solutions, and then go back to your countries and try to make a difference together. I want to encourage all of you to think beyond your own borders and think regionally and globally. You are a part of the broader ASEAN community and you can play a part to make this beautiful, diverse and dynamic region even better. As YSEALI alumni, you are, like me, now ambassadors– for ASEAN. Networks are powerful tools, and I know YSEALI programs provide great networking opportunity for its members. Please stay connected through Facebook or other platforms, and share your experience and commitment to improving the world with friends, family and colleagues – the more dedicated people we have, the better.

And let me tell you that YSEALI already has a full schedule of programs for the rest of this year and for 2017. We’ll have Women’s Leadership Academy in Jakarta that the US Mission to ASEAN will host; There will also be a regional workshop on Eco-Entrepreneurship in Brunei and Urban Development in Singapore. There will be more Professional and Academic Fellowships, more digital speaker series, and more digital engagement on YSEALI social media. Also keep in touch with your embassies for opportunities to be involved in local YSEALI programs.

Now, being here with a large group of young people, and being a mother, I can’t help but want to give you some advice. I will limit myself to only two. One has to do with the power of habits. I had a friend who stopped buying plastic bags.  One day she announced to me—no more plastic bags. This was about 5 or 6 years ago and I was shocked. But then I started thinking about it and stopped buying them myself. And then I influenced others, and so on. If you think of the cumulative impact of these tiny decisions, over a lifetime, it really adds up. It’s even better when we get city governments to make retailers charge for plastic bags, like they do now in Jakarta. But even just changing the way YOU live makes a difference in the power of example. You can choose not to speak ill of others.  You can choose to be honest and kind.  And you will be models that others can follow.

The other piece of advice is— to be persistent. If you have an idea for your future, hang on to it. Being persistent doesn’t mean you automatically get to your goal. But if you do want to reach your goal, if it’s a big, important goal, you will have to be persistent. I’m going to end my remarks with a quote from Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” So I encourage you, all you young leaders of ASEAN to go and create the bright future of ASEAN!

I know that your individual and collective efforts will help realize ASEAN’s vision of a Community of Opportunity. Now I want to take a few minutes to get your ideas about how we can make YSEALI even better. When YSEALI started, the focus areas were proposed by the members. I’d like to hear from you now if you have any suggestions you have.

Thank you! And with that now it’s time for me to take a wefie with you to add to my collection!