Ambassador Nina Hachigian Remarks – YSEALI Go NGO Workshop

Ambassador Nina Hachigian Remarks – As Prepared
YSEALI Go NGO Workshop
ASEAN Night Dinner
Cebu, Philippines
Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Good Evening Your Excellency Mayor Paz Radaza. On behalf of the U.S., thank you for coming to the dinner of this YSEALI Go NGO Workshop. And Good Evening YSEALI!

I’m so excited to be here with all of you wonderful people.

Let me begin by thanking our partner Cultural Vistas and AGREA that is helping us with this workshop for their hard work. Thank you Dan and team! Thanks to the volunteers; to YSEALI coordinators Iswandy, Tessa, and EJ. And thanks to my staff Andrea and Nalindra and U.S. Embassy Manila.

I’ve watched YSEALI from the beginning and in my judgment, YSEALI, which will be three years old next month, has grown into one of the most successful programs that the United States has anywhere in the world. We now have almost 100,000 YSEALI members across all 10 ASEAN countries.

Tonight I’m going to talk briefly about ASEAN, the U.S. partnership with ASEAN, and how your role as young civil society leaders of ASEAN is essential to the region.

Almost 50 years ago, ASEAN formed around the aspiration that through “the collective will of the nations of Southeast Asia” they would “bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity.”

ASEAN has long been a foundation for prosperity and order in the Asia-Pacific. And the United States has been ASEAN’s partners for nearly forty years. I assure you, our national interests demand that we keep supporting ASEAN and the economic, security, and political order that it sustains, now and into the future.

The United States was the first non-ASEAN country to appoint a dedicated Ambassador to ASEAN. President Obama was the first U.S. President to meet with all ten ASEAN leaders, and he has attended the U.S. – ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit multiple times. In fact, he has come to Southeast Asia more than any other U.S. President has, and became the first sitting U.S. president to ever visit Laos.

ASEAN and the United States elevated their relationship to a strategic partnership in 2015, and then we had the first stand-alone U.S. – ASEAN Summit in California at Sunnylands this past February. In Laos in September, we launched funds to help women entrepreneurs, and farmers, and to promote renewable energy. We held the first U.S. – ASEAN Women’s Leadership Academy in Jakarta last month. But even with all that, I think the best days of the U.S. – ASEAN partnership are still to come. That is because ASEAN has a very bright future ahead as it builds the Community of Opportunity.

I have met hundreds of ASEAN’s talented young leaders, and I am fully confident that your – creativity, ingenuity and passion will propel this region to new heights. The next generation of ASEAN leaders, including you, will continue to forge peace, within ASEAN and within Asia.

You will triumph over intolerance, holding violent extremism at bay. You will work to ensure that women and disadvantaged populations have equal opportunity. You will pull millions more out of poverty through strong economic growth, stimulated by the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and through creative programs like the ones some of you are creating.

Under the AEC of the future, ASEAN economies will be highly integrated, relying on each other for markets and suppliers. Students will be free to travel throughout ASEAN to get an education, and foreign investment will continue to help create jobs, provide training and other technology.

It will be easy to start to business, and small businesses will be integrated into the regional economy. More and more ASEAN citizens will have access to the open Internet and other technologies – to find markets for their products and new ways to solve problems.

At the same time, ASEAN leaders will work hard to make the water in ASEAN cleaner, the sky over big city bluer, and, in turn, citizens healthier. They will ensure forests; oceans and the Mekong River remain sources of food, tourism and livelihood for millions in the region by finding ways to use them sustainably.

The next generation will continue to convene all the powers in Asia at the ASEAN table to talk through our common challenges and our differences. So I think the best days for ASEAN and the U.S. – ASEAN relationship are still ahead. And that’s because of you and the change you will create.

As President Obama said, the Rebalance is “a partnership not just with nations, but with people…for decades to come.”

And a central part of ASEAN’s Community vision is for it to be “people-centered.”

You young people are the future of ASEAN, and that’s why assisting, encouraging emerging leaders is one of my top priorities as the U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN.

It has been one of the highest privileges of my job to attend YSEALI events, and I have met many inspiring and motivated young people like you. The YSEALI program is successful only because of the talent and dedication of its members and the amazing work you and others are doing in your home countries and across the region.

For example, with us today is Charis Ding from Malaysia. Where is she?

She’s the founder of MYReaders, an NGO that uses volunteers and peer tutors toward the goal of eradicating illiteracy among children in Malaysia and the region. From January 2016 until now, MYReaders has shared its program and peer tutoring methods with teachers in 21 schools in 5 states across Malaysia, reaching more than 400 students. What an impressive start!

And we also have Khairul Azmi from Brunei. Where is he?

He’s the Acting Chairman of the Society for Community Outreach and Training (SCOT), whose mission is to be a catalyst for sustainable poverty alleviation in Brunei Darussalam. I would also like to congratulate SCOT for being awarded the Outstanding Project for Youth in Brunei during Brunei’s National Youth Day Celebration. Bravo.

Research shows that many young people have a strong desire to engage actively with their communities but do not understand how decisions in society get made. When young people do have more involvement in decision-making processes, they can emerge with more self-esteem, better communication skills, better knowledge about their communities and more effective leadership strategies.

So I encourage you, as more experienced leaders, to share your knowledge with your colleagues and friends in your country, and in the region. Help them understand your cause and goals, as well as ASEAN, and bring them along with you.

Here at this YSEALI Go NGO! Workshop you will learn more practical examples of different roles that NGOs play in helping to grow civil society. NGOs play a critical role in ASEAN, stepping in to help people in need and ecosystems under strain. You often take on an important bridging role between communities and government.

So take advantage of this chance to brainstorm ideas and solutions, and then go back to your countries and communities and make a difference together. Do it the ASEAN Way – with unity in diversity.

You work on different issues – environment, education, economic development, or others; you come from different countries, different traditions, rural and city, different religions. But I know that all of you, and thousands more YSEALI members like you, are bound together by a passion to achieve one goal – to make the world a better place. To make a difference.

You belong to the 100,000 member strong YSEALI network, and to the broader ASEAN community. YSEALI is knitting ASEAN together. So together you can make this beautiful, diverse and dynamic region even better! You are all Ambassadors to ASEAN, and from ASEAN.

As President Obama said at the YSEALI Town Hall in Laos last September, “While Presidents and Prime Ministers can help lay the foundation, it’s going to be young people like you who build the future of this region and the world.”

To close my remarks, I want to urge you to take what you’ll learn this week and go forwards. And be persistent. If you have an idea of 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, you will have to be persistent.

Remember, failure is OK. Mistakes are our best teachers.

In Laos, President Obama talked about being inspired by the story of one young woman from there. He recounted how she was not born to wealth, she was not born to a famous family, and she wasn’t politically connected. But still, she was able to make an impact with her work on sustainable agriculture.

And he concluded, if she could suddenly make such an impact, then that means that anybody can make an impact. Her project wasn’t necessarily any better than any of the projects that you’re working on. But part of the point of YSEALI he said “is that in each of us, in each of you, there’s the potential to change the world.”

You are my inspiration. I am so proud that you have already made a difference at such young ages. And I am fully confident that you will keep going. The future for ASEAN will stay bright with young leaders like you!

So go forward and be the change you want for ASEAN and for the world.

In the official language of ASEAN, Thank You.
Daghang Salamat
Terima Kasih
Khob Khun Ka
Cam On
Kyei Zu Tin Ba De