Today, via video message broadcast to 150 youth and dignitaries gathered in Manila, Philippines, President Obama announced the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). Recognizing that over 65 percent of the region’s population is under the age of 35, YSEALI seeks to augment leadership development and networking in ASEAN; deepen engagement with young leaders across critical sectors; and strengthen people-to-people ties between the United States and young leaders across the region. This new initiative will expand and institutionalize extensive diplomatic and programmatic engagement throughout Southeast Asia aimed at empowering the next generation of leaders.
Youth Leadership Development
The U.S. Government has made significant investments in nurturing a regional network and strengthening leadership skills among ASEAN youth. For example, at the LEAD ASEAN Youth Summit in Manila, 150 youth delegates are working together to forge solutions to transnational challenges such as climate change, youth unemployment, and trafficking in persons. The summit will culminate in a proposal contest, with the winning teams receiving grants to implement community projects.
Since 2009, the Southeast Asia Youth Leadership Program has brought teenagers from all ten ASEAN member countries to the United States. The program promotes civic responsibility and community service with hands-on training that develops the participants’ leadership skills. In addition, Ambassador Youth Councils across Southeast Asia provide a channel for young people to interact with top U.S. officials and get involved in matters of global impact.
The United States supports academic exchanges with Southeast Asian youth because education unlocks youth’s potential to drive economic and social advances. Each year, more than 700 Fulbright scholarships are awarded to American and Southeast Asian students and scholars for study, research, or teaching. This fall, the State Department launched the Fulbright U.S.-ASEAN Initiative, which supports the exchange of scholars from the United States and ASEAN focused on regional priorities, such as food security and public health.
In response to the Government of Indonesia’s desire to invest in its next generation of leaders, the United States is launching a new scholarship program that will provide career paths for youth to transition to productive members and leaders in Indonesian society. This $29 million effort will offer over 160 scholarships for Government of Indonesia officials and university faculty in specialty areas such as biodiversity, climate change, and basic and higher education.
Science, Technology, and Entrepreneurship
The United States is partnering with Southeast Asian youth to use science, technology, and entrepreneurship to build regional prosperity and find innovative solutions to pressing regional concerns. For example, this fall, Malaysia hosted the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which President Obama announced in his 2009 Cairo address. This year’s summit brought together over 4,000 entrepreneurs, investors, academics, and government officials from Southeast Asia and around the world. It kicked off with Global Startup Youth, a pre-summit that brought together 500 young people from over 100 countries to develop pitches for new ventures. The United States also supports Mekong Technology Innovation Generation and Entrepreneurship Resources (TIGERS@Mekong), a public-private partnership that helps young innovators and entrepreneurs connect with venture capitalists and bring their business ideas to market.
In partnership with governments in the region, the United States is supporting the expansion of English language skills to facilitate better communication between the United States and ASEAN nations. The $25 million Brunei-U.S. English Language Enrichment Project for ASEAN will benefit thousands of Southeast Asian youth by improving local English language teachers English teaching skills. Each year, the English Access Microscholarship Program provides foundational English language skills to nearly 3,000 bright, economically disadvantaged 13- to 20-year-olds in Southeast Asia through two years of after-school classes and intensive summer learning activities.
Civic Engagement and Social Entrepreneurship
The United States encourages youth to give back to their local communities, ensuring thriving civil societies in their home countries. In August, the United States and Malaysia launched the ASEAN Youth Volunteer Program,which encourages young volunteers to serve in the region, while enhancing cross-cultural ties and understanding among ASEAN youth. Marking the program’s eighth year, the 2014 ASEAN International Visitor Leadership Program will bring emerging leaders from each of the ten ASEAN countries to the United States to examine regional economic cooperation in Southeast Asia, particularly focusing on how to cultivate an ASEAN-based identity in a changing world market. In support of the U.S.-Burma Partnership for Democracy, Peace and Prosperity, the United States is working with universities and the private sector to create a Higher Education Partnerships program, which will advance democratic rights, transparent governance, inclusive economic growth, food security, and the health and livelihoods of the people of Burma. The United States is also supporting youth in southern Philippines by investing $11 million over five years in Mindanao Youth for Development, which provides quality workforce development and life skills that integrate problem solving, leadership, peace education, and entrepreneurship.