President Obama Meets With EWC Southeast Asian Leadership Participants

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Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy

HONOLULU (June 3, 2015) -- This year’s 20 participants in an East-West Center-administered leadership program for Southeast Asian university students and recent graduates met with President Obama at the White House on June 1, along with 55 other participants in the State Department’s Young Southeast Asian Leader’s Initiative, or YSEALI. The president held a wide-ranging “town hall” Q&A session with the group on such themes as civic engagement, natural resource management and entrepreneurship. (Read more about the meeting on the White House blog, or view a video or transcript of the session.)

“I think all of you know I have a special attachment to Southeast Asia,” Obama told the group.  “As a boy, I lived in Jakarta.  My mother spent years working in villages to help women improve their lives.  So Southeast Asia helped shape who I am and how I see the world.  And as President, I’ve made it a pillar of my foreign policy to make sure that the United States is more deeply engaged in the Asia Pacific region, including Southeast Asia … because your region is critical to our shared future.”

The president highlighted several of the participants, including Muchamad Dafip, an environmental advocate from Indonesia whom Obama said had “learned new ways to empower citizens and effect change” during his YSEALI program at the East-West Center.

Participant Ferth Manaysay, a community reporter from the Philippines, said he was “struck by President Obama's combination of a sharp mind and a warm heart. His strategic thinking and calculation is balanced with a warm and caring presence. It is very inspiring to be in the presence of such a leader.”

The town hall meeting with the president came during a week in Washington for the YSEALI participants, with visits to various national agencies, institutions and embassies. Launched in 2013, YSEALI is the president’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. Through a variety of educational and cultural exchanges, along with grant funding for seed projects, the program seeks to build the leadership capabilities of youth in the region, strengthen ties between the United States and Southeast Asia, and nurture an ASEAN community.

With funding from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the East-West Center administers a five-week environmental institute for YSEALI participants who are current or recent graduate or undergraduate university students, with activities at the Center in Honolulu, Hawaii, as well as in Washington, D.C. and Boulder, Colorado. (Other colleges and institutions host different YSEALI groups, which include young working professionals as well as students.) Participants, who are competitively selected by the U.S. embassy in their country, build leadership skills through active, experiential learning.

Prior to traveling to Washington, the EWC group posted a social media video of their excited reaction to learning of the meeting with President Obama.