EWC Partners with U.S. Army on Young Leaders Program


In early 2017, staff from the East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Leadership Program partnered with the U.S. Army to help provide instruction for the Army’s Young Alaka‘i leadership development initiative, which prepares high-potential mid-career officers from across the Indo-Asia-Pacific area of operations for senior leadership positions. The program assists participants as they move from the operational outlook needed in their current roles to the more strategic mindsets required in senior ranks.

Center staff worked with Young Alaka‘i participants in classroom settings in Hawai‘i and field work in Thailand and Sri Lanka. In the Hawai‘i workshops, participants engaged the three areas of inquiry that are common to all EWC Leadership Programs. In the first, “What’s Going On?” they examined through scenario-building and other activities the complexities of key emerging issues that will affect Indo-Asia-Pacific regions in the years to come. Workshop themes were amplified in a talk by U.S. Army Pacific Commanding Gen. Robert Brown, as he connected the complexity of the operating environment with the need for adaptive learning.

The second thematic area, “Where Do We Fit?” looked at the relationship between the U.S. military and local civil societies and other groups. In this session, the group worked to identify shared understandings of key drivers of change and discussed diverse perspectives of the United States’ role in Asia.

The third thematic question, “What Types of Action are Required?” developed tools for strategic thinking and adaptive leadership, since leading in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world requires an ability to ‘know what to do when you don’t know what to do.’ As Maj. Gen. Susan Davidson noted, “The curriculum provided these students with the tools and information required to thrive in joint and multinational communities with increasingly strategic mission requirements.”

The themes developed in Hawai‘i were deepened through field study in Thailand and Sri Lanka, since transformational learning is often done best outside of zones of familiarity, and also because the complexities of the regional issues involved can only be understood fully through on-the-ground experience. In addition, cross-functional and cross-rank communication and bonding among officers can happen best “on the road,” outside normal military command-and-control environments.

EWC and Army officials agreed that the partnership had been highly successful, and the relationship is set to expand with future Young Alaka‘i cohorts. “Both the East-West Center and the U.S. military share a common belief in the critical role of individual leadership capacity in promoting a stable and peaceful region and world,” said EWC Leadership Program Director Scott MacLeod. “Looking forward under the leadership of new EWC President Richard Vuylsteke, the Center sees many potential avenues of cooperation with the U.S. armed services as we pursue common goals of reducing global conflict and enhancing international understanding.”