Barack Obama announces Asia Pacific Leadership Program in Hawaii [Image: Cory Lum/Honolulu Civil Beat]

Barack Obama Launches Asia Pacific Leadership Program in Hawaiʻi


The Obama Foundation has launched an Asia-Pacific leadership program which includes a series of workshops for 21 emerging leaders from countries across the region. The program will build on and connect with the Foundation’s inaugural international leaders program in Africa, which launched in 2018 and brought together 200 emerging leaders from around the African continent for a one-year leadership development and civic engagement training initiative.

The Asia-Pacific leadership program aims to address critical issues such as climate change, human rights, and good governance. President Obama made the announcement last month at a private gathering at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, to an audience that included some of Hawaiʻi’s elected officials and top business and community leaders, including East-West Center President Richard Vuylsteke. Obama emphasized the importance of training the next generation of leaders who will prioritize “dialogue, listening, and inclusion”. In his remarks, the former president noted that growing up in Hawaiʻi he experienced firsthand how “people from different backgrounds can learn from one another and work to create a thriving community.” Hawaiʻi is by far the most ethnically diverse state in America, with a growing Asian American population already at nearly 1 million.

The leaders selected to participate in the program represent 16 different countries and territories from the Indo-Pacific, including two native Hawaiians. Their vocational backgrounds are equally as varied, ranging from tech, mathematics, civil service, law, and even the arts. Sanae Ogino, one of the young leaders from Japan, told the East-West Center that one major commonality the participants share is that “they are always challenging and actively working to make the world better.”

President Obama participated in a workshop with the young leaders to learn from them the hard and soft skills that they need in order to succeed in their respective communities. The Obama Foundation’s Chief International Officer, Bernadette Meehan, told the East-West Center: “We are excited for the opportunity to support young leaders from across the region as they work to make positive change in their local communities. We hope these leaders will use these connections to consider ways they might collaborate across the region on issues of shared importance.”

In addition to President Obama’s deep ties to Hawaiʻi, Meehan said that they chose to announce the Asia-Pacific Leaders program there because of the state’s “important geographical and cultural role as a bridge between East and West.” Hawaiʻi’s location in between the contiguous United States and East Asia has made it a popular location for Asian tourists; visitors from Asia spend over $1 billion there each year. In addition, Asian investment in the state has skyrocketed in recent years, growing from just over $8 billion in 2003 to almost $40 billion in 2017. Via the Asia-Pacific Leaders initiative, the Obama Foundation will address some of the challenges that inevitably accompany such rapid growth.

Caleb Darger is a Research and Communications Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He graduated from Brigham Young University where he studied history, Asian Studies, and Chinese.