President Obama answered questions from several YSEALI Fellows during their meeting at the White House. Image: US Department of State.

President Obama Welcomes Young Southeast Asian Leaders to White House


Early this month, President Obama met with 75 young leaders that were part of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Fellowship program, which was announced by the President in December 2013. The meeting, which was held at the White House and included remarks by the President and a Q&A session, concluded the fellows’ five-week stay in the United States, during which they participated in workshops and cultural exchanges around the nation. President Obama lauded the fellows, whose ages range from 18 to 35, for working as entrepreneurs and acting as “civil society leaders” by furthering democracy and tolerance in their region.

Fellows were able to sharpen these entrepreneurial and leadership skills after being placed into either the Professional or Academic Fellowship program. Professional Fellows, 55 in all, received the opportunity to gain professional expertise while building connections between the US and ASEAN through person-to-person interactions with counterparts in state and local governments, as well as with Americans working in the private and non-profit sectors. The fellows visited 12 states and the District of Columbia for programs in conjunction with organizations like the International City/County Management Association, American Councils for International Education, and several public universities.

The remaining 20 Academic Fellows were part of a program focused on environmental issues and were hosted by the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawai‘i. The program, known as the Institute on Environmental Issues, began partnering with YSEALI in 2014 and allows fellows to explore the ways in which environmental policy shapes politics and economic development in the United States. Through experiential learning, this year’s participants discussed subjects ranging from climate change to water management with American businesses, government agencies, and NGOs in order to learn sustainable techniques that can be shared with community partners in the fellows’ home countries. That group of Fellows also had the opportunity to meet with Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) while in Washington.

Programs for more Academic and Professional Fellows are slated for this summer and fall, respectively.

Patrick Madaj is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an undergraduate student at the University of Oklahoma.