Youth Observer at YSEALI 2018: Never Too Young to Lead

In my first international trip as U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations, I joined 125 participants in Singapore to collaborate on the theme “The United States and ASEAN: Partners in Growth and Innovation.” The 2018 Summit for Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) showcased innovative approaches to economic cooperation and growth by U.S. companies, organizations, and institutions present in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and allowed young innovators and entrepreneurs from both the United States and ASEAN to connect with each other and with participating experts. Throughout the Summit, we were able to showcase projects, receive mentorship, explore opportunities to expand our work, exchange ideas on how to foster economic growth in our communities, and find avenues for stronger economic cooperation between the United States and ASEAN. In the Innovation Slam competition, we split up into teams to utilize the lean startup methodology to design and build projects, organizations or startups which we presented on the final day of the Summit. While I could have written a novel my experience in Singapore, the focus of this blog is to share the most relevant insights and highlights.

Day 1

The first day’s emphasis was on learning concepts, trends, and frameworks through panels and presentations. The goal was to expose us to new ideas, inspire new courses of action, and place us on a common plane of understanding, so we could successfully apply these learnings to the rest of the Summit’s program. I especially enjoyed the opening keynote presentation by Ms. Margie Warrell, Bestselling Author & Global Leadership Authority, for her remarks on leading bravely. Ms. Warrell helped frame the context and purpose of the Summit. She challenged us to think about the strong points and weak points in the economic partnership between the US and ASEAN by asking, “What makes the ASEAN region a promising environment for investment and cooperation for US entrepreneurs?” We gained a familiarity of the most important ways international cooperation and an effective public sector can be conducive to entrepreneurial success.

The Innovation Slam Competition kicked-off by engaging us in collaborative group work to create a business plan over the course of three days, with the help of trainings by experts, plenaries, site visits, interactions with U.S. companies, institutions and organizations in ASEAN, and other educational opportunities. It was during this time that I was able to address the young people in the room on the importance of leadership and social impact.

The first day of the program concluded with a reception and dinner at the hotel. December 3rd marked the 5th Anniversary of the founding of YSEALI as well as the International Day of People with Disabilities. I really appreciated how the program included remarks by individuals who spoke to disability inclusion and factoring accessibility into the design process.

Day 2

On the second day, we were divided into four community service groups to volunteer with Singapore Food Bank and Blessings in a Bag. While volunteering with the Food Bank, I learned that approximately 80% of Singaporeans live in government housing – something uniquely Singaporean that has helped the country to grow and develop in its 53 year history. Despite its thriving development, I learned that some Singaporeans do rely on assistance from the Singapore Food Bank, which hit close to home as I thought about my work last year with the food pantry at Utah State University. Whether it’s students on your local campus or people from another country, I know we can find ways to contribute to a world free of hunger. Learn more about Reaching Zero Hunger on College Campuses.

The Singapore Food Bank strives to bridge the gap in the market by collecting surplus food in the market and providing it to organizations and people in need of food. Representatives from the organization explained how this Food Bank is the prevailing coordinating organization for all food donations in the country, and involves companies across the entire supply chain, including manufacturers, retailers, and distributors. The Food Bank sorts and stores food donations in its warehouse, then delivers them to more than 130 member organizations throughout Singapore that serve needy communities.

By the end of the project, we were able to sort and pack 350 food bundles consisting of healthy staples for low-income communities and deliver the bundles to families in the surrounding community. We learned how the organization operates and acts as a bridge between the food industry and communities. For the behind-the-scenes experience, see my Facebook Live.

Following the service projects, we gained first-hand experience of the innovations being developed at the Asia Pacific headquarters of eight leading American companies. We divided into seven groups and visited two companies each, including: Google; Hewlett Packard Enterprise IoT Innovation Lab; Procter & Gamble Innovation Center; HP Singapore; Citi Innovation Lab; nuTonomy; Unilever; and Verizon.

Day 3

On the final day, teams pitched their projects at the Innovation Slam Pitch Final. A number of projects were awarded prizes in the form of small grants of varying amounts at the end of the competition in order to implement them over the nine months following the Summit. We were encouraged to incorporate socially responsible business approaches into our Innovation Slam collaborative group projects. At the end of the summit, we presented our projects and rallied followers to our cause through competitive pitch sessions, voting, and strategic planning discussions. The process required dialogue, negotiation, and in some cases merging ideas. My team designed the blueprint for an app called “YSTART” which will serve as a crowdfunding platform for future YSEALI projects. We took 4th place and received $2,500 of funding to make our vision a reality. Following the pitch, we set up a booth in an exhibition room. The awards ceremony and closing session was followed by a celebratory evening at CHIJMES Hall–the wedding venue in Crazy, Rich Asians!

One of my favorite parts of the YSEALI Summit was the opportunity I had to connect with young people from around the world and learn about their initiatives. I would like to highlight my Facebook Interview with Eelynn Tee, co-chair for Southeast Asia Women, for her work to promote gender equality. Eelynn helped create a platform for women leaders across Southeast Asia to be contactable for speaking engagements and collaboration opportunities. This is an initiative by the YSEALI Women Network to increase the visibility of women leaders in Southeast Asia. To learn more or apply, go to southeastasiawomen.org.

Other highlights include eating breakfast with the U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN, visiting the iconic sites from Crazy, Rich Asians, wearing flip flops in December, speaking on human rights at the Singapore Institute of Management, interviewing Daniel Dae Kim from Lost, visiting the Workday Singapore office to connect with fellow coworkers, and helping students take action to prevent human trafficking at Yale-NUS. The greatest insight I now bring home from Singapore is that “We are Never Too Young To Lead!

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