On Sunday, standing in the East-West Center in Honolulu—where my mother anchored her own development work decades ago—I was proud to announce our latest international program.
We’re calling it Leaders: Asia-Pacific.
After the success of last year’s Leaders: Africa convening in Johannesburg, we’ve set our sights on another region that will shape our future.
And here’s how we’re building it: Rather than assuming we knew what was needed, we instead listened to emerging leaders from the region to understand how the Foundation could be most helpful. We pulled together a sort of brain trust of 21 young people already making change in over a dozen countries and territories across the Asia Pacific.
People like Julian Aguon—a human rights lawyer in Guam who is finding new ways to support indigenous peoples.
And Tu Ngo, who co-founded an education company in Vietnam that’s teaching more than 30,000 students online and in person.
Leaders like Leanne Kealoha Fox, a local scientist who is bringing her community together to collaborate as responsible stewards of natural resources in Hawaiʻi.
Now, it’s no secret that we live in complicated times.
Around the world, public discourse has become ugly and divisive. Social media tends to amplify our differences more than it lifts up what we have in common. Too many people are falling behind, and our natural environment is suffering.
In the face of all those challenges, here’s what gives me hope: meeting young people, all around the world, who are taking up the work of solving those problems, without fanfare, inspiring and mobilizing their own communities. People like Julian, Tu, and Leanne.
This is the work that ends up changing the world.
This, in essence, is the theory of the Obama Foundation: If we can get these young people together, give them more tools and resources, shine a spotlight on their work, and connect them so that they can learn from each other—they’ll start to solve those problems we face. And they’ll do it together.
But we’ve got to invest in them and listen to them first. That’s what Sunday was all about. And we’re going to continue building programs like these, all around the world, working alongside regional leaders every step of the way.
Once you do, I think you’ll understand why I’m so hopeful for the future.