Exchanges educate. Exchanges bring people together. Exchanges inspire. But few exchanges do all these things as much as those under President Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI).
During one of these exchanges, the regional workshop YSEALI Generation: Oceans, 64 ASEAN participants and 16 mentors developed realistic, scalable solutions to the region’s marine and coastal threats. These ideas will not end with the workshop: the participants will continue to make their projects a reality for the rest of the year.
If you want to see the future, read on to learn about the solutions to ocean problems in Southeast Asia you can expect to see this year.
What is YSEALI Generation: Oceans?
Regional exchanges are part of YSEALI’s many activities since its inception in 2013. Since then, YSEALI has held 13 regional exchange programs on education, entrepreneurship, women’s leadership, and environmental advocacy. Last year, we implemented the YSEALI Generation: EARTH workshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia, sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. This year, the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta sponsored the YSEALI Generation: Oceans workshop in Jakarta from March 16-20, 2016.
What’s wrong with ASEAN’s oceans?
The issues that plague ASEAN are numerous, varied, interrelated, and most of all, connected to human activity. ASEAN will feel the effects of the world’s environmental degradation more than any other region.
Our leader mentors, whom each leads a group of four participants, provided more perspective by sharing their expertise with the participants throughout the workshop. The topics of their presentations covered:
- Marine biodiversity
- Rising sea levels
- Coral reef restoration
- Debris and litter in the ocean
- Ocean mapping technology
- Marine spatial planning
- Sustainable tourism
- Maritime commerce
- Sea turtle conservation
- Storytelling and ocean advocacy
- Sustainable coastal development
- Coastal mining
- Seawalls and coastal resilience
- Natural disaster risk reduction
What did the participants really get out of the workshop?
Beyond learning from their mentors about current issues and technologies, the participants got their hands dirty (literally).
This hands-on learning involved a day on Pramuka Island, the capital of the Thousand Islands archipelago, located an hour off the coast of Jakarta. We cleaned the beach, planted mangroves, learned about sea turtle rehabilitation, and discussed the environmental importance of mangroves. Multiple teams were inspired by their visit to Pramuka Island and thus focused their projects on restoring mangroves in ASEAN.
Bringing ASEAN youth together.
The young leaders participating in this workshop were already extremely knowledgeable. More than anything, this workshop allowed young leaders from all over ASEAN to connect, share ideas, and support one another.
“I learned tons about the ocean and coastal development, specifically in the ASEAN region. It was really awesome to meet great mentors and make new friends that have the same passion but different skills,” said participant Fibrianis Puspita Anhar of Indonesia. “Now, we can build a plan for collaboration to broaden our impact. This program provided young ASEAN people a chance to work together and develop a better understanding of what we are facing today and then construct a plan to solve those problems.”
“Just being in this network of other people that are like-minded that have the same kind of goals the same kind of excitement about these issues is a really wonderful opportunity to have,” said Jori Bonadurer, an American youth mentor at the workshop. As an alumna of the 2014 American Youth Leadership Program, also administered by Cultural Vistas, Jori and other youth mentors guided projects to ensure they were realistic, scalable, and ultimately successful.
The participants, scattered across the 10 ASEAN countries, were organized into multi-national teams of four, with one leader mentor guiding each team. Since before the workshop, the teams have been refining their ideas for how to make a difference in the region through their post-workshop projects.
Once everyone arrived at the workshop in Jakarta, the shared passion for the environment was palpable.
“Although ocean conservation is a wide concept and a four-day workshop is not enough to introduce all of us to the current pressing problems we face, the program did not fail to provide us with more knowledge and skills to help develop our personal advocacy campaigns. It provided us with the network and the enthusiasm we needed to start creating ripples of change in our respective communities,” said participant Kier Mitchel Pitogo of the Phillippines. “Who knows, maybe from this group will rise the Jane Goodall or Sylvia Earle of ASEAN.”
ASEAN only came to fruition in 1967. The first U.S. Ambassador to ASEAN (the first non-ASEAN Ambassador to the region) was not appointed until 2008. For many, the concept of an ASEAN identity is still very new. Despite this, collaboration among the 10 countries was instantaneous and has continued after the workshop.
What will happen in ASEAN as a result?
On the last day of the workshop, the teams presented their post-workshop projects at a live-streamed event at the @america center in Jakarta. Each team had eight minutes to pitch their idea to the world.
A week later, nearly all of the groups have already created crowdfunding campaigns on platforms such as Generosity.com. Here are just a few of the initiatives you can support:
- Empowering local communities to use seaweed as a natural biofilter
- Educating youth about coastal issues through local language infographics
- Translating fisheries legislation into local languages for fisherman
- Rebuilding mangroves to protect coastal areas from natural disasters
- Installing mooring buoys to prevent anchors from crushing coral reefs
- Ranking ASEAN hotels based on their ocean-friendliness (aka “blue rankings”)
A full video of the presentations is available here:
What’s next for #YSEALIoceans?
Mentors and U.S. Embassy staff awarded the two best projects with the opportunity to travel to the United States for a study tour on these issues. The teams Seaweed4Us and Team Buoy developed actionable projects that will create real impact in the region. The tour, which will take place this summer, will include meetings with marine and coastal experts in Maryland and Florida. They will also be invited to attend the Our Ocean conference in Washington, D.C.
Over the next few months, these teams will continue to work together to make their projects a reality through crowdfunding and other fundraising techniques. The U.S. Embassy of Jakarta has pledged to match funds raised up to $1,000 per project.
As new SEAtizens, we will be promoting these campaigns as they develop. While the ocean is vast and the problems facing it are daunting, we are optimistic about the progress that will result from these incredible young leaders. As participant Solayman Salindato Maso of the Philippines said himself, “I now have a better picture how serious our problems are, but at the same time, the hope that we can solve these problems.”