Sowing the Seeds for ASEAN’s Bright Future

What could you do for your community if you had the funds and mentorship to make it happen?

That was the call to action for 2017’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Seeds for the Future grantees.  And all 20 responded by pulling off projects that not only impacted their local areas—they affected the ASEAN community as a whole.

The 20 projects completed across ASEAN included EcoLife Cambodia, which trained young adults to advocate for local green businesses.

A small grants competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and funded through a grant from the U.S. Mission to ASEAN, YSEALI Seeds for the Future helps young Southeast Asian leaders turn their ideas for improving the world into reality.

Over the course of this past year, 20 projects took place in all 10 ASEAN member countries. Handling everything from illiteracy in Malaysia to teaching children about urban farming in Jakarta, these young leaders’ efforts will affect their communities for years to come.

Here are some of the greatest #YSEALISeeds successes of 2017:

Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

Green Lady Cloth Pad displays reusable feminine hygiene products at a street fair in Cambodia.

Many YSEALI Seeds projects chipped away at global problems by finding local solutions. For Green Lady Clothpad, that meant tackling the amount of plastic waste through teaching women in Cambodia and Vietnam about sustainable feminine hygiene products. In addition to selling over 900 reusable pads, the grantees held workshops to talk about menstruation, which can be a taboo topic in their countries.

“Menstruation is known as secret topic or talk in public and this is not only in Cambodia or Vietnam, it happens in most of the Asian countries and some others place around the world besides Asia.”

“Young at heart” farmers pose for a picture at one of Food SECURE Ph’s agripreneurship camps.

The issue of food insecurity is pervasive worldwide, and Food SECURE Ph believes that one solution is to teach people to grow their own food. So, they started locally. Even though Mindanao is considered the breadbasket of the Philippines, farmers frequently don’t have enough food for their families. Food SECURE trained 95 farmers in home gardening techniques and sustainable farming.

Food SECURE Ph reached over 400 people through community lectures and activities, turned 2 hectares of unused lands into community gardens, and impacted 4 different rural communities in the Philippines

Equipping the Next Generation of Leaders

The YSEALI program empowers young leaders to make a difference in their communities, and they’re sharing the wealth by working to improve the lives of the generation even younger than them.

Arus Academy teacher Mei Ching piques students’ interest by showing up to class in a space suit.

Arus Academy is a free after-school program for low-income children in Malaysia. Using a curriculum based on Maker, STEM, and TED-Ed philosophies, Arus seeks to get unmotivated students interested in school by harnessing their natural creativity. In 2017, they directly worked with 19 students and reached over 450 others through free workshops. At the end of the year, students used what they learned at Arus to solve a societal problem. Ideas included an anti-bullying phone app that connects with teachers to inform them when you’re being bullied and automatic brakes designed to improve traffic jams.

Meanwhile, EcoLead focused on an older demographic: high school students in Vientiane, Laos. Though they only chose 22 EcoLead agents to train on environmental issues, their effect on the community was vast. The teens took the lessons they had learned on sustainability, ecotourism, and carbon footprints back to their schools through follow-up projects which reached over 3,000 people.

EcoLead Agents led a trash separating activity in their high school.

The Multiplier Effect of Training the Trainers

Several YSEALI Seeds for the Future projects hosted workshops with the idea that participants would bring what they learned back home with them. This “train the trainers” approach creates a multiplier effect, expanding the overall impact of the workshops and projects to reach a greater number of people.

Let’s Include All did this through teaching training programs in Northern Laos. Students in this area who have disabilities or speak a minority language often face additional problems in school. That’s in part because local educators frequently don’t have the training to teach these students. But after being exposed to Let’s Include All’s curriculum, 100 more teachers now know how to create more inclusive learning environments in their classrooms.

Let’s Include All teacher trainees learn how to put together a more inclusive classroom.

During the XX/XY Project’s summer workshop, young adults from Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand were trained on gender equality issues. Its impact has been extended well beyond the initial workshop. All 12 participants were paired with a mentor to help them create follow-up projects in their local communities.

Bringing ASEAN Together

Spanning 10 countries and four time zones, ASEAN’s diversity allows for the kind of inspired collaboration that has come to define YSEALI. Several of this year’s projects stretched across the region. By creating a platform to exchange ideas with other young people in ASEAN, YSEALI Seeds for the Future continues to bring the region a little closer together.

Y-Farm interns at a farm in Ubon, Thailand

Mekong Youth Farm Network, or Y-farm, was one such project that has fostered an ASEAN identity. They successfully created a network of organic farms in the five lower Mekong countries of Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. To tie the farms together, Y-farm created an exchange program where interns could spend time in another country learning about their farming practices. Additionally, the project held training courses for over 250 children across the network to learn about farm philosophy, soil protection, and the value of food.

“We envision a new generation of young farmers and consumers who are adopting sustainable practices on their farms, in their purchases, and in their communities.”

EcoFunGO ASEAN’s regional workshops had a secret weapon: a life-sized board game which both entertained and taught children about environmental issues. Ecofunopoly was created in Indonesia as an educational tool for youth to learn about carbon emissions and waste management. But its founder Annisa Hasana thought the game was relevant on a larger scale, and made Ecofunopoly a component of 68 workshops and events under the name EcoFunGo ASEAN.

EcoFunGo ASEAN has reached more than 3,000 people in 16 cities in Indonesia, Myanmar, and the Philippines. Ecofunopoly even made its U.S. debut in the spring of 2017.

The EcoFunGo! ASEAN Festival in Bogor, Indonesia was the project’s biggest event of the year, with nearly 100 students in attendance.

Enduring Impact

While the YSEALI Seeds for the Future program does fund some established projects, in many ways it functions like an accelerator program, helping provide its grantees an initial boost before they continue on their own. Almost all of the 2017 projects have plans to keep going or even expand in 2018 and in years to come.

For Green Lady Clothpad, that means starting to create sustainable feminine hygiene products themselves in an effort to create jobs for women in Cambodia and Vietnam. Dress the Dream plans on putting the money raised on their newly created e-commerce platform towards women’s issues. MYReaders hopes to expand their literacy toolkits to a larger number of schools in Malaysia and across Southeast Asia.

To learn more about the successes of 2017’s projects follow along at #SeedsSuccess and Stay tuned for the announcement of this year’s grantees!