Why These Young ASEAN Leaders Will Change the World

Sixty-five percent of Southeast Asia’s population is under the age of 35. This makes it crucial to empower the region’s youth to invest in and make changes in their communities. Enter: The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Seeds For the Future Grants Competition.

The 2017 grantees, each receiving grants ranging from $8,300 to $15,000, were selected from a competitive pool of nearly 400 applications. Their projects are as diverse as the Southeast Asian region itself, covering all 10 ASEAN members states and topics ranging from food insecurity to training special education teachers. But they share a common goal: to positively impact communities across ASEAN.

Representatives from the 20 YSEALI Seeds for the Future groups gathered recently for a two-day coaching workshop in Bangkok

The YSEALI Seeds for the Future program is sponsored by U.S. Department of State and is funded through a grant from the U.S. Mission to ASEAN. The 20 grantees are developing projects around the themes of civic engagement, economic development, education, and environmental protection. Here are five reasons why these young leaders are poised to make a big difference:

1. They tackle issues near and dear to their communities.

The moment of inspiration for many Seeds for the Future projects came from problems these young leaders witnessed within the communities where they live and work.

One group noticed the traffic and pollution problems within their university city of Yangon, Myanmar. Both Hein Min Oo and Zwe Pyae from Bikes in Yangon had extremely long commutes to get to class each day.

“Back in my college days, I would spend three hours going to university and back home,” said Zwe Pyae. “I want to make something different for new generations of university students.”

YSEALI Seeds for the Future project, Bikes in Yangon, will bring utility biking to students in Myanmar.

After Zwe saw pictures of his brother using bicycle transit in the Netherlands, he was inspired to bring utility cycling to Yangon. Now Bikes in Yangon is focusing on promoting biking on campus (they even have a podcast) and intends to create bike rental stations at Yangon University.

“We believe our project is one of the solutions to the transportation problem in our country,” said Hein Min Oo.

2. They are thinking big.

The founders of #Codeathon ASEAN+ hail from different countries and diverse educational backgrounds, but they all had experience working internationally in Southeast Asia. That’s why they will host their project, which brings youth together for a weekend to prototype software solutions, in nine cities in seven different countries.

“[We] all come together with the same mission: to provide code literacy in the region,” said group member Jocelyn Ke from Singapore. “A lot of countries don’t teach programming as part of their school curriculum.”

Codeathon will host weekend coding programs in nine different cities across Southeast Asia. The first, in Singapore, will take place March 18-19th.

Part of the goal of #Codeathon is increasing diversity in the tech industry. That’s why the theme for the programming weekends will be “Technopreneurship for Gender Equality.” They hope that by bringing young men and women together to code, the field will start to embrace inclusiveness.

“We’re not promoting [Codeathon] to men or women only. It’s more getting them to work together from a young age,” said Jocelyn.

Because of their work supporting entrepreneurship across multiple countries, #Codeathon is receiving funding support from the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council.

3. They are focused on the future.

Cathene Lagare, a founder of Young Peace-Builders for Climate Action, has already seen how climate change can lead to community conflict. Her home island of Mindanao in the Philippines is vulnerable to both natural disasters and man-made ones.

Young Peacebuilders for Climate Action share their project plan at the YSEALI Seeds for the Future coaching workshop in Bangkok

“Just last year there was a five-month drought in the country due to El Niño,” said Cathene. She recounted that because farmers weren’t able to produce food, they rallied together to demand food from the government. “There were these farmers that were blockading the roads…and the government was against these farmers,” she said.

Cathene and the other members of her team think small acts of peacebuilding can help curtail moments of conflict like this. That’s why they’re developing a five-day accelerator program that brings together young people from Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines to learn about conflict and climate issues. Afterwards, the participants will be given micro-grants to implement projects to help their local communities.

“We believe in the ripple effect,” said Anjela Era, another founder from the Philippines. “These youths have a drive to make change in their own communities and they will apply whatever they have learned in our accelerator program.”

4. They are shaping future generations.

Though the Seeds for the Future grantees are comprised of teams of leaders all under 35, many are interested in educating the generations even younger than them. For one group, that meant innovating the way they reached the impoverished youth in their community: by sailing to them.

The Floating School will bring educational materials and workshops to three different islands in Pangkep, Indonesia via a semi-traditional boat. According to Rahmat Hidayat, one of the founders, they chose these initial locations due to their proximity to the mainland and the communities’ struggles with poverty.

The Floating School meets to brief facilitators on the curriculum to be used in their workshops.

“It’s sad to see many kids didn’t go to school because of a lack of access to education,” said Rahmat. “There are very [few] opportunities for them to develop themselves. Mostly they grow up to help their parents go sailing and fishing.”

To help expand the horizons of children in Pangkep, the Floating School will offer classes in drawing, crafting, writing, computer, digital design, traditional dance, singing, photography, and videography. The participants will be required to take all of the classes before choosing which subjects they’d like to focus on.

“We’re going to help them find their true passions and talents,” said Rahmat. At the end of the session, the students’ work will be displayed to their community in an exhibition.

According to Rahmat, this type of project is important in Indonesia because poverty is still a huge problem. “We think that education is the only way they can escape from poverty.”

5. They are energized to change the world

During a coaching workshop in Bangkok, grantees were asked what inspired them about their fellow Seeds for the Future projects. Here are some of their answers:

“The spirit and determination of everyone to take action.”

“Everything is done from a small step. Small initiative, big impact!”

“Everyone can be a change maker!”

“That they all are determined and passionate to make a change in their own society.”

“The ambition and tenacity of these young people from all walks and backgrounds.”

To learn more about the YSEALI Seeds for the Future program and all 20 projects currently being worked on, please visit the and follow updates in real time at #YSEALISeeds.