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Arizona State University welcomed 42 fellows traveling from 10 Southeast Asian countries as part of the 2017 Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Institutes. YSEALI is the United States government’s signature program to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. YSEALI seeks to build leadership skills in the region, nurture the Southeast Asian community and strengthen ties between the U.S. and Southeast Asia.
Students from YSEALI Skyping with a social enterprise expert. Photographer: Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU
YSEALI focuses on critical topics identified by youth in the region which include civic engagement, environment and natural resources management, entrepreneurship and economic development. Each fellow is engaged in a project that reflects a specific need in their country.
Students from YSEALI. From left, Zawanah Razak, Tuyết Trinh, Ni Putu Ika Pradnya Larasyati, Paul Andrew Orpiada. Photographer: Marco-Alexis Chaira/ASU
Being born in a farming family in Vietnam, Tuyết has seen first hand how hard and rigorous farm work can be. As a child she dreamed of being a successful entrepreneur that could help the poor improve their lives. Poverty, unemployment and gender inequality are common barriers to improvement the lives of her compatriots.
Tuyết chose to work on a responsible tourism and social enterprise project called Youth Employment and Society Development. The aim is to increase employment for underprivileged youth in the tourism sector and promote responsible tourism.
“We teach them the steps needed to protect the environment and preserve indigenous cultures and traditions.”
Her experience networking with other YSEALI fellows has been a pivotal experience for her. “This amazing group will support each other in our own projects or create a project together which has large impact in not just one country but the whole region.”
Engaging in tourism was a logical fit for Tuyết because she loves to travel where she can meet new people, learn about new cultures and explore new landscapes. Travel allows her to, “to talk to local people and spend more time understanding myself.”
Ika is studying social entrepreneurship and economic development with the hope of applying it towards benefiting local artisans and craft producers back home. Her keen interest in helping artisans stems from dabbling in painting and the visual arts. She hopes to one day run a business that will help gain recognition for an often marginalized, but talented sector of Indonesian workers.
The most memorable moment Ika had while at ASU was in a class with “Auntie” Carolyn Starr, the senior program coordinator for the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering Office of Global Outreach and Extended Education. The fellows were discussing what empathy was and how they could develop empathy towards other people. During an exercise she recounted that, “everybody shared their stories, [and] then we ended up crying and hugging each other. Upon hearing stories from my other fellows, I really felt that we are much closer.”
When she returns home she wants to share the stories of friendship with other YSEALI fellows and her campus life at ASU.
Paul was motivated to work with those who seem to have been written off by society and instead turn them into assets to society. His social enterprise project centered around creating artisan products from scraps while integrating inmates back into society.
Through the Arizona-based Tiger Mountain Project he gained more exposure in this niche as well as best practices. During his time as part of YSEALI he learned how businesses operate in the U.S. and how he can apply it back home. The Tiger Mountain Project was an effective model for him.
When asked about his time in America, Paul said that he was surprised by the nice weather, he found all of the Tempe locals to be hospitable and he found the light rail system here surprisingly easy.
Ni Putu Ika Pradnya Larasyati and Zawanah Razak getting hands-on experience through YSEALI. Photographer: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU
Zawanah is a recent graduate with a bachelor’s in economics and politics from Brunei Darussalam, a small nation on the island of Borneo. She knew that unemployment among youth in her country was a major problem. The government is a major employer for the country of 400,000 residents and private sector jobs are not competitive.
She believes that a push towards entrepreneurship could help resolve youth unemployment issues. Her plan to gift Brunei with an entrepreneurial mindset is to start after school programs that focus on entrepreneurship for junior high and high school students.
Zawanah wants to help students “plant the seed and jump start the idea generation process early in their lives — to make our society more open and keen towards opening up a business.”
Looking forward, she also wants to find ways to tackle problems like obesity and diabetes in her country through similar education efforts and community gardens.
Before coming to the U.S. she was warned by friends and family of certain negative stereotypes regarding life in America based on policy, race, religion and violence. Some worried that she would be discriminated against for wearing a traditional veil. Upon her arrival she was refreshed to find that none of that was true.
“Americans are very open minded, understanding, friendly and a diverse group of people. All of our conversations were never hostile, [or] offensive but [were] always fluid because of their authentic and genuine behavior and honesty. I felt very safe during my time in America.”
The most memorable ASU experiences that she will be taking back home with her will be hiking Tempe’s “A” Mountain and her time being mentored by Senior Lecturer David Benson in social entrepreneurship and economic development.
The YSEALI fellows rounded out their efforts in the U.S. by traveling to Washington, D.C. to deliver their final presentations to the U.S. State Department and network with the US-ASEAN Business Council. They were able to showcase the value YSEALI has in the region and to the U.S.