As prepared

UNDER SECRETARY ALLEN: Thank you so much, Ambassador Abraham, my friend, Yohannes, for that kind introduction. Ambassador Abraham and I actually worked in the White House together many years ago for President Obama and we were speaking yesterday just about how meaningful it is to be here now, today, together, and to be doing this work with all of you. As he said, as I will echo, you are the best part about our jobs…Thank you, Ambassador Abraham. And I want to also just echo because it’s really important to me to say it, I want to echo thanks to our teams from the US Embassy Jakarta, and the US Mission to ASEAN, who many of you know is your day-to-day contacts in addition to the embassies in each of your countries. They do incredible work here and thank you to Biji-Biji as well.

I’m so excited. I’m so excited to be here. I love YSEALI. And I want that to be very clear to all of you – besides it driving our policy priorities and besides YSEALI and all of our exchange programs being at the heart of our diplomatic mission, it is also deeply personally motivating to be a part of this program and to see all of you.

And it’s nice to see some familiar faces. Some of you I recognized from our Zoom alumni convening last year where I joined you virtually. Some of you I recognized from Vietnam from 2016 when President Obama did a YSEALI town hall. And many of you we’ve met on the road when we’re traveling. And so it’s really great to see new faces, old faces, all of these faces in the crowd. And let me just be the first to say happy birthday, YSEALI! Happy birthday to you!

It is your voices. It is your actions that are pivotal to realizing our shared vision for that free, open, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific that Ambassador Abraham mentioned, is a priority to the Biden-Harris Administration. President Biden has also said that the future of the 21st century economy is going to be written in the Indo-Pacific, and that Southeast Asia is at the heart of the Indo-Pacific. And so if we are stipulating that the future of the economy in this century is going to be written in this region, you are the authors. So with that, I want to talk a little bit about the program and a little bit about the work that all of you are doing.

What makes YSEALI one of the most important things that we do and that we’re most proud to do is that it builds connections. And at the heart of any diplomatic strategy, of any policy strategy, is relationships. It is my firm belief that the future of the world is not formed just through government action, but of course, through people. And that’s why we’re so proud to invest in you. Our investment in your success is reflected in our commitment to educational and cultural exchanges, including the fact that last year, we committed to doubling the YSEALI program, which will start in 2025. We cannot wait to welcome over 900 fellows to the United States starting next year.

We know through all of you that over the past decade, YSEALI alumni have become influential change makers – shaping US and Southeast Asian communities. You’re not just participating in foreign policy, but you’re driving it. You’re driving it through your inspirational leadership, your innovative solutions, and your impactful work. Academic fellows have connected with students at colleges and universities. Raise your hand if you are an academic fellow! Great. Excellent – you are collaborating on projects, including things like climate change, offering economic opportunity to historically underrepresented groups, and sharing best practices on fostering inclusivity in the civic engagement space, which is more important than ever.

Professional fellows, raise your hand if you’re a professional fellow. Professional fellows are leading the charge to address our biggest shared challenges. And I want to take a minute to talk about this phrase “shared challenges.” I think traditionally, a lot of diplomatic priorities and diplomatic efforts in the last century were meant to advance bilateral challenges and bilateral priorities. What we all know now of this interconnected world is that most of the challenges we’re facing know no borders. They don’t know language borders, they don’t know geographic borders, they don’t know ethnic borders. And so whether it’s public health or climate change or emerging technology, the digital economy, all of the things we’re dealing with, YSEALI is at the front end of finding solutions so we can have regional impact, and so we can have global impact.

Let’s talk a little bit about innovation, impact, and inspiration.

You inspire us with your leadership journeys. Where is Hans Laurence O. Sayson? Well, we’re going to talk about him absentia. He recently took up the mantle of civic leadership as President of the Federation of Youth Council of the Philippines. He inspires us. Across the ocean, Andrea Davis, a YSEALI professional fellow alumna, has been elected mayor of Missoula, Montana. We are so inspired by what people are doing.

You are also innovating. Your innovative spirit is reshaping the world we live in. This year, five teams of YSEALI alumni were selected for the State Department’s Alumni Engagement Innovation Fund. That is something that’s open to all US government exchange program alumni across the world. And it says something that five YSEALI teams placed to get those grants to continue to make change in their communities. They’re leading groundbreaking projects for raising awareness about gender-based violence, to empowering women entrepreneurs, and promoting sustainability education.

And finally, the impact of your creativity, courage, and hard work is tangible. YSEALI Seeds Projects – raise your hand if you are a YSEALI Seeds Projects participant – Ambassador Abraham and I are going to walk around and see some of your projects after this, which we’re so excited about. YSEALI Seeds Projects initiated since 2015, have left lasting legacies and local communities across the region. You are the ones tackling what is most needed in your communities. These projects are more – you are more than just success stories – they are blueprints for change, inspiring others to turn their ideas into action. And that’s where we see the power of transformative change – is how you inspire others. We see opportunities for challenge, and we find solutions through your service. So thank you.

So with all of that success, it’s been 10 years, and you’re doing so much. What is next? What is next for the next 10 years? What’s the plan?

As is the goal for all of our US youth programs, including workshops, trainings, convenings like this one, summits, fellowships, the United States remains very committed to giving you the tools, the skills, the opportunities to push for change as you move forward in your professional path. As we embark on YSEALI’s next decade, we will focus on empowering you – and you tell us what you need. With new programs like the YSEALI Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam, the upcoming YSEALI Mekong Initiative, and the YSEALI Next Executive Steering Committee – raise your hand if you’re on the Steering Committee. Thank you. We are excited to deepen our impact in the region by helping give you what you need. You have the solutions. We are here to be your partners in driving change. And so the Executive Steering Committee, for example, is something that we heard from you. You wanted to be able to shape the future of the program. We are so pleased for the Steering Committee to be stood up. I look forward to meeting with you later today. Thank you for taking an active part in shaping the next decade of YSEALI.

I will close by talking about the most important thing about YSEALI because it is so evident in this room, and that is YSEALI’s heart. The core of YSEALI, empowering young leaders in civic engagement, economic empowerment, education, and sustainability remains unchanged. Your commitment to leading positive change is what makes YSEALI our flagship exchange program that we are so proud to talk about all over the world. I want you all to know that when I travel globally, including to Europe, to Africa, to the Middle East, we talk about YSEALI as a model. I talked just last week to Secretary of State, Tony Blinken, about how inspired we are by YSEALI. It was Vice President Harris’ office that called me to say “Hey, we’re going to be in the region. Can we meet with YSEALI members?”

This is something, you are all discussed in Washington around the world. This program is a model, and we are so proud of you.

So as we work with the YSEALI Next Executive Steering Committee, we will maintain a laser focus on our three key priorities I will leave you with:

One. Maintaining YSEALI as a premier youth engagement program in the region that empowers young people like you to drive our Indo-Pacific Strategy.

Two. We will keep the critical tenants of YSEALI programming as the cornerstone of all activities, those four buckets I mentioned you know so well – civic engagement, economic empowerment, social entrepreneurship, education access, climate and sustainability. Technically that was five, but we will let it go.

And finally, ensuring YSEALI represents the breadth and depth of ASEAN – the diversity of the ASEAN – it’s really important to keep true to the YSEALI motto by including people from across the region: it is never too young to lead – you are never to young to lead.

So as we look forward to the next four days of leadership, networking, and skill-building, remember: you are our inspiration, you are the innovators, you are the impact-makers. So, enjoy this Summit, connect and talk to each other, we know that being able to convene you all to learn from each and find opportunities from each other is what makes this program magic.

So enjoy it. We’re so honored to be here to help you kick it off. And we look forward to answering your questions.

U.S. Department of State

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