The Indo-Pacific Youth Dialogue is not the first exchange program that facilitates dialogue between young Americans and young leaders from Southeast Asia. However, it is the first such program to be fully youth-organized; for youth, by youth. Secondly, it expands the number of countries represented by participants. The existing, successful program is called the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). YSEALI was launched in Manila, Philippines in December 2013, during President Obama’s second term in office.
Over the past seven years, the program has grown to 55,000 members engaging in a variety of activities, with 1,700 young leaders from Southeast Asia having traveled to the United States to participate in U.S.-based exchanges. In addition, 33 multi-country teams have received seed funding for youth-led initiatives. The mission of YSEALI is “to deepen engagement with young leaders on key regional and global challenges.”
The importance of this program has been recognized by the United States Congress via Senate Resolution 392. The Resolution was introduced in October 2019, and passed on June 16, 2020. It was introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and co-sponsored by Senators Markey, Gardiner, Hirono, Young, and Duckworth, proving it garnered bipartisan support. The opening text of the Resolution reads, “Recognizing the importance of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative to the relationship between the United States and the member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and to advancing the policy of the United States in the Indo-Pacific region.”
Other key text includes, “Whereas 65 percent of the population of the ASEAN region is under 35 years of age, and these 400,000,000 youth will determine the future of the region for decades to come. Whereas YSEALI encourages its young leaders to partner with each other and the United States Government to address common challenges, including economic growth, sustainable development, education, and civic engagement.”
The conclusion of the resolution is that “the Senate celebrates the partnership of the United States with young leaders in Southeast Asia” and “encourages the Department of State to promote the YSEALI program to the maximum extent possible as a valuable tool to advance mutually beneficial cooperation with partners in the Indo-Pacific region.”
As a team, we were fortunate to join the first-ever program of the Department of State for young leaders from the wider Indo-Pacific region. That program was the ALLI Indo-Pacific Summit in Tokyo in December 2019. That is where we met and the idea for the Indo-Pacific Youth Dialogue was born.