If someone had told me that I would meet Barack Obama at the age of 24, I would have shaken my head in disbelief. But as it turned out, November 2015 was a big month for me and the rest of 500 YSEALI Summit attendees. A week prior to the YSEALI Malaysia Summit, I was fortunate to be selected as one of Malaysia representatives. The first thing I told my friends and family was “I am going to meet the Commander-In-Chief of the United States of America!” I had to read the official invitation letter sent through an e-mail, over and over again, in disbelief, to make sure that it was a real invitation.
An intensive workshop-based gathering, the overall YSEALI Malaysia Summit was nothing short of a valuable leadership training for aspiring young leaders throughout the ten ASEAN nations. Most of the workshops I attended were about social entrepreneurship success stories and how we could do our share to contribute back to our local communities. The first lesson I learned from the Summit was learning is a continuous, lifelong process. It is an important perspective, especially if you are interested in solving a community problem. For example, I am especially interested in the struggle of a social enterprise, Tonibung, which dedicates itself toward rural electrification, focusing predominantly on micro-hydroelectric systems. This social enterprise trains rural indigenous people to design and implement renewable resource management schemes of their own. It goes to show that learning is for everybody who is willing to accept new knowledge.
The second lesson I learned from the Summit was networking is crucial. I attended a session presented by Robby Bitting, whose session was on the support ecosystem for modern entrepreneurs. In his session, I learned that networking is the key to bringing your social entrepreneurship idea to the masses. I was particularly interested in the success story of “Six Food”, which encourages people to consume insects as a part of their diet. Their message -- that eating insects is more eco-friendly as it uses less water and space to raise them, and they contain more protein content than your regular potato chips – resonates strongly. The key success of this enterprise is that the founder is able to attract the masses to consume bugs through her unique style of introducing the food, which is by rapping in front of a huge audience. She used her network of friends to make bug consumption the “new cool” in town.
The third lesson I learned from the Summit was international exposure is important. Through the Summit, I met people with different ways of thinking about and tackling a problem. This is an important journey for an aspiring young leader, as we need to be able to synthesize a problem through many viewpoints before approaching to a concrete solution. I really had a good time preparing our group’s information campaign and seeing how others came up with their solutions to tackling a social issue at hand. International exposure coupled with receptive attitude to constructive criticism will get you ahead of the others in the things you do.
Events such as the YSEALI Malaysia Summit are important for young leaders as they provide a nurturing platform for aspiring young leaders to interact and exchange ideas. These types of events also provide a communication platform where young leaders with a shared passion can exchange contact information and collaborate on future projects together. In addition, events like this Summit also create a wider awareness for young leaders to work together to solve regional issues such as air pollutions, human trafficking, and climate change.
The YSEALI Malaysia Summit has definitely transformed my perspective on my next steps as a leader, professional, and community member. I will incorporate the lessons I learned into my work and the future social enterprise that I aim to establish. I am convinced that through my meeting and interacting with the other 500 young Southeast Asian leaders, a compelling narrative of a better and fairer future for ASEAN’s next generation is definitely achievable and realistic.