SAN DIEGO, California — The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative is a cultural exchange program that former U.S. President Barack Obama created. It could become permanent if Congress passes the H.R.4213 – YSEALI Act, which in recent months has found its way to Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and Nonproliferation subcommittee. If signed into law, it could insure funding for YSEALI programs. This would inherently secure a more promising future for these Southeast Asian developing nations by implementing educational programs and workshops, improving foreign relations and giving future leaders the tools to better the living conditions for millions.
What is YSEALI
YSEALI programs focus on four main areas of community leadership: civic engagement, economic empowerment and social entrepreneurship, education and environmental issues. Various YSEALI programs include professional and academic fellowships to the U.S., regional workshops and grant funding. Since YSEALI’s start in 2013, the initiative has shown to be a valuable asset to foreign relations between the U.S. and nations in Southeast Asia, according to Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro and Republican U.S. Rep. Claudia Tenney the bill’s sponsor and co-sponsor.
The program works with young people inside member states affiliated with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). ASEAN is one of the world’s leading inter-governmental organizations. Its joint efforts ensure strong political, economic and civic relationships between the U.S. and its member nations, which include Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Examples of ASEAN-U.S. efforts to increase future prospective political partnerships include improving health systems and growing economic borders with an aim to “increase two-way trade and investment.” YSEALI programs help these joint efforts by turning plans into action.
To illustrate, in Indonesia, hundreds of Indonesian leaders today are alumni of YSEALI programs. YSEALI has delivered grants to some of these leaders to create projects, which positively impact their communities. This allows the next generation of leaders to create improved prosperity and foreign relations with the U.S. as their partner.
What Does This Mean for the Future?
If President Biden signs the bill, YSEALI programs could become more productive on the U.S. side of operations as it may require offices across the country in addition to steady fiscal funding for all its operations.
As YSEALI programs adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, collaborative educational workshops, courses and events currently bring the leaders of tomorrow from various ASEAN-affiliated countries into the same political climate. This joins international projects and challenges aimed at strengthening U.S. relations for future leadership goals.
In the wake of the pandemic era, global tensions between southeast nations are high in the west. China, although not a part of ASEAN, is the center of these tensions and controls a lot of what happens in Southeast Asia. However, with a U.S. commitment to funding YSEALI programs, neighboring ASEAN countries could deepen their relations with U.S. leaders. This would ultimately create strong political bonds between the rising leadership and democratic applications happening today.
YSEALI programs hold future relations, livelihood and political atmospheres in their grasp. The U.S. supporting this law could solidify steps toward closing the gaps between developed and developing nations.
– Ali Benzerara