President Obama Announces the Leaders: Asia-Pacific Program

President Obama Announces the Leaders: Asia-Pacific Program


– Aloha (speaking foreign language). My name is Leanne Kealoha Fox. (audience cheers) I am one of the 21 emerging leaders from the Asia Pacific region brought together by the Obama Foundation, one of two who call Hawaii our
homeland as Native Hawaiians. We are artists, innovators, entrepreneurs, all connected
by the great sea of islands. The foundation is investing
in change makers just like me, an indigenous scientist, a
mother, a proud daughter, working in support of the
community for better change. Through workshops, strategy
sessions, peer coaching, we stand together now as allies. While I drive home tomorrow, my peers will fly back to Guam, Samoa, Indonesia, China, Japan, Aotearoa, 16 countries in total, inspired, empowered, and
connected to change the world. Because as President Obama told us today, change will not come if we wait for some other person at some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. (audience applauds) And so, (speaking foreign
language), with great honor, on behalf of the inaugural Asia Pacific Obama Leaders program, join me with genuine aloha and welcome President Barack Obama. (audience cheers) – Aloha, everybody. – [Audience] Aloha! – Please, everybody have a
seat if you’ve got a chair, and if you don’t, don’t sit down. (audience laughs) It is so good to be back home. Thank you, Kealoha, for
the beautiful introduction. I want to thank so many
people who are here who helped to make this
amazing event possible, and could not be more proud of the work that people like Kealoha are doing to advance the amazing legacy, and traditions, and culture of native Hawaiians. I want to acknowledge a few
extraordinary public servants who are with us here today. Mr Governor, thank you so much for gracing us with your
presence and your welcome. Senator Schatz is here,
Representative Gabbard, as well as Mayor Caldwell. Please give them a big round of applause. (audience applauds) We are grateful to them. I am very glad that we could bring the Obama Foundation
programming here to Hawaii, and we are grateful to be partnering with the University of Hawaii which, as some of you may know, has been pretty important
to my family over the years. Basically, I wouldn’t exist if it were not for the University of Hawaii. (audience laughs) Some of you may be aware, my father met my mother on a
bench somewhere around here. My mother went to school here. She made some of her best friends here. She met Maya’s father here. There is rumors that I was
born about a mile from here. (audience laughs) I have a birth certificate. I cannot vouch for the
fact that I was born here because I was very small at the time. (audience laughs) People who were there say it’s true. So, this is a pretty
important part of my life. I could not be happier
to see the young leaders that were here coming
to the East-West Center because my mother, who ended up living in
various parts of Asia and devoting her life to
development issues in Asia, particularly for women,
always used East-West Center as a base, as a connector to
the work that she was doing. I think she would be so proud to see the continuation of the
sorts of advocacy and work that’s being done by these
remarkable young leaders here, so I feel her spirit
hovering in the place. I’m grateful to be working with David Lassner, and Richard, and so many other good people from these two great Hawaii institutions. Now, as many of you know, when I left the presidency
I had to make a decision about how to focus my time
and energy other than golf and writing my book, which is obviously somewhat overshadowed (audience laughs) by somebody who just
knocked it out really quick. The rest is history. With so many problems around the world, I realized that there were a lot of causes I care deeply about. As somebody who was born
and raised in Hawaii, the idea that we are not
being proper stewards of our planet, and our oceans,
and the air that we breathe, that troubles me. As somebody who devoted
my life and my work to providing opportunity to
all people and not just some, the growing inequalities
that we see in our society is something that I care deeply about. As somebody who benefited
from a great education, the idea that some children don’t get those same opportunities is something that I care deeply about. As the commander in chief of
the largest military on earth, seeing the devastation
of war and conflict, and it’s effects on ordinary people, and wanting to create a world in which we’re not so divided
around tribe, and race, and people who are narrowly
obsessed with power exploiting their populations, those are things I want to put an end to, so I have no shortage of causes
that I wanted to work on. But, the one thing that I felt very deeply was that the single most
important thing I could do, and Michelle feels the same way about her mission in the years to come, the single most important
thing we could do was to make sure that we were helping the next generation of leaders make the changes that this world needs, that we were empowering the folks who were coming behind us, so that they had the
platform, the opportunity to channel the amazing
energy, and passion, and imagination in order to bring a whole new set of eyes, and ideas, and possibilities to the world because oftentimes frankly people ask, “Oh Barack, we miss you. “Oh, why isn’t Michelle running?” (audience laughs) We always say to people, “We’re,” I won’t say we, “I’m getting old, and I got gray hair,” and one of the challenges
we have in this world is people clinging onto power instead of seeing the
power in other people. So, it’s no secret that we
live in complicated times, and in many countries our politics has become ugly, and divisive, and social media amplifies our differences more than it lifts up
those things that we share. Too many people are falling behind. The natural environment is
suffering, in some cases, irreversible damage, so it
can be hard to figure out where to start, but I can tell you traveling throughout the United States and travelling around the world, whenever I meet young people who are already making a
difference, I’m inspired, and I’m confident about the future. And, our theory as the consequence of the Obama Foundation is very simple. If we can get these young people together and give them more tools,
and give them more resources, shine a spotlight on the
work that they’re doing, help them scale success, help them learn from their failures, connect them to each other, so that they can learn from each other and the whole becomes greater
than the sum of it’s parts. If we can do all that,
they will change the world. They will transform and solve
the problems that we face, but we’ve got to want to see them succeed and invest in them in ways that
frankly, we don’t always do. Most of the problems
that we face in the world we face not because we don’t
have good technical solutions. We know how to educate poor children. We know how to fix the environment. We know how to provide
economic opportunity to communities that have fallen behind. What prevents us from
implementing those ideas is a lack of human organization, a lack of leadership. And, when I say leadership, I don’t just mean some politician up top, although that’s important, but I also mean people of the grassroots, people at the local levels who are able to inspire, and motivate,
and mobilize communities to effectuate the changes
that need to take place. We are in a deficit of
leadership, and we need new blood. And, at the Obama Foundation, although we’re just getting started, we’ve already seen results, and I’ll just give you
a couple of examples. Last summer in South Africa, we brought together 200
extraordinary young leaders from across the continent, 50 countries, men and women who have
already demonstrated promise in public service, and civil
society, and private sectors. And, they got a chance to meet with people like Kofi Annan, and Graca Machel, and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, and health experts, all of whom exchanged ideas with them
and gave them support. And, they learned from each
other because in many cases this is the first time they have ever broken out of their isolation and seen people who are
doing the kind of work that they were doing. What’s amazing about the results is not only are they still working with us at the foundation, but they stayed in touch with each other, and they’re now learning from each other, and exchanging best practices, and testing ideas with each other, and supporting each other in ways that will result as they rise
in their respective fields in a whole new generation
on an entire continent that is connected and shares
a vision of what’s possible, so they’re combating corruption,
they’re fighting poverty, they’re increasing access to healthcare, they’re defending press freedoms, they’re educating other young people, and 10 years, 20 years, 30 years when they are now national
and global leaders, and powerful advocates, and
successful entrepreneurs, they are going to have, across borders, a connection that is gonna
be extraordinarily powerful. And, I mention this example because we want to do the same thing in the Asia Pacific
region, in Latin America, in North America. If we can start with a few thousand, and then a hundred thousand, and then a million of those
young leaders around the world, nothing can stop us, so it’s no secret that I believe in particular
around the Asia Pacific region that we’ve got to get this right. A lot of the world’s future depends on how the Asia
Pacific region does. It’s a place of tremendous
diversity, and natural resources, and rising economic and political power, and it’s also a very young region. Roughly two-thirds of
people in Southeast Asia were born after 1980 which
really makes me feel old. (audience laughs) When I was president, we
launched something called the Young Southeast Asian
Leaders Initiative or YSEALI. (audience cheers) You can see they’ve got
some partisans here. So, YSEALI ended up reaching hundreds of thousands of young people, and we now have the opportunity to build a new longterm
network of young leaders through the Obama Foundation based on a lot of the
principles that we know worked because we saw it implemented in the last five years
that I was in office. Today I’m pleased to
announce that this year we’re gonna bring our next
regional leaders program here in the Asia Pacific, just
as we did in South Africa. We’re gonna have a larger convening. This group has essentially
been our brain trust to help figure out what’s gonna be useful when we bring that larger group together, and they’re gonna help us
build this enduring platform to inspire, and connect, and empower the next generation of leaders. Before we moved forward,
we thought it’d be useful to actually hear from the
young leaders themselves. Rather than tell them what we need, we thought, you know what,
let’s ask them what they need. And, one of the principles
that I used to teach when I was a community organizer
is the power of listening. If you want to lead, listen. We have been blessed to have some incredible young people here who were willing to tell
us their experiences, their unique challenges,
and share those with us. I don’t know how many bulletin boards we had in which they were writing down every idea I can imagine. I’m gonna be up late ’cause
I got a lot of homework now reading through this stuff. Not only did we have
the young leaders there, but we also brought some people who were experts in their own field and are committed to the
future of the region, for example Tony Fernandez
who’s with us here today and did great work helping
us to make this all happen. As has already been mentioned, the young leaders that
we have been working with come from over a dozen countries
from Thailand to Japan, Myanmar, China, Indonesia, as
well as the Pacific Islands, and the United States,
and the island of Hawaii. People like Rahman Adi
Pradana, where’s Rahman? There he is. (speaking foreign language) He is working to promote
sustainable use of land in Indonesia, bringing
together government, and private sector, and civil society. People like Tu Ngo, Tu? Here we go. (audience applauds) Who co-founded an education company in Vietnam that is educating
more than 30,000 students online and in person. People like Julian Aguon, where’s Julian? (audience applauds) Whoa, way back there. A human rights lawyer from Guam who’s finding new ways to
support indigenous peoples. You talk to them, and you will be reminded about how much talent and
energy these young people have, this generation has, and how
ready they are to get movin’, building even bigger, more
impactful organizational efforts than they’re already doing. And, I’ve also heard
more than once from them about the value of
connecting to one another, how they’re sharing ideas,
making relationships, and building the type of movements that can move the world forward, so these are the folks who
are gonna make changes, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg ’cause there are a lot
more folks out there who are ready to do the same. Part of what we’re gonna be trying to do with the Obama Foundation is also though to promote a value spaced
approach to leadership development because we believe that real leadership involves dialogue, and
inclusion, and tolerance, and a commitment to human dignity, that if you don’t get that right, whatever technical solutions you come up with are gonna end up failing. If you want to be a leader, then you better have those
kinds of ideas in place. And that, by the way,
is another good reason why we’re in Hawaii. Growing up here, I experienced firsthand how people from different backgrounds can learn from one another and work together to create
a thriving community. Hawaii also taught me not
to get too high or too low based on the given moment, just chill, (audience laughs) to try to stay focused
on doing what’s right and thinking about the longterm, to be patient, to be humble, to be committed to a sense
of our common humanity. I should add at this point nobody exemplifies this aloha spirit better than my sister, Maya.
(speaking foreign language) (audience applauds) She’s taught at the
university for a long time. She was willing to help
us build this program and showcase this place that we love, so we’re really proud of her. We’re obviously proud of our
young leaders from Hawaii who have been a great bridge
for your fellow participants to the broader community of Hawaii. A reporter asked me earlier, “Why Hawaii?” I said, “Yeah, why not?” (audience laughs) People generally don’t
mind coming to Hawaii. But, what I also said is obviously it’s always been a bridge
between East and West. It’s part of the fabric
of the United States, but it’s also part of
the broader community of the Pacific Islands and
the Asia Pacific region, and so as we launch
and build this program, Hawaii’s gonna be indispensable. It’s gonna be a key platform for us, a convening space, a resource, and an example of the kind
of community-based solutions that we aim to promote. And, the leaders here today
have already experienced this. I understand yesterday you guys went to the Manoa Heritage Center to get a better understanding
of Hawaiian culture, and you’ve learned from local experts and navigator Manoa Thompson. You were hosted by middle
and high school students, right, from various
communities here in Hawaii? And, you got a chance to look up at those magnificent mountains
and share a Hawaiian dinner. And, hopefully that made
you reflect a little bit about your own cultures
and your own communities. That, in turn, I think contributed to how productive the
workshops were here today. Bottom line is, I could
not be more excited about the work that we’re gonna do. I am eager to see everything that you’re gonna
accomplish in the future. I thank the community of
Hawaii for, as always, being such exemplary hosts, and I’m confident that with the great team that we’re building and the amazing partnerships
that all of you represent, that we are going to once again change the world for the better, and I’m looking forward
to rolling my sleeves up and working with you
every step of the way. Thank you everybody, aloha. Thank you. (audience applauds)

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