President Obama’s Visit with Emerging Leaders in Singapore

By Bernadette Meehan, International Programs

President Barack Obama poses for a photo in front of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon, Burma, Nov. 19, 2012 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

On March 19th, President Obama will head to Singapore to meet with emerging leaders from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. He will have the opportunity to hear about the work they’re doing in their communities, and to discuss what the Obama Foundation can do to support their journeys to create change. They will also brainstorm about how emerging leaders across ASEAN countries can work together to promote sustainable growth. Our international work is driven by rising leaders around the world and through conversations like these, and our programs will continue to evolve as we learn from you all.

“Whenever I meet with the young people from ASEAN countries, I am inspired. It makes me very optimistic about the future.” — President Obama, 2016

For example, when we met Bryan Gunawan in Jakarta last year, he talked about his experience studying abroad in Paris and at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and how that impacted his approach to changing his community. He mentioned that he wanted to learn more about how he could directly apply the tools and skills he learned abroad back home in Southeast Asia. We thought about Bryan’s path to engage in his community and give back, and we realized that so many emerging leaders could be boosted by a program that helps develop leadership skills and tools before continuing on their path of service. That’s a big step for so many committed people, and is one of the reasons we launched the Obama Foundation Scholars Program for emerging international leaders at the University of Chicago (you have until April 17 to apply!).

Eager to keep hearing from diverse people around the world, we’ve spent a lot of time getting to know the young people invited to the roundtable in Singapore — their work and the impact its having on their community, and their advice to other young people who are looking to get involved. I’m inspired by all of the innovative projects they’re working on, especially how they’re leveraging technology to meet community needs and create positive change.

For example, Ganesh Muran, from Malaysia, founded a company that delivers safe and clean drinking water through solar powered water purification systems. He also takes his work a step further by empowering single moms in villages to keep the systems going on their own through micro-financing. Vanessa Paranjothy, from Singapore, co-founded the feminine hygiene company Freedom Cups with her sisters, which operates on a “buy one, give one” model to provide women in underprivileged communities with menstrual cups. Ganesh and Vanessa are not only combating environmental and hygiene issues, they are also raising awareness about the issues they care most about and increasing economic access and empowering women across Asia. You can learn more about the other Singapore roundtable participants here.

I look forward to hearing more about the unique solutions these inspiring young ASEAN leaders are using in their communities, and as always, I’m excited that their voices will join the thousands of others that are shaping and driving Obama Foundation programming. Add your voice now.