Innovation happens when people understand a problem in their community and work together to find solutions. For nearly 150 young leaders in Southeast Asia, an opportunity hosted by Arizona State University and the U.S. Mission to ASEAN supported their efforts to shape the region’s future in the areas of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) education and workforce innovation.
As the implementing partner for the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Summit, organizers from the Global Outreach and Extended Education Office in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU recruited participants and mentors, designed networking and learning opportunities with experts and hosted a pitch competition to empower economic and social development in the region.
Jeffrey Goss, associate vice provost for Southeast Asia programs, executive director for the Office of Global Outreach and Extended Education and an assistant dean of the Fulton Schools, said in closing remarks for the summit that the program is an opportunity for the participants to see themselves as activists, entrepreneurs and educators who are ready to make a difference.
“This isn’t an experience that can be credited to one person and one group. It is truly a collaborative program, relying on the talent, skills and resources of multiple groups to build and sustain its impact,” Goss said. “You are the future of your countries, and I hope you remind yourselves every day that you’re ready for this challenge and any other challenges to come because you are leaders.”
At the summit, participants developed their skills to help create innovative education and workforce development solutions, including leadership, design thinking, data visualization, storytelling and public speaking. They also learned to integrate the techniques they learned into proposals and elevator pitches for a chance at seed funding.
Supporting opportunity in Southeast Asia
In the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, region — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor-Leste and Vietnam — approximately 65% of the population is under the age of 35.
U.S. partnerships in the region are supporting young people’s potential to address challenges and expand opportunities. YSEALI is one such program, launched in 2013 by the U.S. Mission to ASEAN as a signature government program in collaboration with the U.S. State Department. Its mission is to build leadership and promote cooperation among member countries to solve regional and global challenges. Youth members of YSEALI can participate in fellowships, regional workshops and seed-grant projects.
YSEALI alumni ages 18 to 35 who are still actively engaged in the program and in activities to help their communities were invited to participate in this year’s summit. The nearly 150 participants at the 2021 YSEALI Summit represented the 11 ASEAN countries and are pursuing advanced degrees or working in education and youth programs, in government and nonprofit organizations, in media, in industry and more.
In a video message to YSEALI Summit participants, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized the nation’s support of YSEALI alumni in creating a shared future shaped by STEAM innovations.
“You have a stake in shaping that future, making sure that we can harness new ideas, new discoveries and new technologies to power a more peaceful and prosperous world,” Blinken said in the message. “(The theme of STEAM education and workforce innovation) reflects the exciting moment of opportunity and change before us, a moment we can and must seize together.”
Learning from peers and experts
The YSEALI Summit was held in an online format due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic. This shift allowed the organizers to offer a more in-depth program — expanded from a three-day program in Ho Chi Minh City to a two-month virtual program in September and October with master classes, networking and cultural exchange opportunities, a mentorship program, a four-day virtual summit and a pitch competition.
ASU organizers gave keynote talks and moderated panel discussions, including one with Colin Marson, head of Google for Education JAPAC (Japan and Asia-Pacific). They brought together civic leaders, government officials, trade professionals and industry experts to give insight into major education and workforce innovation challenges facing Southeast Asia.
“Invited speakers explored (the summit theme’s) impact on society and economic development through case studies and real-world scenarios,” said Jose Quiroga, associate director for Global Outreach and Extended Education and the YSEALI Summit program director. “They opened the door to new technologies and approaches in developing human capital and their potential to transform the educational ecosystem.”
ASU faculty members Bob Schoenfeld, a Global Outreach and Extended Education Office faculty associate, and Sarah Hoyt, a senior instructional designer in the College of Health Solutions, led master classes on leadership and instructional design.
Summit participants were also excited about learning the ASU Spark Method — a conversational design tool to help teams implement an action plan based on crowd-sourced wisdom to solve a problem.
According to the founders of the ASU Spark Method, it "empowers individuals at any level within an organization to confidently and skillfully approach the challenges they face with the training and tools needed to implement effective change.”
By attending these sessions, the participants learned from one another’s diverse perspectives and backgrounds and expanded their networks across the region. They also gained a broader picture view of the challenges they could face while implementing the projects they developed for the pitch competition and how to overcome them.
“What was special about the experience was how it allowed me to reflect on what was important,” said Carmen Roceli M. Lopez, a YSEALI Summit participant from the Philippines and an assistant project manager with GREAT Women Project 2. “Attending the master classes and implementing the ASU Spark method helped me to solidify the community project I had in mind. I know that I will be able to use the knowledge and skills I learned in my journey as a development worker. For this, I am grateful to YSEALI, ASU and the U.S. Department of State. Hopefully more people across the region can get the same opportunity.”
Bringing it all together
Participants in multinational teams drew from the knowledge they gained at YSEALI Summit activities to develop projects focused on the themes of digital learning in the era of COVID-19, STEAM curriculum and instruction, and STEAM workforce development innovation. Each team created an elevator pitch to present their idea to a panel of judges that included university innovation and technology program directors, entrepreneurs and industry leaders from Amazon Web Services Vietnam and Intel Products Vietnam.
The awards given to help launch the innovative projects proposed in the pitch competition ranged from a grand prize of $15,000 to 13 additional awards worth a total of $85,000.
The first-place team, Bridge the GAP, which stands for gender advocacy program, earned $15,000 in seed-grant funding for their proposal to increase girls’ interest and confidence in STEAM as teenagers by creating a pipeline of female professionals who can serve as mentors to close the gender gap in STEAM workplaces.
Four second-place teams earned $10,000 each for ideas that included a platform to empower farmers to digitalize their business, a boot camp for high school students to develop 21st-century work skills, a program to equip youth with stress management skills and a project to support female artisans and female-led enterprises through digital literacy.
Nine teams each earned third-place awards of $5,000 for a variety of efforts spanning educational access for students, teachers and rural communities; technologies for virtual learning and economic development; and sustainability awareness in their communities.
Uyen Cao, industrial engineering director with Intel Products Vietnam and a pitch competition judge, said at the YSEALI Summit, “It was such a pleasure watching your pitches. Your enthusiasm, energy, creativity and motivation to bring about some positive changes to people around you are really inspiring. I strongly believe that together you can make it happen.”
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