YSEALI Fellows meet President Obama
US President Barack Obama opens the floor for questions at his 'town hall' meeting with the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) Fellows on 1 June 2015 at the White House, Washington, D.C. (Official White House photo by Chuck Kennedy)

The first cohort of Fellows under the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (YSEALI) Legislative Process and Governance Professional Fellows Program, offered by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) in partnership with ICLEI Southeast Asia Secretariat (ICLEI SEAS) and other affiliates, met President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, D.C. at the close of their visit to the United States as part of the exchange program.

According to the ICMA website, the Fellows, along with 53 other emerging leaders from Southeast Asian nations, gathered at the White House on 1 June 2015 for a town hall-style meeting on how they will use the educational and professional experience gained in the US to address regional challenges and opportunities when they return to Southeast Asia (video).

The Program, funded by the U.S. State Department and offered to 39 professionals from ten Southeast Asian nations and 11 from the U.S., focuses on the themes of legislative processes and governance practices, accountability, and transparency. Fellows learn practical skills on local governments’ role and responsibility in civic engagement, promoting transparency, and fostering interaction with leaders from the federal, state, and local organizations. The goal is to create long-term, institutionalized partnerships that support emerging leaders and their institutions in the Southeast Asian nations and the US to inspire change in creating responsive, open, and accountable governance.

For the first cohort, ICLEI SEAS was involved in the recruitment and selection of Fellows from Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei, namely:

  • Sreedaran Raman, Senior Assistant Director, Coastal Zone Management Division, Department of Irrigation and Drainage (Malaysia)
  • Chee Kai Ng, Nutrition Officer, Ministry of Health (Malaysia)
  • Nadia Jalawi, Assistant Director of Engineering, Municipality of Seberang Perai (Malaysia)
  • Nadia Yeo, Assistant Chief Counsel, Personal Date Protection Commission (Singapore)
  • Genevieve Yee, Medical Social Worker, Jerudong Park Medical Centre (Brunei)

The selected Fellows travelled to the United States on April-June 2015 for a 10-day enrichment program in Washington, D.C., followed by a four-week immersion at their host community/organization to help them gain tools, insights, and skills to address their chosen community challenges, focusing on one of the four YSEALI themes of civic engagement, education, economic development, and the environment. Further, the Fellows developed a community or organization challenge case study focusing on a project that their community or organization is facing. Among the challenges addressed by the Fellows were strengthening and enhancing Malaysia’s policy and action plan for disaster management,in terms of food availability and accessibility; reducing sedimentation and suspended sediments in the waterways; water quality enhancement and reducing floods; and raising the awareness about the mentorship program for Ilham, an online platform for professionals to be connected to the Muslim community in Singapore.

In coordination with the Malaysian Fellows,ICLEI SEAS also developed a program of activities for the reciprocal visit of US Fellow John Michael Yung, Assistant Village Manager of Yellow Springs, Ohio, in Kuala Lumpur and Seberang Perai on July-August 2015. The program was designed to provide Mr. Yung, a certified urban planner, with insights as to how certain cities in Malaysia address and respond to economic, population, and environmental challenges. During his two-week stay in Malaysia, he will be meeting with government officials and visiting project sites in Kuala Lumpur such as River of Life, a rehabilitation project of the Department of Irrigation and Drainage, the Eco City Unit of Seberang Perai, the Center of Malaysia Federal Government Administration in Putrajaya, and the Heritage Unit of Melaka City, among others, not only to learn but also offer his expertise in land use regulation, planning, and community development.

Currently, ICMA and ICLEI SEAS are in the process of selecting the Fellows for the second cohort of the Program, as well as for the Environmental Sustainability Fellowship Program which aims to build the capacity of young leaders to address environmental sustainability challenges in their respective communities, specifically on climate change, sustainable energy, and environmental justice.

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This article appears in LOGOS No. 5 (July 2015), quarterly newsletter of ICLEI SEAS.
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