Notes from the Field

Emerging Leaders Exchange Program Broadens U.S.-Southeast Asia Understanding

November 11, 2009

From 2002 to 2006, The Asia Foundation implemented a series of exchanges for 80 promising young professionals from Southeast Asia and the United States to help develop a better understanding of one another’s region. This program was initiated by the Foundation because of concern that fewer Americans had been involved with Southeast Asia since the end of the Vietnam War and subsequently were less familiar with the region’s nuances and complexities. Consequently, a younger generation of Southeast Asians had limited exposure to the United States and their understanding has been limited as well.

Funded by a grant from the Freeman Foundation, The Asia Foundation arranged for these groups of outstanding young Southeast Asian and American professionals to take part in a series of observation programs to broaden and exchange dialogue that began one year after the September 11 terrorist attacks and a week after the Bali bombings in October 2002. Through these exchanges, the emerging leaders had the opportunity to meet and interact with a wide variety of Southeast Asian and American groups and individuals. The Americans met with Southeast Asian Members of Parliament, academicians and business people, Muslim school teachers, and catfish farmers. During their travels in the U.S., the Southeast Asians met with members of Congress, business associations, community organizations, and a range of religious and social service organizations; visits were made to homeless shelters, family farms, and other uniquely American places. Participants came from various backgrounds themselves, representing diverse fields such as foreign affairs, journalism, business, public administration, social services, and academia.

In late September 2009, the Foundation brought together 26 of these participants (18 Southeast Asians and 8 Americans) in Singapore to consider how the dynamics of U.S.-Southeast Asian relations may have changed in recent years, and to examine political, economic, and social issues important to Southeast Asia and U.S. interests in the region. Two of the participants, Ms. Haseenah Koyakutty, (download paper) a native of Singapore who is a freelance writer and Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, and Dr. Thomas Lum, (download paper) an Asian analyst for the Congressional Research Service in Washington, D.C., were asked to write analyses based on the two-and-a-half-day discussion in Singapore. The views expressed in their papers are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of The Asia Foundation or any institution, either in Southeast Asia or the U.S.

Participants at The Asia Foundation's Emerging Leaders Conference in Singapore

Participants at The Asia Foundation's Emerging Leaders Conference in Singapore

One of our guest speakers, Dr. Wang Gangwu, an eminent historian who is Chairman of the East Asia Institute at the National University of Singapore, talked about his experience as an Asia Foundation grantee in 1960 when he spent three months in the U.S. visiting 16 universities to help build an expertise on Asian Studies. He concluded this personal vignette by commenting: “The knowledge has stayed with me ever since.”

John J. Brandon is The Asia Foundation’s Director of International Relations Programs in Washington, D.C. Mr. Brandon worked closely with Mr. Gerald Martin and Ms. Julia Chen, Assistant Director and Program Officer, respectively, in the Asian-Exchange Unit in San Francisco, to organize the exchange programs and the conference in Singapore.


Participants included: Cambodia: Mr. Panha Koul: Director, Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL); Mr. Chheang Vannarith: Executive Director, Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP); Indonesia: Dr. Edy Priyono: Head, Akademika Center, Ms. Dian Kartika Sari: National Presidium for the Indonesia Women’s Coalition, Koalisi Perempuan Indonesia (KPI); Lao PDR: Mr. Saysongkham Phanouvong: Deputy Director of International NGOs Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Malaysia: Ms. Foon Fong Loh, Chief Reporter, Star Publications (M) Bhd.; Mr. Md. Khaldun Munip b. Abdul Malek: Lecturer, Faculty of Economics & Administration, University of Malaysia; Philippines: Mr. Al-Frazier S. Ahalul: Executive Director, Sulu Chamber of Commerce; Singapore: Ms. Haseenah Koyakutty: Freelance Writer and Southeast Asia Correspondent; Dr. Kumar Ramakrishna: Associate Professor and Head, Centre of Excellence for National Security, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies; Dr. Leonard C. Sebastian: Associate Professor, Indonesia Programme, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS); Thailand: Mr. Sunai Phasuk: Senior Researcher, Human Rights Watch; Ms. Rungtip Imrungruang: Program Officer, ActionAid Thailand; Timor-Leste: Mr. Virgilio da Silva Guterres: Program Manager, Haburas Foundation; Mr. Valentim Ximenes: Lecturer of Faculty of Social and Political Science, National University of Timor Leste (UNTL); Vietnam: Mr. Nguyen Tuan Anh: Deputy Head of Inspectorate Division II, Vietnam Government Inspectorate; Dr. Tran Ngoc Anh: Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana; Mr. Nghiem Phong Vu: Officer, Foreign Affairs Department, National Assembly; United States: Ms. Christine Chen: Manager, Global Communications and Public Affairs, Google, Inc.; Ms. Franca Gargiulo: President, AvenirMonde; Dr. Tracy Gordon: Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland; Mr. Peter Ipsen: Country Director for Central Asia, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD); Ms. Pradnya (PJ) Joshi: Deputy Night Assignment Editor, The New York Times; Ms. Ruby Khan: formerly Deputy Director Programs, International Rescue Committee in Afghanistan; Dr. Thomas Lum: Specialist in Asian Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division, Congressional Research Service; Dr. Michelle Tan: Postdoctoral Fellow, Southeast Asian Studies Program, National University of Singapore.

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