Winter 2009/2010

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

By John J. Brandon

In September, the Foundation brought together 18 Southeast Asian and eight American former Freeman Fellows in Singapore to consider how the dynamics of U.S.-Southeast Asian relations may have changed in recent years, and to examine important political, economic, and social issues in the region. These fellows were participants in a series of Asia Foundation exchanges from 2002-2006 for 80 promising young professionals from Southeast Asia and the United States to help them develop a better understanding of one another’s region. The program was initiated by the Foundation out 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.

Funded by a grant from the Freeman Foundation, The Asia Foundation arranged for these groups to take part in a series of observation programs to broaden and exchange dialogue. The Americans met with Southeast Asian Members of Parliament, academics and business people, Muslim school teachers, and catfish farmers. In the United States, the Southeast Asians visited members of Congress, business associations, community organizations, religious and social service organizations, homeless shelters, family farms, and more. Participants represented diverse fields such as foreign affairs, journalism, business, public administration, social services, and academia.

Two of the participants in the Singapore meeting, Ms. Haseenah Koyakutty, a native of Singapore who is a freelance writer and Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, and Dr. Thomas Lum, an Asian analyst for the Congressional Research Service in Washington, DC, wrote analyses based on the discussions on changing dynamics of U.S.-Southeast Asian relations. The papers are available at www.asiafoundation.org.

John J. Brandon is The Asia Foundation’s Director of International Relations Programs in Washington.