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Insights and Analysis

LeadNext Fellows: Citizens of the World

September 14, 2022

By Nicole Ripley

“Tebe dai, tebe dai,” chanted a group of voices as the early August sun sank over Tomales Bay, north of San Francisco. Ivo Ribeiro was leading a traditional group dance called Dahur, which the people of Timor-Leste use to mark important moments in the life of the community. It was his gift to the LeadNext “global fireside.” Each participant had prepared an offering from their own culture.

This moment epitomized the inaugural year of LeadNext: Ambassadors for a Global Future, which brought together 20 fellows from Asia and the United States for an eight-month program on global citizenship and leadership. Dynamic 18- to 25-year-olds from the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific apply for the chance to participate in an intensive program giving them access to new tools and frameworks to address real-world challenges like climate change, inequality, and gender-based violence.

Ivo Ribeiro is one of these young leaders. In his native Timor-Leste he has led flood-relief efforts and youth empowerment programs, he’s passionate about equitable development, and he has aspirations to become president of his country. Faye Simanjuntak of Indonesia is another. She’s cofounder of a nonprofit working to eradicate child trafficking. Nelson Kokoa, from Papua New Guinea, is a multidisciplinary storyteller and founder of Art Activism PNG, which promotes dialogue on social issues. Nirmala Singh of New York is combating food insecurity and climate change and founded a gender justice organization. Mayabee Arannya of Bangladesh advocates for adolescent reproductive health and rights and an end to the culture of violence. Johileny Meran of New York is advancing the rights of people with disabilities.

These are just six of the twenty changemakers, 10 from the Asia-Pacific and 10 from the United States, in the inaugural LeadNext class. For several decades, The Asia Foundation’s Leadership and Exchanges unit has invested in leaders at all levels, knowing that change depends not just on policies and programs, but on the people who lead them. The LeadNext program focuses on future leaders in the nascent stages of their careers. Here are some components of the program.

Leadership Training Intensive

Beginning in January, the fellows met virtually for several weeks to discuss globalization and global citizenship and to reflect on how their own lives have laid the foundation of their leadership strengths. A series of distinguished guest speakers joined the seminars, including celebrated human rights activist Jamira Burley; Zola Batkhuyag, founder of Mongolia’s Women for Change; U.S. congressional representatives Marilyn Strickland of Washington State and Andy Kim of New Jersey; and former U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon.

“There were a lot of golden takeaways,” says Ivo Ribeiro,

the importance of effective and empathetic communication, of being humble in leadership, and listening to as well as learning from the LeadNext fellows and guest speakers sharing their life and leadership experience in addressing challenges faced by their communities. Having had the chance to meet such a group of dynamic and energetic people with the same passion…I am eager to continue to do good things for my community.

“My leadership purpose and my leadership style…are things I had never reflected on so much before,” says Mayabee Arannya:

I now have a clearer North Star and an idea of what kind of work I want to dedicate my life to. I gained confidence in myself and my work, especially because of my amazing cohort and their constant support.…I have dedicated myself to “leading with passion and compassion,” as shared by Ban-Ki Moon.



Masterclasses and Mentorship

Each fellow, based on their goals and interests, was paired with a dedicated professional mentor. From March to July, the fellows also met for masterclasses with visionary social change leaders in the United States and Asia, including filmmaker and interdisciplinary artist Tamara Shogaolu; pioneering green landscape architect Kotch Voraakhom of Thailand; Jaideep Bansal, CEO of Global Himalayan Expedition, which brings solar energy to remote Himalayan villages; Tomohiro Hamakawa, cofounder of the eco-NGO Earth Company; and Margaret Huang, CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Global Leaders Summit

In August, the fellows gathered in the San Francisco Bay Area for the program’s capstone Global Leaders Summit. They visited several centers at Stanford University, including the Center for Racial Justice and the Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society; worked with Britt Yamamoto, cofounder and CEO of the leadership development organization Perennial during a four-day leadership retreat at the Marconi Center; toured the Pacific coastline; and were featured at a President’s Leadership Council dinner. But for Ivo and Mayabee, the most powerful experience was the camaraderie and exchange of ideas.

As Timor-Leste grows, the country needs…highly skilled people that have experiences and exposure to other countries’ successes, to learn from these and in turn implement them in Timor-Leste. Through participating in LeadNext, where I had the chance to meet with, know, and befriend several young leaders across Asia and the U.S., I notice one thing we all have in common. Despite all our backgrounds or differences, we all speak the same language: giving without considering the cost.  — Ivo Ribeiro

The program has blessed me with a cohort of amazing leaders with an endless wealth of knowledge and support for each other. They have elevated me to the next level of my leadership journey. Now I feel ready to take on any new leadership challenges that are thrown my way with a head full of new ideas and a heart full of passion and compassion.   — Mayabee Arannya

Golden Takeaways: Giving without Considering the Cost

LeadNext meets young people at that crucial moment when they need partners in change, inspiration, and energy and ideas from other leaders’ experiences. Nelson Kokoa summed up his experience this way: “I arrived here as a citizen of Papua New Guinea, but I leave as a citizen of the world.”

Applications for the 2023 LeadNext program open on Monday, September 19. Learn more about the program on our website, and click here to apply.

Nicole Ripley is a senior program officer for The Asia Foundation’s LeadNext Fellows program. She can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.


  1. An unforgettable experience. Thank you, LeadEx team and The Asia Foundation.

  2. I hope that if I get a chance to participate in this program,I will increase my knowledge a lot.

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