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Transformative Lessons from LeadNext Global Leaders’ Summit

August 30, 2023

By Temuulen Enkhbat

The author, Temuulen Enkhbat, during the Bay Area study tour. (Photo: LeadNext / The Asia Foundation)

As a young urban planner from Mongolia, I had the great privilege to receive a 2023 LeadNext fellowship. Twenty young people, ages 18 to 25, half from Asia and the Pacific and half from the United States, we worked and learned together online for six months, and now we’ve just met face to face in San Francisco. The idea is lofty: to help each other join the next generation of transformational leaders. Yes, it was amazing, and yes, it was transformative, not just for my leadership abilities, but for the whole way I look at the world.

Let me tell you why.

My LeadNext fellowship was both typical and uniquely my own. I am a young woman, 22 years old, newly embarked on a career that I hope will create solutions to the development challenges facing my nation of Mongolia—rapid urbanization, inadequate infrastructure, and a crying need for green space in the burgeoning capital, Ulaanbaatar.

That part of the story is my own individual journey. But when all 20 of us converged on San Francisco for the Global Leaders’ Summit in July, we discovered how much we had in common as aspiring change-makers, passionate in our commitments but still young in experience, and how much we could learn from each other. I’d like to offer here a few impressions of the remarkable young people who shared this experience with me and whom I now call my friends.

LeadNext 2023 Fellows during the Monterey retreat. (Photo: LeadNext / The Asia Foundation)

Navigating insecurities and embracing impact

Melinda Sharlini is a gender-justice advocate in Malaysia and an inspiring model of persistence and hard work. We are both ambitious young women who have sometimes felt overwhelmed by the scale of our own goals, and we soon found we shared something else that is not uncommon among young people with a passion for change: the recurrent feelings of self-doubt known as “imposter syndrome.”

In several conversations with the fellows, I realized how often we avoid discussing the insecurities that young people are prey to in a world eager judge or dismiss them. I myself have trudged through the informal settlements of Ulaanbaatar in the dead of winter pursuing what seemed like a hopeless dream, to create green space in places that don’t even have running water or electricity.

The LeadNext Global Leaders’ Summit was more than a workshop on leadership skills; it gave us a safe place to express feelings like these, to gather strength to hold onto our dreams and turn them into realities, where we could talk and laugh about both our triumphs and our doubts with peers who understood us. Despite our different life stories, we found that we shared the same passion, and the same struggles, to make the world a little better.

LeadNext 2023 Fellows during the Bay Area study tour. (Photo: LeadNext / The Asia Foundation)

Unveiling histories and shaping identity

On the second day of the Summit, we visited the Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education, where Program Director Gary Mukai told us how his own family history as a Japanese-American had shaped his views of global citizenship. “Getting back to your roots, understanding where you came from, makes an individual more culturally sensitive,” he said.

Another person who helped me to appreciate the importance of cultural differences and personal identity was Lorena James. A LeadNext fellow of African-American heritage from Buffalo, New York, her commitment to climate-change activism reminded me of the imperative to keep moving forward, step by step, even if the steps are small. Coming from Mongolia, a developing country with a largely homogeneous population, I was raised in an environment where I was always part of the cultural majority. The lessons in cultural and racial dynamics conveyed in the life stories of Lorena and the rest of the fellows were an eye-opening experience.

Navigating global challenges as youth leaders

These new friendships and conversations awakened my empathy and my activism, but what was the next step? How could I—how can we—channel this activist energy to make an impact as young people? What can we really hope to contribute to a better future? One member of our cohort, Fellow Mohammad Tanvirul Hasan, a youth advocate from Bangladesh and now my very first friend from that country, spoke eloquently in the course of several intense conversations about the importance of young people’s engagement with social issues. He spoke of staying curious about how social systems work, the importance of thinking critically about the roots of social problems, and taking action as a citizen to pursue change.

(Photo: LeadNext / The Asia Foundation)

There are different notions of leadership. There is the formal leadership defined by public office or institutional authority. But there is another form of leadership that I saw on vivid display among my LeadNext fellows, one that draws on empathy, vision, and the compelling power of storytelling to conjure a better future. My LeadNext fellowship, the 19 other fellows, and everyone I met on this journey have changed the way I see myself, my country, and my place in the world as a future leader. It was a moment for me of rejuvenation and reflection, aptly characterized by leadership trainer Britt Yamamoto at our leadership retreat: “Practicing reflection is not about stopping; it is…about taking a pause to contemplate your life events to take the next right action.”

Temuulen Enkhbat, a 2023 LeadNext fellow, is the research and development lead at GerHub and vice-curator of the Global Shapers Community’s Ulaanbaatar Hub, which organizes youth leadership programs and promotes the development of green spaces. She can be reached at [email protected] and on LinkedIn The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author, not those of The Asia Foundation.

LeadNext seeks out promising young leaders, ages 18 to 25, from throughout Asia, the Pacific, and the United States. The six-month program, conducted online and in person, includes intensive leadership training, monthly masterclasses with global experts, and professional mentorships based on each fellow’s specific interests. The culmination of the program is a seven-day leadership retreat, the Global Leaders’ Summit, held in the San Francisco Bay Area. More information about LeadNext and how to apply for 2024.


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