The U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur together with its local implementing partners, the Biji-biji Initiative, and its education arm Me.reka organized a regional workshop for the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) aimed at elevating the advocacy and strategic communications skills for a group of 80 changemakers working in the fields of anti-trafficking, and conservation. The workshop and all its engagements took place from September 4, 2020, to June 28, 2021.

What was originally intended to be a 3-Day workshop, transformed into a digital program spanning several months, with a network of organizations and local communities to collaborate, share collective capacity, and curate compelling strategies.

“We can’t keep solving problems as they come. The program was designed to equip the leaders of the 21st century, with access to resources, expertise, and regional networks, to solve problems faster than they are being created. We have to work towards a world where these community problems are solved today without allowing them to exist tomorrow. The only way forward to achieving this is together,” said Rashvin Pal Singh, Group CEO of Biji-biji Initiative.

The participants were tasked to utilize a design thinking approach in creating communications and advocacy related solutions to tackle regional challenges faced by partner organizations in Southeast Asia. The workshop came to an end with 5 AdvocaSEA participant teams being provided a total of $12,500 seed funding to implement their solutions. The 5 impact-driven campaigns, in partnership with regional organizations People and the Sea, Lao Conservation Trust for Wildlife, and Malaysian organizations PACOS Trust and Think City, saw a collective social media reach of 411,004 across 11 Countries, impacting over 141 local beneficiaries. “Across Southeast Asia, a lot of us face similar issues in the areas of anti-trafficking and conservation. By connecting with other participants, I was able to learn from how they manage their solutions and how they tackle the challenges they face in their given work. I am able to apply their experiences and learnings into the communities I work with in Sabah,” said Mark Louis Benedict of Malaysia.

Program partners PACOS Trust shared their efforts of empowering indigenous communities within Sabah. With the implications of COVID-19, many indigenous communities within Sabah were left with diminished income generating opportunities. A group of AdvocaSEA participants teamed with PACOS Trust to launch “Smart, Savvy and Sustainable”, a campaign to build the resilience of rural women in Sabah through workshops on digital literacy and e-commerce training.

“With the help of YSEALI participants, we were able to bring 14 women from lower-income families and help their journey in sustainable employment. In a region where even access to the internet is a privilege, being able to connect with these communities digitally and help them find employment to support their households in such challenging times was promising.,” said Rojieka Scarlett from PACOS Trust.

“We hope that all the participants take advantage of the relationships they formed through this program, especially the ones that cross borders. YSEALI is about harnessing the power and talent of the region to foster change, and those relationships are what make the difference. I hope that the skills that you have learned about storytelling, advocating, and changing minds, these are things you can use to create change within your community and beyond,” said Ambassador Brian D. McFeeters. 

The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative is a pioneering opportunity powered by the United States Department of State. The initiative creates opportunities for cross-country collaboration and collective capacity building among emerging young leaders from Southeast Asia. To learn more about YSEALI and to subscribe to future opportunities, click here.