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Designing the Asia-Pacific Leaders Program


January 2, 2019
President Barack Obama holds a press conference at the APEC summit at the JW Marriott Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011.

“What’s best in me, and what’s best in my message, is consistent with the tradition of Hawaiʻi.” —President Obama, 2004

As President Obama met with groups of emerging leaders around the world in 2017 and 2018—from Johannesburg to Brazil to Amsterdam to Singapore and more—it became clear that while there are universal themes that transcend geographical and cultural differences to unite everyone working for change, this work is ultimately rooted in and influenced by local contexts that vary from place to place. We tailor our programs to those local contexts with the help of leaders on the ground.

That’s how we brought the Leaders: Africa program to life, and that’s why we’ve assembled a cohort of 21 civic leaders from 16 countries and territories from across the Asia Pacific for a hands-on workshop to help us design our future Leaders program in the region. Get to know them here.

With the help of Foundation supporters and other key stakeholders from the Hawaiʻi community, the leaders will build upon the great work happening in the Asia Pacific to craft a course of action that addresses pressing issues and opportunities, and meaningfully contributes to positive change in the region. President Obama will also join the leaders during the workshop to hear from them directly about the strengths in their communities and how the Foundation can support their unique needs.

We chose to host this workshop in Hawaiʻi because in addition to President Obama’s deep ties to the state, Hawaiʻi is uniquely positioned geographically and culturally to bring together the East and the West, offering a blend of tradition and innovation.

You can sign up to learn more about future programming in the Asia Pacific below. Keep scrolling for updates from the workshop and more information about the 21 emerging leaders!

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Updates from Hawaiʻi

President Obama announced the future Leaders: Asia-Pacific program at a community reception with emerging leaders, Foundation supporters, and members of the Hawaiʻi community on Sunday, January 6. Watch the full remarks:

The program design sessions encouraged leaders to dig deep to envision their unique future and the impact they want to make on the communities they serve. As they moved from activity to activity, issues like climate change, human rights, equity, and cultural understanding emerged as main areas of focus for the future Asia-Pacific Leaders program.

President Obama joined leaders and Foundation supporters for an interactive session to hear from them directly and to build on the ideas and themes coming out of the workshop. Their time together was spent discussing the hard and soft skills they need to strengthen and develop, the support they need to amplify and accelerate their impact, even successes and failures. He also added a powerful reminder that has carried him through his own journey as a changemaker: If you want to lead, listen.

President Obama sits and points as he talks with white and Asian Obama Leaders. They are all smiling. President Obama is holding a microphone.

How many of you can name any if not all of your great grandparents? How many of you can describe a family ritual that goes back generations? These were important questions during the Saturday evening event at the Manoa Heritage Center. Leaders and Foundation supporters were whisked away into Hawaiian tradition and culture by members of the community, giving the tradition kuʻi kalo (pounding taro) a try; identifying and examining indigenous plants; experiencing Kūkaʻōʻō Heaiau, an acient temple; and exploring the healing power of art and storytelling. And they got to put the oli they learned to use!

In this image, a group of people with light medium skin tones stand around and talk amongst each other. They are all smiling. Some men are wearing beaded necklaces and tribal shirts.
A group of people with a range of light and light medium skin tones stand outdoors and listen to a guide in a bright blue shirt and jeans.
A group of women with a ranger of light to medium skin tones sit at a table and make a arts and crafts using markers, scissors, and colored pencils.
On a sunny day, a group of people with a range of light to medium deep skin tones hold hands and create a wide circle on the outskirts of a green grass patch.

Close your eyes. Visualize where your family lives in 2039. What climate and reality would you find yourself in? In a provocative Saturday afternoon session on future trends, challenges, and opportunities in Asia Pacific, leaders were guided through a visualization exercise to examine the areas of their lives and their communities that may be impacted by climate change in the next 20 years—and how to approach those realities.

From a distance, a woman with a medium skin tone stands in a dimmed forest-like atmosphere, reading a book.

Leaders started off their second day exploring the concept of leadership as an activity that requires awareness, agility, and the skillful enlistment of allies rather than simply a role. The session allowed leaders to dig into the complexities of fighting patterns, behaviors, and beliefs to create the change they want to see in their communities.

A group of people with light medium skin tones sit on chairs in a brigh room and talk.

Over dinner, the group was welcomed by community elder Kehaulani Lum and explored the rich history and cultural traditions of the island, even learning the E Hō Mai Oli, a Hawaiian chant calling for knowledge and wisdom from the heavens.

This picture shows a woman with a medium skin tone, short gray hair, and a microphone that seems to
be making a presentation on stage with Obama Foundation logos in the background.
A close up of picture of two women with a light and light medium skin tones holding hands.

Joyful arrivals marked the beginning of the Hawaiʻi workshop on Friday, January 4. Leaders were greeted in true Hawaiian fashion, receiving leis of hand-picked ginger flowers from leaders Kaleo Manuel and Kealoha Fox.

Two people embrace. The woman is holding yellow leis and the man is wearing a leis. Another pair embraces to the left.