Designing the Asia-Pacific Leaders Program

“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!


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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.