Meet twenty young leaders from the U.S. and the Asia-Pacific, the first graduates of The Asia Foundation’s LeadNext Fellowship program. Read the full blog about the LeadNext fellows.
When I was in sixth grade, it was Mother's Day, and I remember cooking a big meal for my mom, and then I realized that there are a bunch of moms out there who won't get to celebrate Mother's Day because they don't have the luxury of having a good dinner. And so, I realized that okay, it is my purpose to serve others, and that's what I've been doing for the last six years.
Tracie Yang (00:27):
Meet a crop of Gen Z leaders with a passion for social change in a program to give them new tools for success. Today on InAsia from the Asia Foundation, I'm Tracy Young.
John Rieger (00:37):
And I'm John Rieger. 10 are from America, 10 from the Asia Pacific, and they're the first cohort of Asia Foundation LeadNext Fellows. We're joined today by Nicole Ripley, Senior Program Officer for LeadNext. It's an eight month leadership training program for Fellows age 18 to 25. And, she's here to tell us what the first year was like and what leadership training in the 21st century really means. Nicole, welcome to InAsia.
Nicole Ripley (01:01):
Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.
Tracie Yang (01:03):
So let's just start by talking about the outlines of this program, LeadNext. What does it do and how does it do it?
Nicole Ripley (01:10):
Well, LeadNext is our newest program with the Leadership and Exchange Programs Unit, and it's focused on emerging change makers age 18 to 25, capturing them at this seminal moment in their early careers and providing them with the tools and the support that they need as they continue on their path as change makers. And, it focuses really heavily on cross-cultural exchange and developing this sense of global citizenship.
John Rieger (01:37):
Why don't we, for starters, meet some of these young leaders?
Hi, I am Anne-Marcelle Kouame. If that sounds French, it's not a coincidence. That's because I was born and raised in Cote d'lvoire. I also immigrated here in the US when I was 11.
My name is Ivo Ribeiro. I'm from Timor Leste, or East Timor. It's a land of crocodile and a land of sun rising.
I'm Faye Simanjuntak. I'm from Indonesia.
My name is Nelson Kokoa. I am 25 years of age, and I am from the island nation of Papua New Guinea in the South Pacific.
My name is Sopharoth Ith, Many people call me Rosie. I am from Cambodia. I came to school here in the US and got a Bachelor in Economics.
My name is Mary Mijares. I am a first generation immigrant from the Philippines.
I'm Mayabee Arannya, I'm from Bangladesh. Born and raised, always been there.
Tracie Yang (02:24):
Well, they sound much more well spoken than I did at the age. Well first thing, you must love your job. Who becomes a LeadNext Fellow, and how do you find them?
Nicole Ripley (02:38):
I do love my job, and I have to say it's one of the most humbling and inspiring things to work with young leaders who have such a spark to create change and are already doing such incredible things in their communities. We don't recruit for this program from a particular sector or field. What we're looking for are people who share that spark, people who have already established sort of a sense of respect in their communities, whether on their school campuses or in organizations that they're running. But, they all share this interest in coming together for a better, more sustainable world.
John Rieger (03:15):
Why don't we use more from some of the Fellows themselves? This is Nelson Kokoa from Papua New Guinea.
I remember when I was in sixth grade and it was Mother's Day, and I remember cooking a big meal for my mom and then I realized that there are a bunch of moms out there who won't get to celebrate Mother's Day because they don't have the money or the luxury of having a good dinner, a nice dinner. So I told my dad and my mom, and I asked them if we could cook some food and just drive out and just park somewhere and start serving food to the homeless. And so, that's what we did. And that, I don't know, that just gave me so much joy in everyone so happy on Mother's Day. And so, I realized that okay, it is my purpose to serve others, and that's what I've been doing for the last six years.
Tracie Yang (04:08):
So, when you recruit somebody this talented and public spirited, what do you hope to teach them? What is leadership?
Nicole Ripley (04:17):
When I work with the LeadNext Fellows, we talk about how leadership is something that can happen from wherever you sit. And so, it's not necessarily about being the head of something or the director of something, but it's about action and empathy kind of moving together. The program really works in sort of two folds. One is to develop a shared framework for what it means to be a global citizen leader. And so, we're really encouraging these young leaders to think globally with an appreciation for diversity of cultures and traditions and a deep sense of self-awareness and emotional intelligence because the world that we live in today really demands these kinds of leadership skills. Then, we offer them the opportunity to engage with global experts that are leaders across a range of fields and work that are really at the forefront of change. And, they get to learn from the different approaches of these leaders.
And then, by the time we bring them all together for the Global Leader Summit in the summer, they've done a lot of collaborating already. They've created a deep sense of friendship amongst the cohort, and so then we're able to continue to deepen that learning. We do a lengthy leadership training retreat, and the idea is that we're giving them both the tools but also the mindsets that help them to be more effective as leaders and also sustain them in their leadership. They're young, they're just starting out, and they have many years ahead of them, so the idea is if we can really encourage them and support them in this seminal moment, in these nascent moments of their career, then we can help them be successful long into the future.
Tracie Yang (06:00):
That's interesting because you mentioned emotional intelligence and being inclusive, and I don't feel like that's always been the narrative for what leadership should be. I always remember that leadership is about charisma and my way or the highway kind of mentality.
Nicole Ripley (06:18):
I think that's exactly what we're trying to teach with LeadNext is that leadership doesn't have to be that top down approach, that really actually good leaders, good leaders in the 21st century that are tackling these complex problems need to have a deep sense of nuance, and they need to be skilled at navigating cross-cultural communication, that you need to be able to honor multi, multiple and diverse perspectives and be sensitive to the experiences of others. Really, for me that's, the core of all of that is empathy and that effective leadership for the 21st century effective social change leadership is grounded and rooted in empathy.
John Rieger (06:54):
Let's listen to another one of these remarkable young people. This is Faye Simanjuntak from Indonesia.
I never kind of meant to start an organization on my own. I think it was moreso just that when we spent a lot of time in the areas where a lot of children were vulnerable to being trafficked and also meeting survivors, that's when we started realizing that what we could offer was quite unique, mostly because we were Indonesians, and at the time there weren't as many Indonesian born and led organizations that worked in counter trafficking. I run an organization that works to eradicate child trafficking, exploitation and abuse through three main programs: prevention, rescue, and recovery. So, we run a safe house and since it was established in 2016, we've been able to help the recovery process of over 170 girls and six babies born to our care.
Sometimes, it does feel like the weight of the world is on us as an individual. The age that we're all at now as LeadNext Fellows, it feels like why did we start so young and is there going to be the support that we need to sustain this journey that we've been on? But, meeting all the Fellows and understanding their perspectives, their journeys, their passion and their compassion, most of all their patience to keep working for something better, even if it feels like there are so many hardships and so many challenges is not just inspiring, it's motivating how intentional it all is.
John Rieger (08:19):
I'm almost embarrassed to mention this, but I did a semester abroad when I was in school, and it was, compared to what you're describing, it was like a form of tourism. And, I'd like to know a little bit more detail about the curriculum. Who teaches, and what lessons are they teaching?
Nicole Ripley (08:38):
The Leadership Training Intensive, which takes place over several weeks virtually, I designed and facilitated the curriculum for, and then we've been so privileged to have guest speakers who come and share their insights as well. We had award-winning activist and international speaker, Jamira Burley, come and speak. We had Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland from Washington, Andy Kim, Representative Andy Kim, from New Jersey. And then, we were so excited to have Ban Ki-moon, former UN Secretary General, come and give the feedback to the Fellows and hear them talk about their leadership stories as well.
After we go through that intensive, then we have a series of master classes with global experts across a range of fields. So, this year we heard from Kotch Voraakhom. She is a landscape architect, internationally recognized. She deals with climate resilience and climate change and design for urban landscapes. We heard from Tomo Hamakawa. He runs a really fantastic NGO called Earth Company in Bali. We heard from Margaret Huang, the CEO of the Southern Poverty Law Center. We had just incredible speakers, and each provides like a slightly different angle and lens to think about leadership but also think about change.
John Rieger (09:59):
Listening to Faye Simanjuntak from Indonesia a couple of minutes ago, I was struck by two thoughts. One is that these are remarkable young people with a real sense of service. The other thing is they often seem to come from their country's elite. They speak perfect English, they have university degrees, often from America. Is this an elite program like say the Rhodes Scholarship? What is the sociological profile of LeadNext Fellows?
Nicole Ripley (10:25):
I think one of the strengths of this program is that it is incredibly diverse. Certainly there are some who have been able to seize opportunities like that, but there are others who are leaving their home countries for the first time to be a part of this program, and we want to engage with all types of young leaders and help them be the leaders that they want to be no matter what their backgrounds are.
John Rieger (10:50):
I really love these young people. Here's Mayabee Arannya from Bangladesh.
When I applied for LeadNext, honestly, I knew that I would be part of an amazing cohort, but then I actually met everyone, and I'm just fan-girling over here about how inspiring everyone is and all of the master classes, all the intensive training sessions, all the experts who have come here, the work that they've done, it gives me hope. And, in this kind of work, social justice work, it's hard to find that hope. It's hard. When you get that, you hold onto that as tightly as you can and I feel like LeadNext, the past eight months, it has fueled me with that hope to keep going for a long, long time.
John Rieger (11:38):
So it sounds like one of the biggest factors in this program, success is the comradery among the Fellows. Can you share any memorable moments from this year's program?
Nicole Ripley (11:49):
This program really does grow from the people that are in the room together. We did a fun, what we called a global fireside at the Marconi Center where one evening, as the sun was setting up on top of the hill above the center in this really gorgeous setting, we gathered in a circle and each of the Fellows brought an offering from their own culture. So, we had dance from four or five different countries. Ryenchin, our amazing Fellow from Mongolia brought this really cool dice game from Mongolia that he taught everybody to play.
John Rieger (12:22):
I am shocked to hear that there's gambling going on in this program.
Nicole Ripley (12:26):
I know. We had poetry written by one of our Fellows, Johileny. We had music. It was a really, really beautiful embodiment of the diversity of cultures and perspectives in this group and just the celebration of that within the group. But really, some of the most special moments were when you'd sort of catch the Fellows off on their own walking in pairs and forming new friendships that clearly are going to last a lifetime and I think be sources of strength in their work and in their personal lives for all the years to come.
John Rieger (12:58):
What if somebody who's hearing this podcast wants to apply to LeadNext next year, what should they do?
Nicole Ripley (13:05):
You can find the application through a link on the Asia Foundation website under the LeadNext Fellows program. And we welcome any young leader aged 18 to 25 to apply. We pick 10 Fellows from the Asia Pacific Region, 10 who are based here in the US, and we invite young leaders who are both already sort of establishing themselves in their careers and those that are still figuring out what they want to do and what they want to be but know they have this real driving sense of commitment to social change. And so, if you want to be a LeadNext Fellow, I think the most important thing is not necessarily your resume of achievements, but the spirit of collaboration and the heart you bring to cross-cultural friendship.
John Rieger (13:52):
The Asia Foundation's Nicole Ripley. Thank you for joining us today. It's been wonderful.
Nicole Ripley (13:56):
Thank you so much for having me.
Tracie Yang (13:58):
That's our show. Nicole has written more about LeadNext in this week's InAsia blog. And if you or someone would like to be a LeadNext fellow, you'll find a link to the Fellowship program at the end of the essay.
John Rieger (14:09):
And while you're clicking around. Okay, what am I going to say here, Tracy?
Tracie Yang (14:12):
You're going to say subscribe to the podcast.
John Rieger (14:14):
That's right. Subscribe to our podcast. Hope you'll join us next time. Until then, I'm John Rieger.
Tracie Yang (14:20):
And I'm Tracie Yang.
John Rieger (14:21):
Thanks for listening.