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South East Asia, YES we can!

We just came back from  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where we spent two  of the most exhilarating and inspiring days of our lives. Michael and I were chosen to be two of the 61 youth delegates to represent the Philippines in the Youth Engagement Summit (YES 2009) sponsored by SEAchange  in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
SEAchange is South East Asia’s Largest Youth Movement for Personal change. It aims to inspire the youth of South East Asia to make positive changes in their personal lives, their communities and the world. More than that, SEACHANGE serves as a bridge, connecting Southeast Asian Youths to projects, organizations, businesses, and leaders who can help them with the change they want to see.

Putrajaya International Convention Center

As an initial catalyst, SEAchange organized the Youth Engagement Summit 2009 (YES 2009) from Nov. 16-17 to bring together some of the most inspiring global change icons together in Kuala Lumpur.  The goal is to motivate the youth to  raise above the issues facing our world in the 21st century.SEAchange brought in the best and the brightest young people in South East Asia to engage in a dialogue with world change icons like  chess master Gary Kasparov, CNN & CNBC reporter Lorraine Hahn, Andes crash Survivor Nando Parrado, Twitter  co-founder Biz Stone, Business mogul Donald Trump,  pop legend Sir Bob Geldof of Live Aid and Live8,  and  Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg, to name a few.
The organizers have sponsored over USD $ 1 Million worth of free flights, accommodation, and summit passes for 500 Southeast Asian youths to be flown to Kuala Lumpur. When I checked further, I saw that although my age is no longer on the calendar, I apparently still belong to the youth sector.
As a youth fresh out of college, I had dreamed of becoming  a world changer. Friends used to  ask me what I wanted to achieve in my lifetime and  I would answer: “World Domination!” And it is true. I believe each person has been given different gifts, with which we can bless the world in our own unique way. Mother Theresa said it  this way, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”  This has been my inspiration as a media practitioner and it  has kept me going many a long night  to  finish an article, script, video report or audio-visual presentation.

The imposing Petronas Towers

It’s good to be reminded through this summit  that that dream that I nurtured in me as a young woman is also shared by thousands,  even millions  of youth, around Asia. More importantly, it is a dream that can be realized, as exemplified by the distinguished speakers who generously shared their story and divulged secrets as to how they made it happen.
As Michael and I mingled  in the lobby of the impressive Putrajaya International Convention Centre, which had  hosted heads of states and high-profile personalities such as Bill Gates, we met  fellow Filipino Amiel who is an English teacher in Vietnam, who  recognized us from our video for the Ultimate Thailand Explorers.  He said he voted for us during  the semifinals. We were delighted. As the three of us were talking, an American lady who introduced herself as Christine, handed us flyers about a video contest on Democracy which is being sponsored by the US government. Michael who at that time was having a dilemma about our visa application spoke to her about it and she graciously told us she’ll help us with it since she’s with the US State Department.
When the summit commenced, we learned from YES 2009 organizing chairman Harmandar Singh, advertising veteran and CEO of Sledgehammer Communications, that this same Christine is part of  US President Obama’s staff! She has been sent to convey a message from the US president.
According to advertising veteran Singh, it was President Obama’s “Yes, We Can”  attitude that inspired the conception of YES 2009. And he was actually invited to speak in the event. It’s a dream that  Singh,CEO of Sledgehammer Communications, had nurtured for months. He  divulged that that’s the reason they timed the event during the US president’s trip to Asia. “This is the secret I want to share,” Singh said during the opening ceremony, “We chose this venue for its good security. Outside of this convention center is a helipad, where the President can land should he wished to visit us. I have not given up hope that he’ll drop by.”
Even though President Obama didn’t make it to the summit, we weren’t disappointed by the impressive roster of speakers who flew in from around the world to share their stories of hope with us.

Some  memorable things they shared–

Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter

:  “Opportunity can be manufactured.” Early in his life, Biz learned that he was not the most popular kid around. He was not good any major sport, but he realized that he was good  in La Crosse, which wasn’t  a popular game in his school. And so he created his own team! He has learned early on that he could create his own niche.

Biz co-founded Twitter with his engineer friend when a major project he was working on hit a snag.  “What if we can know what our friends our doing without us asking them?” –This simple question inspired the creation of Twitter.  “It may seen like an overnight success but it took 10 years. You have to love what you are doing, if you are doing a start-up (company),” he says. Today, Twitter is being used not just to connect people, but to advance causes and start revolutions around the world.

Dr. Mamphela Raphele, former managing director of the World Bank: “As young people you have  ethical choices to make right now, not only when you are old.” The only South African to hold such a position in World Bank cites the little things we do that affect climate change. “Think about the cellphones and computers you throw away that becomes somebody’s trash. These are personal decisions you do that  impact your world. How about the lights? Not closing the lights when you leave the room for 5 minutes, that’s burning coal. You have the information and technology to make the world more sustainable through ethical choices.”

Dr. Raphele grew up fighting a lot of gender stereotypes in South Africa. “In my country, you are known as a daughter or a wife. I grew up with parents who are teachers so naturally people expected me to be a teacher. But I chose to break ranks to become a medical doctor.” This doctor, academician, businesswoman and anti-apartheid activist  admonishes women to believe in themselves and know who their true value. “The women of  South Africa, for example,  we had  to define ourselves and be proud of who we are and celebrate it.”
Narain Karthikeyan, first Indian F1 Race car driver: “The youth of today should DREAM BIG. If you have the talent, bring it out and do the best you can. If you have the talent and will to succeed, it will happen.” Thirty-two year old Narain knew at an early age that he wanted to be a race car driver. It seemed then like  an impossible dream as he was from India where he said “no decent race track” existed and the only sport  recognized was cricket.  In fact, he practiced his driving skills by commandeering the tractor in their farm.
Fortunately, he did well enough in school to have his father agree to get him trained in race car driving in France. At age 20, he sought help from an Indian company and got their support. In 2005, he became the first Indian F1 race car driver when he became the main driver for the Jordan formula one team. “I am an example of someone who  had one dream and  stuck to it and followed through,” Narain shared. He now supports underprivileged children and tries to spread this message across India.

Sir Bob Geldof, Live Aid and Live8 Founder: “To die of want in a world of surplus is not only intellectually absurd, but morally repulsive.” Pop icon Bob Geldof of  Boomtown  Rats is better known as the  co-writer of the song “Do They Know its Christmas?,” one of the best selling singles of all time.  Sir Bob knew poverty at a young age. He grew up in a poor Irish home, his only luxury being a   small transistor radio. Rock music  was his only solace, and it became to him a language of change and possibilities. At 13, his eyes were opened to apartheid in South Africa.

When he rose to stardom in 70s and 80s  Sir Bob used his earning as a rock star to support charities that gave to African children. In 1984, he organized the super concert Live Aid with Midge Ure to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia. Not content with just “doing charity,” he decided in 2005  to give justice to the poor of Africa by dialoguing with leaders of rich nations. The generation of leaders who had watched Live Aid on television had now grown up and he was able to convince them to changing political structures and laws to help the poorer nations. Sir Bob, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II,  advocates using both charity and political lobby to effect change. “Live Aid was able to raise $150,000 through individual funding,but Live8, which dialogued with the G8 leaders, was able to raise $50 billion,” he stresses.
Addressing the youth of Asia, Sir Bob gave this challenge:  “Commit yourselves to change so that you can make the change. The rest of the the world is depending on you to protect our environment because we’ve destroyed ours and we will pay you to protect yours. Tell your government. But if they don’t then be the leaders yourselves!”

Chess Master Gary Kasparov: “Success can paralyze if you allow it.”  Kasparov–a writer, political activist and the greatest chess player of all time– became the world chess champion at 22.  After the match the widow of a renowned chess player approached him and said, “I pity you. The happiest moment of your life has just past.”  He never forgot that and strove to prove her wrong.

“True consistency is change. Change or be fossilized,” he stressed.  Kasparo was kept on his toes by his greatest opponent Karpov. After Karpov faded away, Kasparov admitted that he began to relax and as a result lost to a much younger player. Yet, he was humble enough to learn from this experience. He used  it to fuel his drive.   “You can’t stay at the bottom because the competition there is too fierce. If you stop taking risks you will stop progressing. We need a new generation of innovators, not imitators. The world may have been mapped out for us, but what we need right now is to innovate and explore.”

Donald Trump, CEO of Trump Corporation: “Don’t quit!”  American business mogul, socialite and TV personality Donald Trump admonishes the youth to have that all-important character he calls “stick-to-it-tiveness.” Beamed via satellite in his office in New York, Trump recalls having a conversation with his agent Jim: “Jim told me that business shows just don’t work in prime time. Jim didn’t believe it could make it. When ‘The Apprentice’ became number one on prime time, he was asking for a commission!”  Trump gave him a straight-forward answer, “Jim, You’re fired!”

Nando Parrado, air crash survivor: “Live your dream but don’t forget to tell your family that you love them because when I was at the Andes (after that plane crash), all I thought of the whole day  was my family.” At 19, Nando Parrado had to live through the  horror of seeing his sister and mother die in an aircrash. In 1972, Parrado was to fly to Chile to play in a international rugby match. Informed that the plane still had vacant seats, he invited his mother and 17-year-old sister to join him in the trip. Since seats weren’t assigned on that plane, he randomly sat on the 9th row, not knowing that those seated from 10 rows and above would all perish in that crash.
The plane crashed at 18,000 ft in the Andes mountain range during winter in -40 degrees below zero.  With superhuman effort, Nando spent 11 days finding his way out of the Andes to seek for help. He and 18 of his friends were rescued. His ordeal in the Andes mountain was made into the movie “Alive” where he was played by Ethan Hawke.  “I am extremely happy just to be able to put my daughters to bed every night. This realization has not taken away from my work or ‘success’ in life. I am CEO of  6 companies, but there is no business meeting or commercial activity that I would not exchange for the moments of happiness I have had with Veronique and my children,” he shares.
The summit was said to have reached a total of 1 million youth via satellite as it was beamed to several universities around Asia.
More stories  and profiles to come. . .


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