President Obama’s Q&A With Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative

President Obama Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative 2015

[ Screengrab from YouTube – GOP Debate ]

*I took some notes as I watched this video that is 1 hr 35 mins long. You can find it on YouTube titled ‘Obama Doesn’t Dye And Tell – Town Hall – Kuala Lumpur – Young South East Asian Leaders Initiative’. I apologize if names are spelled incorrectly (it’s as I heard them from the video) and I’ve done a bit of paraphrasing while editing for length. 🙂 Feel free to watch the video on YouTube for all the details. *wink*


(1) Elizabeth from Indonesia asked about entrepreneurs and their role in combating climate change. President Obama noted that carbon pollution can be caused by industries during energy production and consumption. So one way they can help combat climate change is to become more efficient and use less energy. Also, there can be transition to clean energy forms (e.g. solar, wind), investment in R&D for new ways to produce energy. In the Philippines, one woman created a lamp that can generate energy (8hrs of light) from 1 cup of seawater or water + salt.

(2) Alphaeus from Malaysia asked the President to speak with the Malaysian PM about democracy and freedom of speech. The reply: Humility is required too as the USA cannot meddle in other countries’ affairs all the time because they make mistakes too. And sometimes, because of the need to work together against climate change, the US has to work with China even if they don’t agree with everything to do with human rights in China.

(3) Cherry from the Philippines asked about agriculture, food production and food wastage. The President said that we need to help farmers become more efficient and increase yield. Also, to ensure they get a fair price, such as by using cellphones to get day-to-day updates on prices. This helps in their planning and helps increase their incomes. Sometimes an entire village can share a tractor like an “Uber for farmers” by having a “timeshare” for that tractor. Then they can do some of the processing and start a cooperative, move up the value chain. Help them not stay as subsistence agriculture farmers but through interaction with the market, and the application of technology, make Farming SEXY. As they stay in their village, they can watch their standard of living improve. So we need to ensure they get seed capital, good terms on loans.

(4) Dom from Cambodia asked about Aging. The President responded by saying that young people are not trapped in the past, and human progress can happen when we look at a problem with fresh, new eyes. As we get older, we get into a habit of seeing the same things. But when we are young, we ask WHY – why does it have to be this way, why must my community be poor, why do we treat women differently than men with regard to going to college and getting an education, etc. The power of young people is in asking WHY. To dream about the way things can be – that’s the job of young people. Then they have to work. Flaw of young people: Impatience. Progress takes time. Sometimes you fail. Never give up. For example, there is Risk if trying to bring about political change in Myanmar – are you willing to make sacrifices? Can you get back up again when it doesn’t work? Have the Persistence to make progress. Have big dreams, and be willing to work for those dreams. It’s not gonna come right away.

(5) Jaslyn from Malaysia asked about challenges in USA and what lessons can be learnt by other countries. The President shared that there is growing inequality in USA. Automation replaces low-skill jobs, and there is more global competition. This results in economic stress and inequality, making politics harder. Those who are powerful can influence politics. People become cynical. Avoid a political system where money overrides ideas. Politicians waste a lot of money on campaigns, which makes them listen more to the rich people. Avoid personal attacks and saying sensational things in the media. Try to focus on issues and debate with people you disagree with without saying they are terrible. Don’t get divided along racial, religious, ethnic lines. Avoid discrimination, e.g. the Rohinga in Myanmar are not treated the same as the rest.

(6) Unnamed person asked about the most influential person in the President’s life. President Obama identified that person as his (late) mother, who had died from cancer. Her parents had humble beginnings but she was spirited, adventurous. She was kind and loving. When in Indonesia, she treated wealthy businessmen and peasant farmers in the same way. Like his mother, the President believes that everybody has worth and a purpose.

(7) Wong from Malaysia asked about Satisfaction and Regret. The President shared that he is most satisfied by what he did with healthcare law. Now some 17 million people have healthcare insurance that they didn’t have before. However, some politicians blocked it in their state so not 100% of the people have health insurance. Secondly, the system of immigration is “broken” now. You don’t really know what an “American” looks like now as it is a country of people who came from everywhere. That was a strength. Now, too many people come but without the right papers, so they don’t get approval. He wants to streamline the system but the other party is resistant. You do what you can. You will never be completely satisfied with what you have done. That’s why we have young people – give them something to do so they won’t be bored. If we have solved every problem, what is left for young people to do?

(8) Aung from Myanmar asked about Leadership: The President’s take is ‘Don’t try to do everything all at once’. Focus. Continually decide which are the things that are most important. Prioritize. Do the strategic things well first. Focus attention on those. Delegate. Surround yourself with smart people. Organize people with different talents and skills, joined with a common vision, give them tools to do what they need to do. Like a basketball team. Each person has a role to play, and they are working together. Managers or leaders who don’t know how to give up control get spread too thin, and the people don’t feel responsibility for the project. Identify talent you have confidence in, give them a sense of your direction, hold them accountable, expect them to tell you (early on) about problems that surface. Empower them. Duplicate yourself. Few great things are done by yourself, unless you are Picasso or Mozart. Great human accomplishments are usually done as a group. Assemble people in a common vision. Be honest in evaluating what works and what doesn’t, and make adjustments. Be open to new information and criticism.

(9) Kuma from Indonesia asked about countries selling artificial dyes to Indonesia. The President agreed that many are now choosing environmentally-friendly and organic products. Companies which produce products made with natural dyes can use that as a selling point to attract a lot of consumers. Countries which sell artificial dyes into Indonesia will likely not stop any time soon but as long as the dyes are not poisonous or hurting people, it’s still ok. He told her to focus on marketing – emphasize that she uses natural dyes, which would be appealing to some. To retain economic competitiveness, countries can learn from Singapore, a small nation that does well by investing in its people. Singapore’s government runs efficiently and is good in planning. If there’s new competition, they re-train people, and help companies transition to a new way of doing business. We have to keep up with the ever-changing economic environment and helping industries adapt is an important role of the governments in today’s economy.

(10) Rizal from Malaysia (half-Filipino) asked about Trade Deals. The President admitted that it would be tough to please everyone. It is important to close the initial deal, and have it subject to (yearly) reviews. If we try to please everyone during the negotiation stage, nothing will get done. Each country has to give up something in order to get a trade deal done, and likely at least one person within the country will not like it. Make sure change is good for most people. President Obama does not believe we can stop change. Putting up barriers to trade won’t help countries grow. Embrace change but ensure everyone benefits, not just a few. Market economies are the best generators of wealth, but need some government intervention to ensure basic protection for workers, fair competition so small companies are not excluded by monopolies.

(11) Dara from Thailand (bisexual) asked about whether LGBT people should be in jail. The President assured her that he thinks people of a different sexual orientation are deserving of respect and dignity just like everyone else. Marriage as a civil institution by the State should be available to all, not just some. Recognize that we are children of God, that we were put here for a reason, and are deserving of kindness and respect. Governments should ensure that we treat all fairly and with respect. Don’t treat people differently. Don’t make yourself more important by putting other people down. Celebrate our differences whether they be different clothes, food, ideas or lifestyles. Something that should be universal: to treat people with respect and dignity.


This took a while to put together and edit (briefly). Hopefully it’s of value to you – feel free to click on the ‘share’ buttons below! 😀 I love how the President shared at the end that we should not make ourselves (feel) more important by putting others down! I definitely want to keep that in mind at all times, and close to my heart. 🙂