Nophabodee Koonmongkon, known as Phuket, steps up to the stage of the US Embassy in Bangkok with great anticipation, microphone at the ready and in full view are a group of eager high school students he will need to lead as his first test of leadership since joining the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI). With the sound of rustling breakfast boxes and chitter-chatter echoing in the background, the eager students wait with baited breathe for the day to begin.
Although a gifted engineering student, Phuket longed to make a difference in the world and to find an outlet for his passion for sustainable development. Despite his desire, he lacked the means and opportunity to explore it to pursue his goals. When he heard about the YSEALI program, he jumped at the chance to apply. Phuket’s leadership potential was quickly recognized by the selection committee, and he became one of only 80 participants, out of over 2,300 applicants, selected to join the YSEALI Workshop on Economic Engagement in ASEAN (YSEALI Generation: ECommunity!) organized by Kenan Foundation Asia and the Center for Sustainable Development Studies. At the workshop, Phuket and the handpicked youth leaders from around the region learned firsthand that development success involves working together and the power of a regional network. According to Phuket, “We tried to find solutions to issues together. The experience with Kenan made me realize the importance of collaboration in the ASEAN region and the role of working together to strengthen our countries.”
According to the ‘UN’s Regional Overview: The State of Youth in Asia and the Pacific’, “Young people account for almost half the region’s jobless.” The YSEALI Workshop gave Phuket the opportunity to explore regional challenges and opportunities, alongside future leaders from nine other ASEAN countries. For him, this dialogue was a turning point, as the exchange opened his mind to the views of young people from neighboring countries.
Following the YSEALI workshop, each team was tasked with organizing an event of their own to share what they had learned. Phuket’s team selected the theme ‘Youth Force on Sustainable Development Goals’, recruiting 40 students from more than 30 schools across Thailand (as far as Chiang Mai), three speakers from UNESCAP and securing a workshop session with other education experts. The workshop, held at the US Embassy in Bangkok, presented high school students with an opportunity to explore sustainable development among their peers, with minimal involvement from teachers, laying the foundations for future youth leadership. Phuket’s unruffled energy was evident throughout his team’s workshop, which succeeded in its goal of illustrating the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to a group of high school students, it is hoped that they will share this newfound knowledge with their peers. Moving forward, Phuket would like to see more opportunities for youth to have a voice and to “hold them accountable for what they say,” and he would “like more students to be aware of important issues facing the region.” Given his new skills and new friends, he’s sure he will go on to make his ambitions a reality.