200 Leaders Announced as New Obama Foundation Asia-Pacific Leaders

(Kuala Lumpur)—I’m stoked to be selected as one of the 200 Obama Foundation Leaders for their Asia-Pacific Program heading to Kuala Lumpur in two weeks. The Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific Program is a one-year leadership development and community engagement program that seeks to inspire, empower, and connect emerging leaders from across the Asia-Pacific region, and I am one of those under the “Arts and Culture” issue area. Find the official website with the full list of Leaders here.

I have often wondered how artists can lead, especially if one tends to be on the quiet side and is semi-reclusive. (As a side note, it looks like I’m the only artist who is not a director or a boss of anything, and wow, my fellow participants have quite impressive titles!) Since my first leadership program with SEAD and the Mekong Cultural Hub and the British Council, and the many international residencies given to me in the past decade, I have realised that artists have a responsibility to keep working towards a just society using creative ways that only artists can think of. The freedom of an artist is such that we can keep learning and making and use these skills to build communities and frameworks to imagine a better future for all of us, and what better thing can one do to spend her days?

Since moving to Sydney, I am grateful for the very supportive research community in a safe and privileged environment where I can keep working on my practice in peace. This program will help me to not lose sight of the bigger picture and to remember that there is a world out there that needs fixing which requires all of us.

I am very much looking forward to participating, asking lots of questions, and learning from my fellow Leaders. It’s quite an intriguing word—to lead—and I can’t wait to see what that word means to me.

Thank you to my friends, colleagues, and an ace supervisory team for their support!

Below is the press release from us Leaders in Australia (FYI: I am a Philippine national who is part Chinese and part Filipino and recently relocated to Sydney, so hello to both my Aussie and Philippine colleagues!)

Press release

November 21, 2019


Nicole Anaejionu, nanaejionu@obama.org

Farah Zuber, farah.zuber@edelman.com

Fourteen Australians Announced as New Obama Foundation Asia-Pacific Leaders

President Obama and Mrs. Obama to Join Leaders: Asia-Pacific Program Gathering in Kuala Lumpur; Plenary Speakers Include YB Hannah Yeoh, Tan Sri Dr. Tony Fernandes, Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren, Tim Brown, Arthur Huang, Helianti Hilman, Aaron Maniam, and Pat Dwyer 

Fourteen Australians have been selected as part of the inaugural cohort of Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific, a cross section of 200 emerging civic leaders from 33 nations and territories in the region, who will convene in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from December 10-14. The 200 Leaders represent public, private, and non-profit sectors, and they work on a variety of issues, ranging from education to environment to entrepreneurship. 

Among the Australian leaders who have been selected for the program are:

    • Usman Iftikhar, Sydney, 29, is an award-winning social entrepreneur, passionate about solutions to global warming and the global refugee crisis. He is the co-founder and CEO of Catalysr, a startup pre-accelerator that empowers migrant and refugee entrepreneurs to launch their own startups. In its first three years, Catalysr has supported 181 migrapreneurs to launch 50 businesses. For his work, Usman was named the 2018 Commonwealth Young Person of the Year.
    • Dan Ilic, Sydney, 38, is a comedian and journalist who hosts the satirical comedy podcast A Rational Fear. He has worked in radio and television in Australia and the USA. Most recently, he was the Executive Producer of Tonightly with Tom Ballard (ABC), the Executive Producer of Satire for Fusion Network (USA) and senior satire producer for Al Jazeera’s AJ+ (USA).  Dan also serves on the board of youth community broadcaster, FBi Radio.
  • Noel Kwon, Canberra, 28, is passionate about human rights and achieving efficiency and equality in organizations. Having been a cultural and linguistically diverse consultant in community organisations before government, Noel still provides strategic advice to community organisations in the Australian Capital Territory.
  • Alice Mahar, Melbourne, 32, is the founder and director of The Corner Store Network, a non-profit working towards food security, improving nutrition, climate adaptation and minimising food waste in Australia and Timor-Leste. She is the co-founder of the initiatives Stock/Store, Harvest/Store and WithOneBean. Alice is passionate about feeding a growing global population in an environmentally regenerative way, and ensuring that no person is left behind.
  • Nicholas Marchesi, Brisbane, 25, is a Co-Founder and Co-Director of Orange Sky, a world-first, free mobile laundry service for people experiencing homelessness. On a mission to improve hygiene standards, Nic and Co-Founder Lucas stumbled on something more significant – the power of a conversation. Now facilitated by more than 1,800 volunteers, operating over 250 shifts a week, Orange Sky aims to positively connect communities across Australia and New Zealand.
  • Jaclyn Mclendon, Brisbane, 38 is the lead of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, an international cultural initiative bringing together the 70 countries and areas of the Asia Pacific. She is passionate about film as a common language to bring understanding to our global dialogue. She recently launched the Asia Pacific Screen Forum to provide a fertile ground for collaboration for filmmakers across the region.
  • Hayley McQuire, Canberra, 28, is a proud Darumbal and South Sea Islander woman. She is the National Coordinator and Co-Founder of the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition, and the Head of Education for the Foundation for Young Australians. Hayley previously served on the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group, and was a UNICEF Australia Youth Ambassador.
  • Tim Middlemiss, Sydney, 32, is a consultant who partners with global institutions like World Vision, government departments, and local organisations like Taronga Conservation Society to build and engage their communities for social impact. Tim was a founding director of for-purpose creative studio, Agency, co-founder of social impact conference, Expanse, and is senior strategic advisor to Rev. Tim Costello AO.
  • Skye Riggs, Sydney, 33, is the Founder of Y Vote, an edu-tech social enterprise focussed on building the civic capabilities of young people to create a stronger democracy. Alongside ongoing community engagement and youth voter drives, Y Vote’s action-based civic education programs are delivered by local government organisations throughout Australia.
  • William Smith-Stubbs, Brisbane, 32, is a social entrepreneur, mental health activist, and writer. As co-founder of social impact venture studio spur: and award-winning mental health non-profit spur:org, William has worked across human rights, refugee health, child safety, and youth mental health. William is also a member of the Leadership Advisory Council for the World Economic Forum Global Shapers, an UNLEASH Global Talent for the Sustainable Development Goals and a Gates Foundation Goalkeeper.
  • Zohar Spatz, Brisbane, 37, is an arts and cultural leader working within a multi-disciplinary context. She is currently the Executive Director of La Boite Theatre Company, Australia’s longest continuously running theatre company. She is also President and Chair of All the Queens Men, an independent Australian arts organisation that collaborates with communities of all shapes, sizes, and identities to produce transformative creative experiences that champion equality, social health, and human connection.
  • Alan Wu, Canberra, 35, is the youngest member of the Board of Directors of Oxfam Australia, one of Australia’s largest international development organisations. After serving as an executive and lawyer with the Australian Government, he is now also the Regional Coordinator for Asia Pacific at the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative that brings governments and communities together to advance reforms to make governments more inclusive, responsive and accountable.
  • Catherine Sarah Young, Sydney, 36, is an award-winning artist, designer, and writer. She uses her background in molecular biology, fine art, and interaction design to create interdisciplinary and experimental artworks on the environment. She has an international award, exhibition, collaboration, and fellowship profile, most recently in China, Southeast Asia, Austria, and the Amazon rainforest. She is a Scientia scholar at UNSW Art and Design, working on climate change and sustainability.

The Leaders: Asia-Pacific gathering will serve as the kick-off event for a year-long leadership program and is designed to further inspire, empower, and connect the emerging leaders to change the world. While in Malaysia, the Leaders will be joined by prominent speakers and thought leaders who will discuss topics such as progress and opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region, values-based leadership, and the intersection of purpose and entrepreneurship during a series of plenary sessions. 

In addition to President and Mrs. Obama, confirmed speakers include:

  • YB Hannah Yeoh, Malaysia’s Deputy Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development;
  • Tan Sri Dr. Tony Fernandes, Malaysian entrepreneur and co-founder of AirAsia;
  • Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren, Director of External Affairs at the Green Climate Fund;
  • Tim Brown, co-founder of Allbirds;
  • Arthur Huang, Taiwanese entrepreneur and founder of Miniwiz;
  • Helianti Hilman, Indonesian entrepreneur and founder of JAVARA;
  • Aaron Maniam, member of the Singapore Administrative Service; and
  • Pat Dwyer, Director and founder of The Purpose Business.

The five-day convening in December will also consist of skill-building workshops, leadership development training, and opportunities for Leaders to connect with one another. Leaders will have a chance to apply their skills and knowledge to various real-world scenarios while using creative, values-driven approaches to problem-solving. Additionally, to underscore the important relationship between service and leadership, Leaders will participate in a community service project. 

Although the gathering is closed to the general public, the plenary sessions will be made available via livestream at obama.org.

Each Leader’s journey of growth will continue remotely for a year after the gathering, through webinars and a virtual speaker series, as well as support, amplification, and other opportunities from the Foundation.

The Asia-Pacific program follows the Obama Foundation’s inaugural international Leaders program launched in Africa in 2018 and represents the Foundation’s commitment to the region, along with the belief that these emerging leaders, through the extraordinary work they do in their own communities, have the potential to positively affect change across the globe.

Meet the inaugural Leaders: Asia-Pacific cohort and learn more about the program here.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Select sessions during the gathering will be open to media, although space will be limited. Members of the media interested in applying for credentials must send an email request to AsiaPacificLeaders@edelman.com by December 2 at 1:00am MYT / 12:00 pm ET (Dec 1). 

For interview requests or other press related questions, please email AsiaPacificLeaders@edelman.com or leaderspress@obama.org.



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