A platform to build expertise, leadership and professional networks

Danial Norjidi

Four young leaders from Brunei Darussalam recently participated in the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Professional Fellows Programme.

YSEALI is a signature exchange youth programme by the United States (US) Department of State to strengthen leadership development and networking in Southeast Asia. It is open to citizens of the 10 ASEAN member nations and Timor-Leste, aged 18-35.

Through a variety of activities and engagements, including US educational and cultural exchanges, regional exchanges and seed funding, YSEALI seeks to build the leadership capabilities of youth in the region, strengthen ties between the US and Southeast Asia and nurture an ASEAN Community.

The YSEALI Professional Fellows Programme gives participants aged 25-35 the opportunity to spend five weeks in the US, including four weeks working directly with American counterparts in individually tailored work placements with non-profit organisations, state and local government, and private-sector offices across the country.

During these placements, Fellows build their practical expertise, leadership skills and professional networks. Fellows’ areas of work include environmental protection, transparency in governance, social entrepreneurship, non-profit management, disability rights, wildlife protection, and empowerment of women and girls. American hosts also travel to Southeast Asia on reciprocal exchanges under this programme.

YSEALI Professional Fellows Programme participants Shaikh Mohamad Faiz bin Shaikh Haji Fadilah, Dayangku Siti Sajidah binti Pengiran Haji Baharuddin, Siti Nazmah binti Haji Abdul Samad and Nurul Huda binti Awang Haji Muhin in a group photo. PHOTO: YSEALI PROFESSIONAL FELLOWS PROGRAMME PARTICIPANTS
ABOVE & BELOW: Siti Nazmah binti Haji Abdul Samad, Dayangku Siti Sajidah binti Pengiran Haji Baharuddin and Nurul Huda binti Haji Muhin. PHOTOS: SYAHMI HASSAN

As of August 2019, there are approximately over 1,200 registered YSEALI members online and 169 YSEALI alumni in Brunei. Many of these alumni members from YSEALI programmes have gone on to lead or participate in civil society organisations and activities focussed on the environment, project management, media engagement, and combating trafficking in persons.

For this year’s fall cohort, the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Office welcomed four young leaders to the growing YSEALI-Brunei family, to participate in the YSEALI Professional Fellowship Programme from October 12 to November 23, namely: Nurul Huda binti Haji Muhin; Dayangku Siti Sajidah binti Pengiran Haji Baharuddin; Shaikh Mohamad Faiz bin Shaikh Haji Fadilah; and Siti Nazmah binti Haji Abdul Samad.

Three of the participants recently spoke with the Bulletin about their experience with the programme.

Nurul Huda is the Acting Head of Administration at Pusat Ehsan Al-Ameerah Al-Hajjah Maryam, and she participated under the ‘Civic Engagement’ theme of the programme.

“It involved working towards changing community life into something meaningful,” she explained. “I represented the disability rights. eleven countries represented all types of community-changing organisations that can improve the lives of people in their community. I was placed in Disability Rights Montana and I was shadowing the attorney there, and I have witnessed hearings and also the interview of a patient in a mental health institution.”

“I was also involved in the meetings for political issues and also voting systems that can be accessible to the people with disabilities in the USA. I was also amazed by how Disability Rights Montana really works to protect the rights of people with disabilities.”

“I’m hoping to bring my professional host here to conduct training and workshops, as well as to advise us,” said Nurul Huda, who also noted that she plans to work with other fellows from ASEAN.

“In the first week of my arrival in the USA we had one week of orientation. We were also given workshops, a lecture on how to manage a NGO and how to fund-raise, and how to make a proposal for a grant.

“Also, I have learnt that people with disabilities have rights. It was really eye-opening in the USA,” she shared. “I also witnessed call intakes, where people with disabilities call Disability Rights Montana about their problems.”

She highlighted that her experience in the US was beneficial, noting that she got to attend a conference of associations and organisations for people with disabilities were together in one meeting with government officials who asked them what the government could do to improve their NGOs.

Nurul Huda added that she also got to learn about special education in the US, and how it is implemented so that all special needs have to be included in the mainstream school.

Meanwhile, Dayangku Siti Sajidah, a Tourism Officer at the International Affairs Unit in the Policy and Planning Division and in the Tourism Development Department at the Ministry of Primary Resources and Tourism, participated in the programme under the theme of ‘Governance and Society’.

“For my fellowship I was with the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL). They’re the implementing partner for the Governance and Society theme. So my fellowship leaned towards learning about policymaking processes, governance, legislative processes and in shaping countries’ national policies.”

“Throughout the programme I’ve been able to learn and have vast exposure and experience in looking at the governance and how the US’ approach is for the public and also for society.”

As part of the programme, she was placed in the Meet Minneapolis, Convention and Visitors Association, an organisation that looks into maximising the branding of Minneapolis as a tourist destination.

“My focus was on trying to improve on the public private partnership (PPP) programmes and improving the tourism sector,” she said. “I’ve been able to learn from them how to develop according to the strength that is available in the assets that you have in the country and how to capitalise on those assets in attracting more tourists.”

“I think the programme has been a very worthwhile experience,” she added.

Another participant was Siti Nazmah, an entrepreneur who runs her own clothing line and fashion showroom.

“My theme was ‘Economic Empowerment’,” she said. “I think now we need leaders who are trying to create impact not just towards the economy but towards people, their country and society, and of course along the way to the environment as well.”

She was placed in an eco-conscious fashion company called Everybody World. One of the key takeaways for her was the importance of having an inclusive business model. “This is something that I learnt not just from the placement but from other leaders along the way.

“Everyone can actually start a business, everyone can make a living. It’s important for us to educate them in terms of learning the technicalities and mechanics of running a business, but an inclusive business model is a good way to start to reach out to the low-income communities to pursue entrepreneurship.”

About the experience, she said, “It was very beneficial because my focus there was to learn how a fashion business can be impactful, how we can create impact on anyone and everyone around us. Everybody taught me that before going big, we have to start with the people around you.”

Continuing on what she learnt, she said, “Fashion can be super impactful. It can create this impact on the economy, the people and the environment.

“All in all it was beneficial, I learnt countless things. In personal and professional development I learnt a lot. I’ve been sharing to my friends, colleagues and business partners. “

Concluding, she said, “This programme is suitable for those who want to be a change-maker, not just a leader.

“I think it is a perfect platform for the betterment of yourself, for you, for the initiative and also for the organisation that you want to lead,” she added.