Our incredible co-founder Leonie Nahhas shares some of her reasons for getting involved in strengthening ASEAN-Australia relations and her favourite memories from starting AASYP. Leonie leaves us for 2020 but will continue to be a strong support and advocate for the team and its projects. A driving force behind the inaugural ASEAN-Australia Young Leaders Forum, Leonie’s passion for people-to-people relations has set a strong tradition for the Forum going forward.
Why did you become a co-founder of AASYP?
As someone who has immersed myself in our region for 19 months through studying a year-long exchange in Singapore and pursuing community projects that targeted the 2030 United Nations Agenda for Sustainable Development across Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines – I wanted to help drive forward a grass-roots, youth-led organisation in pursuit of strengthening regional cooperation, engagement and connection between Australian and Southeast Asian youth. Ultimately, I wanted to be part of a movement by youth FOR youth.
Having first-hand experienced the power of building authentic, meaningful relations with my fellow youth and local communities in Southeast Asia, I wanted to help join the hearts and minds of regional citizens to help build upon our deep legacy of cooperation, dialogue and interweaving of our people. I truly believe that we, as youth, are not merely recipients of a peaceful and prosperous future, we are the collective driving force behind it.
"We, as youth, are not merely recipients of a peaceful and prosperous future, we are the collective driving force behind it."
With that collective spirit as our catalyst, my fellow co-founders and I created AASYP – where relationship is at the heart of advancing partnership.
What is your favourite memory from co-founding AASYP?
Among many, my favourite memory would have to be the ‘house prop photo’ initiative I spontaneously began after our very first online Skype meeting – where founding members gathered to discuss how to strategically actualise the AASYP vision. I remember it being a joyous moment that saw a serious strategic discussion shift into a playful scene that captured, quite literally, our laughing faces alongside a houseplant, a plush toy or whatever we could find in sight. On a deeper level, ritually taking a group ‘snapshot’ after the countless online meetings we had over the course of the founding year was a reflection of our youthfulness and solidarity – the very foundation of what makes AASYP a force for positive change in the ASEAN-Australia relationship.
Every weekly AASYP meeting, whether it was a Board meeting or a Forum-related meeting, always left me feeling energised and in good spirits as I knew I was surrounded by agents of change who are not only committed to birthing innovative ideas into a reality, but are genuinely enjoying it in the process. A special mention goes out to my houseplant who featured quite frequently in our ‘house prop photo’ series.
What do you appreciate most about the ASEAN-Australia relationship?
Like next door neighbours lend a hand, so too have ASEAN and Australia to ensure mutual prosperity. With a shared legacy in recognising diversity and embracing unity, both ASEAN and Australia prioritise dialogue, synergy and partnership as a means to achieve consensus and meet their objectives. In light of the symbolic ‘joining of hands’, the people-oriented, people-centred and community-building efforts of ASEAN and Australia’s leadership have set the conditions for youth, like the AASYP community, to be inspired to further deepen the bilateral relationship.
Why would you recommend young people to get involved in bridging connections between Australian and Southeast Asian youth?
I’ll start by sharing the words of an African Proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’. Regardless of who we are, or what we do, we are dependent on the collective to succeed. A two-way partnership that builds upon the strengths of the past and makes way for a stronger, sustainable future requires an investment from Australian and Southeast Asian youth. No doubt, we are the future leaders of our nations and our region more broadly, so it is imperative that we jointly invest in enhancing our understanding of the partnership, bridging people-to-people connections through dialogue and building our capacity to drive the forward the vision by way of active involvement.
While this seems like a grandiose task, a small contribution is still a contribution. Start by having a conversation with your fellow youth about your interests in advancing regional cooperation, follow relevant pages or groups on social media and be inspired to join an initiative, get involved in language and/or cultural immersion programs and if you’re one with an entrepreneurial spirit, create your own initiative that aligns your personal goals with the goals of the Strategic Partnership.
Together, we can amplify the voices of youth in regional cooperation and change, starting with a belief in our capacity to do so.