First, I am delighted to join all of you here today at the 2014 Hwa Chong Asia-Pacific Young Leaders Summit (HC-APYLS). This is the eighth year that Hwa Chong Institution has organised this international Summit. Today, we have, in this auditorium, gathered some of the world’s finest youth leaders – from 12 countries across four continents – all here to discuss issues that are going to help change the world for better. To all our friends who have come from afar, welcome to Singapore!

Igniting Change, Igniting Hope

The theme for this year’s Summit is “Igniting Change, Igniting Hope”. Now more than ever, we recognise that today’s interconnected world will be increasingly characterised by volatility, uncertainty and complexity. Change, be it big or small, in political, economic, social, technological or environmental arenas, may turn out to be for the better or it may not.

Change can come from any corner of the world. One example is Cassandra Lin. Combining her desire to help both the environment and her community in Rhode Island, in the US, she set up a team that distributed biodiesel to families requiring emergency heating assistance in the cold of winter. Called Project TGIF (Turning Grease Into Fuel), her team lobbied her town council to set up a grease receptacle that, through an innovative process, converted the waste cooking oil into biodiesel. Since then, they have helped draft and introduce a bill that required all businesses in Rhode Island to recycle their grease. Now, the project is expanding into other towns and cities in Rhode Island and neighbouring Connecticut.]

Another example is Ann Makosinski, who was born to two HAM radio enthusiasts, and who liked to tinker with electronics. The 16-year-old high schooler in Canada was inspired by the plight of a friend in the Philippines, who could not complete her homework and was failing in school because she was supposed to study at night but had no electricity at home. Using thermoelectric tiles, she created a flashlight running on body heat alone. For her invention, she won the Google Science Fair 2013 prize for her age group. Her breakthrough certainly changes the way we view power. Literally and figuratively, we have the power to be a shining light to inspire others.

Change can also come about from unexpected quarters. Closer to home, we have 19-year-old Audric Ping Wei Xiang, the winner of Singapore’s inaugural National Young Leader Award in 2013 1. Audric lost his mother to breast cancer when he was 14, and three months later, he lost his beloved grandmother to stroke. Both women had been constant pillars of support in his life, and their deaths hit him hard, it affected his studies and leaving him not knowing who to turn to. Despite these setbacks, Audric decided to pull himself together. He had been training in karate since he was nine and he pressed on to earn a spot on the national karate team, gearing up to represent Singapore in the 2015 Southeast Asian Games. In the same year that he lost his loved ones, Audric also began coaching students in karate at four schools on a voluntary basis. After reading about the fatal New Delhi gang-rape, he volunteered to teach women self-defence at workshops organised by the Singapore Karate Federation. Audric is an example of the importance of not losing hope because positive change is possible, even for the ‘ordinary’ guy. Passing along this spirit, Audric currently also volunteers with a community group that regularly organises engagement sessions for seniors in his community.

Looking for inspiration, many of us tend to look to the past for our heroes or heroines. And no doubt, the brightness in the horizon is made ever visible by the proverbial giants on whose shoulders we stand. However, as can be seen with the examples of Ann and Audric, compared to the giants, young people of today can also effect change and give hope. With access to the powers of education and the Internet as well as with guidance and help from counsellors and peers, youths now have the chance to grapple with challenges at a personal, local or even global level.

With Bravery and Confidence

Responding well to challenges, however, is easier said than done. One way is for us to become more sensitive in our vision. Amidst the uncertainty, it is easy to be drawn towards the loudest and biggest bonfires of change. However, we must be prepared to dig beneath the surface, to put our assumptions, plans and efforts under examination, and discern if the direction in which we are heading is correct. This takes a certain amount of courage – squaring up to what has not gone our way, and devising new paths to move past obstacles and mistakes.

With Compassion and Empathy

World youth literacy rates continue to improve, as UNESCO published its latest findings in September 2013, placing the total youth literacy rate at 89.5%.Even as more of our youths are getting empowered through education, it is vital to ensure that the confidence that it brings does not engender the unsavoury characteristics of over-confidence. This generation of millennials has been alleged by some to be ego-centric and self-indulgent, with an inflated sense of self-entitlement. I do not expect that anybody identifies with that, and I do not agree with that for this generation. I think youths like Ann and Audric give us hope with their empathy for the plight of others and a desire to do something for their fellow men.
As you, our young generation, become better equipped to deal with our problems of today, this sense of empathy is just as important to give purpose to your power, and direction to your drive. There are no young leaders. There are only leaders. The present is much too urgent to wait for the future. For those charged with the duty of leadership, do remember what Helen Keller said, which is: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” As leaders, the way ahead will be at times dark, but empathy will find you friends and, together, your combined will shines a light.

Conclusion

Over the next few days in your working groups and dialogue sessions, I hope that you will take advantage of opportunities to make lasting friendships and bonds, learn from one another and sustain open and fruitful dialogues. Do face up to the inevitable setbacks that will come your way. Take inspiration from each other as well as notable examples that you learn about as you go along. And take back with you the learnings and exchanges and share further with your peers when you return home.

I congratulate Hwa Chong Institution for their good work in the organisation of this Summit and I wish everyone here a fulfilling experience.
Thank you.

Footnote
  1. Launched in 2013 by Halogen Foundation (Singapore), a non-profit youth organisation, the National Young Leader Award seeks to recognise young leaders from 15 to 19 years old, who are involved, engaged, and have conviction in the things they do, regardless of their academic achievements. The award nominees are evaluated based on both scoring from a panel and an inventory toolkit as well as online public voting.