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Natural born leaders |

Young Star

Natural born leaders

- Paula C. Nocon of the Philippine Star’s YS -
Twenty-four of Asia’s best and brightest university students. Ten of Asia’s most illustrious and influential leaders in government, business and media. Five days in Singapore. One big party.

What does it all add up to? Fun.

Yes, the 5th Hitachi Young Leaders Initiative 2002 was as fun and refreshing as the fountain of youth can get. As a reporter for youth matters, as a college professor, and as a young person myself, I was delighted to have witnessed the incredible dynamic among the Southeast Asian region’s crème de la crème.

Most touching of all was realizing that this multicultural cross-section of kids from Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand had a lot more in common than they had previously imagined. The conference’s theme, "Asia’s Roadmap —Forging Regional Cohesion for Global Advancement" couldn’t have been more apt. Indeed, there is no better time than now, there is no better place to start than Southeast Asia, for the emergence of a powerful regional player in the whole globalization game.

And there are no better people to begin with than the youth of today, the leaders of tomorrow.
Proud To Be Pinoy
Getting to know the four brilliant Filipino student representatives was a revelation. Each one was a gifted child, a prodigy, a natural born leader.

William Panlilio of the Ateneo de Manila University, the Number One Ranked Debater in the Philippines and Third Ranked Debater in Asia, was eloquent, funny and mataray, every bit the Philosophy (he is taking his Masters now) major and Socratic gadfly. His success as a debater has taken him all over the world, and will take him even further as he pursues his inevitable law degree in the near future.

Dominic Pascasio, or Niko (also nicknamed Mr. Romantic by the Hitachi group for his girl-savvy demeanor), of De La Salle University Manila, is an AB Economics-BS Management Senior and a Full Scholar of Allied Bank. A native of Ozamis Oriental, he is a debater who wants to be a topnotch economist. So serious is he about his career he actually bought a truckload of management books at the Borders outlet on Orchard Road.

Leslie Ann Co Tan of UP Diliman, though an Economics and Business senior and Summa Cum Laude candidate, is not into just commerce and money. She loves to write and is editor-in-chief of the UP yearbook.

Marie Grace Tee Vera Cruz, also of UP Diliman, is majoring in Economics and is a Magna Cum Laude candidate and Gawad Chancellor Best Student Leader awardee. She eventually wants to be in an international organization like the United Nations, but her long-term goal is to build a school for gifted children from less-fortunate families.

These bright young things made up a contingent that stood out among, as well as made excellent pakikisama with, such a richly varied group. All of them deserved the prestige and privilege of representing the country as both proud Filipinos and as global citizens.
Down To Business
The first two days of the conference—Monday and Tuesday—were quite hectic and somber. Renowned guest speakers from all over the region flew in to the Lion City to address the young’uns on the most pertinent issues the world faces today.

The sub-themes were: 1) Cultivating Entrepreneurial Spirit in Asia, 2) The Changing Role of the Media in Asia and 3) The Growing Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia. The challenge: for the delegates to come up with findings and recommendations from the lectures of and their interactions with the guest speakers.

The young delegates, donning business suits and lugging briefcases, sat through several morning hours of speeches and afternoon hours of forums. They had to absorb thought-provoking ideas from the who’s who of the region and discuss their conclusions with other students from different cultures and academic backgrounds.

This was no easy feat. Each guest speaker presented complex issues that demanded‚ deep insight and reflection.

David Lim Tik En, Acting Minister for Information, Communication and the Arts of Singapore, first asked: "Can we build a better world?" He wrapped up his speech with the advice: Be a realistic idealist; ask not "why?" but "why not?"

Luis "Cito" P. Lorenzo, Jr., Philippine Presidential Adviser for Creating One Million Jobs, evoked Mahatma Gandhi on the seven sins of the world as he spoke on corporate social responsibility: Wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, commerce without morality, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle, knowledge without character.

He added: "The error of youth is to believe intelligence is a substitute for experience, while the error of age is to believe experience is a substitute for intelligence."

M.R. Sukhumbhand Paribatra, Democrat Party MP of Thailand hailed the geopolitical situation of Pacific Asia as a point of convergence of great civilizations and religions, a region of enormous potential and growth. What does it mean to be Asian? the students were asked to ponder.

Tan Sri Dato‚ Abdulah Ahmad, editor-in-chief of The New Strats Times (Malaysia) Berhad quoted dramatist Arthur Miller, "A good newspaper must always remain a nation talking to itself" as he heralded the importance of media in forging regional cohesion. To the students he appealed: Keep the dialogue going!

Dr. Robert Mather, Country Representative of the WWF International Thailand Programme explained the "Ecological footprint" of the Living Planet Index, declaring "We have lost one-third of the earth’s natural wealth, within the space of a single generation." He encouraged the students to have an ecological vision in their leadership. "Leadership," he added, being "all about vision."
Sound Minds, Sound Bodies
After the guest speakers had packed their bags and went back to ruling the world, the young student leaders were left to assimilate their own ideas into a white paper that was to be distributed to schools, media organizations, NGOs, and governments throughout the world.

So they started off by getting some sunshine and rolling in the grass. Seriously.

See, after being holed up at the luxurious Shangri-La Hotel for two days, the third morning of the conference was devoted to hilarious team-building exercises in the outdoors. We ventured off to a high-tech playground where the students were divided into three groups tackling each sub-theme. This was to prepare them for the grueling night ahead—in less than 24 hours, they were to present their findings to the foreign media.

The "Adventure Learning" activities required the teams to respond to imaginary situations physically, emotionally, and mentally. It was a bit like Survivor, but in the staid, safe and predictable Singaporean style. The participants had to swing around beams, walk on planks, run under a tent, and toss enormous balls into the air (We from the media abstained from the activities and happily sipped our Cokes while wondering who among the students had the hots for whom. Teehee.).

There was this bizarre 3-Way Spider’s Web activity that required the team members to enter a netted area without touching the net. This meant that you either had to do serious gymnastic work, or have your body lifted through the net by your teammates pallbearer-style. It looked simple at the onset, but such an activity required strategy, collaboration, and an acute understanding of who were the couch potatoes and who were the gym bunnies in the team.

It was most amusing to see how different personality types—the leaders, followers, go-getters and cornballs—emerged from the team dynamics. "Hope you don’t kill each other later," we reporters said to them.

Well, the press conference the next day went smoothly as planned despite the students’ lack of sleep. Our very own William and Grace were the stars of the show as they delivered swift and concise answers to a foreign press grilling (William told me later, "Paula, yours weren’t questions, they were oral examinations!"). As I watched them shine, I couldn’t help but feel like a proud Ate.
Passion For Compassion
The last day was capped with a social outreach project with intellectually disabled Singaporeans from the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (MINDS). Each student participant was assigned a mentally challenged buddy (many with Down’s Syndrome) to bond with. The activity was supposed to foster a sense of social conscience and compassion—virtues that are direly needed in good leadership.

Off to the fantastic Singapore Zoo we all went, and there I saw firsthand the sincerity, kindness and tenderness shown by the delegates to their buddies. Patiently, the students guided their guests around the zoo, taught them songs, helped them with their food, listened to their stories. Many eyes were wet when it was time to say good-bye.
Singapore Sling
Finally, on Friday evening, I and some Singaporean buddies played chaperone to the student delegates and took them clubbing at the Liquid Room. All dolled up and flushed with relief, the students let loose when it was time for play-hard after all that work-hard! We babysat happily as the students made wild on the dance floor to the beat of DJ Chris Ho. Fortunately, no one got drunk (the drinks were too expensive anyway!), and unfortunately, no love interests were spotted. But the camaraderie was very evident as all traces of five-day cabin fever dissipated in Liquid’s wild vibe.

Leadership can be fun, I thought to myself as I planed back to Manila. It is about hard work, it is about compromise, it is about character and vision, but it can be interesting and exciting too. As young people today become more and more disillusioned with their leaders, it is even more crucial, yet also more difficult, to encourage them to lead the nation.

But if people are taught at an early age to love and enjoy responsibility, public service, and reaching out to the greater many and the less fortunate, leadership can be a great thing again. Thanks to Hitachi and kids like William, Grace, Leslie, Niko, and their counterparts from all over Southeast Asia, leadership—and not just money, power or fame—can be packaged as something that the youth can aspire for. A dream that all of us can live for.
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