The ASEAN Young Leaders Programme 2018, held in partnership with the National Youth Council Singapore and Singapore Institute of Technology, was a three-day experiential leadership development programme held from 31 October to 2 November 2018. It brought together over 150 exceptional young leaders from the ASEAN region and from diverse backgrounds to tackle the challenge, "How can young leaders make ASEAN more resilient and innovative?" Diana Kassandra Almarez, a participant on the programme, shared her experience with us. 

I went to Singapore last year as a solo traveller at the age of 18. Singapore gave me a fun travel experience so I missed it a lot. I've always wanted to come back, but this time with a purpose. Then this programme happened!

It was only a three day programme, but each day was filled with learnings about different topics that really interest me like ASEAN, leadership, resilience, sustainability, cultural intelligence, design thinking and journalism. Each day was worth it because I could really take away something from all the talks and activities. The participants were also from diverse backgrounds, from students to professionals, so one could learn from other perspectives on different issues and ideas raised.

First, I learned more about leadership. The speaker gave us a background on youth leadership in ASEAN and some statistics. Then, he elaborated on the four aspects of leadership – leadership, innovation, passion and purpose – and how these aspects need an appropriate environment to develop collectively. It boils down to the main question of "Whom do we lead?" I also learned from this talk that we, young leaders, should take ownership, step up and take on new challenges to produce a collective action. While working on this goal, we should not forget to further develop our cultural intelligence and maintain the friendships we gain along the way.

Second, I learned about cultural intelligence (CQ). I've been doing a lot of multi-cultural activities, but I didn't know that such thing existed. I am not saying that I have already achieved the highest level of CQ, but what I know is the difficulty in achieving it and there should be continuous learning and development. What stuck in my mind during the talk was this: "Cross boundaries, invisible or not." It was such a powerful statement because, when it comes to communication, these boundaries are really invisible and we have to be mindful of them. 

​Third, I learned about design thinking. which is a successful process in leadership and innovation. It says that collective intelligence is better and a human-centred process is what makes people more creative. There are five steps in design thinking, which we applied to solve the challenge of the programme:

(1) Empathize and learn about your audience

(2) Define based on the needs

(3) Ideate for creative solutions

(4) Prototype or build a representation of your ideas

(5) Test your ideas

I am glad I could participate in this programme because I learned different things that widened my perspective and developed my leadership skills. I also gained precious new friendships that I will treasure forever. I do not want to stick to my comfort zone or enclose myself in ideas generated in just a particular area, because I believe I can better innovate and contribute when I learn more from other nations and people with diverse backgrounds. I am glad that I can use the knowledge and skills I gained from this programme in my current volunteer work and future career in cultural diplomacy.