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Fourteen Australians announced as new Obama Foundation Leaders

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Fourteen Australians have been selected as part of the ​inaugural cohort of Obama Foundation Leaders: Asia-Pacific​, a cross section of 200 emerging civic leaders from 33 nations and territories in the region, who will convene in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from December 10-14. The 200 Leaders represent public, private, and non-profit sectors, and they work on a variety of issues, ranging from education to environment to entrepreneurship.

Among the Australian leaders who have been selected for the program is Usman Iftikhar who is an award-winning social entrepreneur, passionate about solutions to global warming and the global refugee crisis. He is the co-founder and CEO of Catalysr, a startup pre-accelerator that empowers migrant and refugee entrepreneurs to launch their own startups.

Dan Ilic, a comedian and journalist who hosts the satirical comedy podcast ​A Rational Fear, is also one of the selected leaders. He has worked in radio and television in Australia and the USA. Most recently, he was the Executive Producer of ​Tonightly with Tom Ballard (ABC), the Executive Producer of Satire for​ ​ Fusion Network (USA) and senior satire producer for Al Jazeera’s ​AJ+ ​ (USA).

Another chosen is Noel Kwon, who is passionate about human rights and achieving efficiency and equality in organizations. Having been a cultural and linguistically diverse consultant in community organisations before government, Noel still provides strategic advice to community organisations in the Australian Capital Territory.

Adding to the list is Alice Mahar who is the founder and director of The Corner Store Network, a non-profit working towards food security, improving nutrition, climate adaptation and minimising food waste in Australia and Timor-Leste. She is the co-founder of the initiatives Stock/Store, Harvest/Store and WithOneBean. Alice is passionate about feeding a growing global population in an environmentally regenerative way, and ensuring that no person is left behind.

Jaclyn Mclendon, a lead of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards, is also a chosen leader with her international cultural initiative bringing together the 70 countries and areas of the Asia Pacific. She is passionate about film as a common language to bring understanding to our global dialogue. She recently launched the Asia Pacific Screen Forum to provide a fertile ground for collaboration for filmmakers across the region.

There’s Hayley McQuire,​ a proud Darumbal and South Sea Islander woman. She is the National Coordinator and Co-Founder of the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition, and the Head of Education for the Foundation for Young Australians. Hayley previously served on the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group, and was a UNICEF Australia Youth Ambassador.

Another is Tim Middlemiss,​ a consultant who partners with global institutions like World Vision, government departments, and local organisations like Taronga Conservation Society to build and engage their communities for social impact. Tim was a founding director of for-purpose creative studio, Agency, co-founder of social impact conference, Expanse, and is senior strategic advisor to Rev. Tim Costello AO.

Skye Riggs is also part being the Founder of Y Vote, an edu-tech social enterprise focussed on building the civic capabilities of young people to create a stronger democracy. Alongside ongoing community engagement and youth voter drives, Y Vote’s action-based civic education programs are delivered by local government organisations throughout Australia.

Another social entrepreneur is on the list, William Smith-Stubbs,​ who is also a mental health activist, and writer. As co-founder of social impact venture studio spur:​ ​and award-winning mental health non-profit spur:org, William has worked across human rights, refugee health, child safety, and youth mental health. William is also a member of the Leadership Advisory Council for the World Economic Forum Global Shapers, an UNLEASH Global Talent for the Sustainable Development Goals and a Gates Foundation Goalkeeper.

There’s Zohar Spatz, ​the Executive Director of La Boite Theatre Company, Australia’s longest continuously running theatre company. She is also President and Chair of All the Queens Men, an independent Australian arts organisation that collaborates with communities of all shapes, sizes, and identities to produce transformative creative experiences that champion equality, social health, and human connection.

The youngest member of the Board of Directors of Oxfam Australia, Alan Wu, is also on the list. He works with one of Australia’s largest international development organisations. After serving as an executive and lawyer with the Australian Government, he is now also the Regional Coordinator for Asia Pacific at the Open Government Partnership, a multilateral initiative that brings governments and communities together to advance reforms to make governments more inclusive, responsive and accountable.

Finally, Catherine Sarah Young,​ Sydney, 36, also made it to the list. As an award-winning artist, designer, and writer, she uses her background in molecular biology, fine art, and interaction design to create interdisciplinary and experimental artworks on the environment. She has an international award, exhibition, collaboration, and fellowship profile, most recently in China, Southeast Asia, Austria, and the Amazon rainforest. She is a Scientia scholar at UNSW Art and Design, working on climate change and sustainability.

The Leaders: Asia-Pacific gathering will serve as the kick-off event for a year-long leadership program and is designed to further inspire, empower, and connect the emerging leaders to change the world. While in Malaysia, the Leaders will be joined by prominent speakers and thought leaders who will discuss topics such as progress and opportunity in the Asia-Pacific region, values-based leadership, and the intersection of purpose and entrepreneurship during a series of plenary sessions.

In addition to President and Mrs. Obama, confirmed speakers include YB Hannah Yeoh, Malaysia’s Deputy Minister of Women, Family, and Community Development; Tan Sri Dr. Tony Fernandes, Malaysian entrepreneur and co-founder of AirAsia; Dr. Oyun Sanjaasuren, Director of External Affairs at the Green Climate Fund; Tim Brown, co-founder of Allbirds; Arthur Huang, Taiwanese entrepreneur and founder of Miniwiz; Helianti Hilman, Indonesian entrepreneur and founder of JAVARA; Aaron Maniam, member of the Singapore Administrative Service; and Pat Dwyer, Director and founder of The Purpose Business.

The five-day convening in December will also consist of skill-building workshops, leadership development training, and opportunities for Leaders to connect with one another. Leaders will have a chance to apply their skills and knowledge to various real-world scenarios while using creative, values-driven approaches to problem-solving. Additionally, to underscore the important relationship between service and leadership.

Leaders will participate in a community service project​. Although the gathering is closed to the general public, the plenary sessions will be made available via livestream at the obama website.

Each Leader’s journey of growth will continue remotely for a year after the gathering, through webinars and a virtual speaker series, as well as support, amplification, and other opportunities from the Foundation.

The Asia-Pacific program follows the Obama Foundation’s inaugural international Leaders program launched in Africa in 2018 and​ ​represents the Foundation’s commitment to the region, along with the belief that these emerging leaders, through the extraordinary work they do in their own communities, have the potential to positively affect change across the globe.


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