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Swearer Center, UConn to foster leadership skills in Southeast Asian fellows

Through YSEALI, fellows will build social enterprises, learn about American culture

This October, the Swearer Center for Public Service will welcome 22 fellows to campus as part of the U.S. State Department’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative — a program “aimed at strengthening leadership development in Southeast Asia,” according to a University press release. Through a partnership with the University of Connecticut, the Swearer Center hopes to help fellows build skills in “social entrepreneurship and economic development,”  wrote Julie  Plaut, assistant dean of the college and director of faculty engagement and research, in an email to The Herald.

During a five-week program, the 22 YSEALI fellows ­— hailing from 10 different countries — will each “work on a social enterprise business plan” before returning to their home nations to develop these businesses, said Laura Garbes GS, graduate fellow and coordinator for YSEALI.  At the University, fellows will participate in “an array of formal and informal educational activities (including) workshops, group exercises, site visits, cultural activities, virtual learning and applied problem-based learning,” Plaut wrote. Through these activities, the Swearer Center hopes to “put a critical lens on the idea of social innovation,” Garbes said.

Though the main goal of the initiative is for the participants to leave the program with the ability to implement their social enterprises in their home countries, “more diffuse goals include learning about leadership and American culture,” Garbes explained. In particular, Garbes hopes participants will walk away with a “conception of the Southeast Asian community in Providence, Rhode Island” and an understanding that “American culture is very diffuse and varied.”

Before coming to the University, YSEALI partnered with the Global Training and Development Institute at the UConn in 2015, said Jack Barry, a post doctoral research associate at GTDI at the UConn. Over the past three years, UConn has hosted six cohorts of YSEALI fellows, a total of around 120 individuals, Barry added. Many fellows found success through YSEALI at UConn, including one participant from Indonesia who created a “female version of Uber” that only serves female drivers and riders, he said.

After its initial success, UConn approached the University for a potential partnership because of the University’s “strong social innovation programming” and membership in Ashoka — a network of leaders in social innovation, Plaut said. Together, the University and UConn received a grant from the U.S. State Department to support the initiative. To help the University with its first institute this fall, UConn has “shared substantial information about academic content and administrative arrangements,” Plaut explained.

“This initiative fits our strategic plan in multiple ways, including globalizing our partnerships and approach to community engagement, contributing to the development of the field of social innovation and creating opportunities for Brown graduate and undergraduate students to learn and connect with other young leaders in social innovation,” Plaut wrote.

The University has “guaranteed funding for one year” to support two cohorts of fellows, one this fall and one in the spring,  Plaut wrote. The University anticipates “two more years of renewed partnership funding through the grant, dependent on the availability of continued funding from the U.S. State Department,” she added.

The names of the fellows will be shared with The Herald at a later date, Garbes said.

An earlier version this article stated that names of YEASLI fellows would be released at a later date. In fact, Laura Garbes, graduate fellow and coordinator for YSEALI, stated that the names of fellows would be shared with The Herald at a later date. The Herald regrets the error.



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