Good evening and thank you all for joining us as we start our 6th annual Young Pacific Leaders conference.
I have the great honor and privilege to be here all the way from Washington D.C. on behalf of the U.S. Department of State to share a few brief words with you. I want to welcome and thank the representatives from the Pacific diplomatic missions in attendance for joining us to support all of our emerging leaders.
Congratulations to the 45 delegates selected to participate in this year’s conference. This group represents the next generation of smart, passionate and dedicated leaders who will be tackling global challenges and developing innovative ways to ensure a prosperous and peaceful Pacific region for years to come.
You all have come together, voyaging great distances, from 20 Pacific countries and territories – from the Northern Marianas down to the southernmost region of Australia, from Palau in the far west, and for the first time this year, we welcome our young leaders from the far east of the Pacific, French Polynesia—a special “ia orana” to you!
Since 2013, we have held these events in Samoa, American Samoa, New Zealand, and Hawaii. This year we are delighted to be hosting our first conference in Fiji.
Vinaka vaka levu and thank you to the leaders of Fiji and the people of your country for hosting us. I know many local experts will be taking part in leading training sessions and discussions at the conference.
These local experts are being joined by their counterparts from around the region to help deepen our participants’ knowledge in a range of issues that young people across the Pacific identified as critical to their future: environmental conservation, education, economic and social development, and civic leadership.
While the knowledge that will be shared over the next few days is important – we also hope that you all will build a powerful network among yourselves.
The heart of programs like our Young Pacific Leaders initiative is partnership. When we work together, we dramatically increase our ability to solve problems and create new approaches to move the region forward in a sustainable way.
The United States is proud to be a partner in these efforts. We have a long history of partnering with the Pacific Islands to address local and global challenges – from disaster assistance to poverty reduction, education to national defense, and more. I’d like to take a moment to mention just a few ways we can continue to partner with you after this conference through some of our ongoing established programs.
Through our Department of State, we offer a number of educational exchange programs such as Fulbright scholarships, International Visitor Leadership Programs, the U.S. South Pacific Scholarship Program and more to enable driven individuals like yourselves to spend some time in the United States, to study at great institutions to take knowledge and skills back to your home islands, and also to share your vision for a brighter future with us in the U.S..
Another opportunity for partnership is with the U.S. Agency for International Development, which manages a wide range of programs in the Pacific Islands that help the region mitigate and prepare for natural disasters, improve health outcomes, empower women, and strengthen democratic institutions.
Our National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides grant and training programs to improve weather forecasting and warning systems throughout the Pacific, as well as to support conservation of marine resources and coral reefs.
These are just a few ways that the United States is working together with our Pacific partners and just some ways that we could potentially work with you and the communities you’re representing at this conference. If you are interested in learning about the specific programs available to you in your country, I encourage you to reach out to your country’s U.S. Embassy.
Because all of you here have an important role to play in making your communities and the region the best they can be – whether you are working in NGOs, schools, government or business.
In fact, we used to call this program the “Future Leaders of the Pacific.” Last year, we changed the name to Young Pacific Leaders, because we want to acknowledge that your impact is not reserved for some time in the future. You are already making a difference.
So, it’s our honor to bring you together for these few days to share knowledge and build relationships. We hope many of you will then apply for one of our YPL small grants to put your ideas into action.
But if nothing else, we hope you will go away inspired by the other amazing people you’ll meet and the work they are doing. I know I am inspired every time I meet young people like you.
Thank you and have a great night and a great conference.