Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to students at the University of Virginia, where he said that for the first time in human history, young people around the world act as a global cohort. He challenged his audience to help them, and us, to use this remarkable network in a positive way. I could not agree more with the urgency of his challenge, which is why Embassies Wellington and Apia have focused so much of our resources over the past few years on taking steps to engage, listen to, and empower the young people of the Pacific.
Last week, I had the pleasure of hosting the inaugural Future Leaders of the Pacific conference (#FPL13) in Pago Pago, American Samoa. We at the American Mission to New Zealand and Samoa planned the event, in partnership with the East-West Center and the Government of American Samoa.
Young leaders ranging in age from 21 to 26 from 16 different Pacific Islands Forum member nations plus American Samoa gathered to discuss regional issues such as women's empowerment, democracy and governance, climate change, sea bed mining, and non-communicable diseases.
The sessions were guided by speakers from the East-West Center and dignitaries from the Pacific, including my good friend His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Head of State of Samoa, who opened the conference with an address on "Transforming Intelligence into Good Judgment," and the Premier of Niue the Honorable Toke Talangi, who spoke on "Facing the Future: Where and How Oceania Should be Engaging."
In addition to keynote presentations, we ran a series of detailed break-out sessions on specific issues and provided leadership training. One of the highlights was Executive Director of Women in Business Development Inc. Adimaimalaga (Adi) Tafuna'i's presentation on "Gender Empowerment through the Private Sector." Delegates even had the opportunity to see the only "Science on the Sphere" south of the equator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Sanctuary where Dr. Victoria Keener, climate change expert from the East-West Center, projected climate change data onto the large globe and led discussions on risk mitigation for Pacific Island nations.
There was, of course, time for the delegates to relax and bond. On the first evening, the Governor of American Samoa, the Honorable Lolo M. Moliga, hosted a traditional Ava ("welcome") ceremony and a banquet with dozens of American Samoan performers. The second evening, it was time for each Pacific Island delegate to take the stage in an impromptu talent show in which each representative gave the audience a taste of his or her island culture. I joined our Kiwi delegate for a fierce rendition of the All Blacks Haka.
While everyone seemed to have fun, the heart of the conference was the serious, substantive engagement -- treating youth as meaningful players, facilitating detailed discussion of complex issues, and listening to what they had to say. It's obvious that educating, empowering and amplifying youth voices of the Pacific are not only the right things to do, but the smart things to do. And the delegates proved my point. They engaged in an intense, confident, and sophisticated manner, and made full use of the resources we assembled. They quickly forged strong bonds with each other, forming what I hope will remain a vibrant pan-Pacific network. In fact, the Facebook page that we established as a platform for the delegates to continue the dialogue is already heavily trafficked.
We have asked the delegates to select two spokespersons, and we are planning to take those two representatives with us to this year's Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro, Marshall Islands so that they can observe the proceedings, participate in the Post-Forum Dialogue, and hopefully engage directly with additional island leaders.
In my view the conference was an unequivocal success and well worth continuing as an annual event. We've already begun planning #FPL14, because I see no better investment in our shared Pacific future than convening, mentoring, and empowering our future leaders.
Related Content: Visit U.S. Embassy New Zealand's website to view photographs and read full daily summaries of the event.