“You’re inspiring to me and I’ve made it clear America wants to be your partner, we want to help you succeed,” President Obama told 75 Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) fellows at the White House on June 1.

“You are all bound together by a common belief that you have the talent and the drive and the power to improve the lives of your fellow human beings,” Obama said.

The group at the White House was the first to visit the United States as part of the YSEALI fellowship program, announced by Obama in Burma in November 2014. The program aims to bring 500 YSEALI fellows to the United States annually to develop their professional and leadership skills in entrepreneurship and economic empowerment, the environment, and civic engagement.

“You are civil society leaders working for democracy and human rights and religious tolerance,” Obama said.

“You are entrepreneurs who are turning your ideas into new businesses, activists fighting for the environment and against climate change — and that’s the power young people have and the spirit of optimism and idealism that you represent.”

President Obama and YSEALI fellows meet at the White House on June 1. (White House)

The 75 leaders, aged 18 to 35, completed immersive academic and professional programs at educational institutes, nonprofit entities, state and local government and private-sector offices in 12 states and Washington, D.C.

“The friendships and understanding that you have forged will help to bring our countries together for a long time,” Obama said.

When fellows return home at the end of the program, they plan to connect with peers across the region through YSEALI and U.S. exchange program networks to build on their American experience and address challenges and create opportunities in their countries.

“Each of you has developed a project, an action plan, and you’ll take what you learned here and put it into practice,” Obama said. “And we are going to be with you during this process as you build your ventures, expand your networks and [mentor] young people that are coming behind you.”

Visit the YSEALI page to learn more about the program and receive updates about opportunities for young Southeast Asians from the U.S. government.