uring my time as president, I have traveled well over a million miles to every corner of the world. These foreign trips have included international summits and bilateral visits that have been fundamental to the progress that we’ve made – strengthening alliances, engaging former adversaries, renewing the global economy, and forging agreements to fight climate change, stop the spread of nuclear weapons, expand commerce, and roll back poverty and disease.
I leave office more convinced than ever before that international cooperation is indispensable. I have always believed that our engagements with other countries must not be limited to governments; we also have to engage people around the world. In particular, we must sustain our engagement with young people, who will determine the future long after those of us in positions of power leave the world stage.
Consider the demographics of our world. More than half of human beings are 30 years old or younger. This is even more pronounced in the developing world – that’s where 90 percent of the global population under 30 lives. These young people are living through revolutions in technology that are remaking life on our planet, allowing for unprecedented access to information and connectivity, while also causing enormous disruptions in the global economy.
And while the world’s leaders discuss the pressing issues of the day, it is the world’s young people who will determine whether their voices direct the change that is sweeping our world toward greater justice, opportunity, tolerance, and mutual respect.
OBAMA BY THE NUMBERS
That is why I have launched
Young Leaders Initiatives in
Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin
America that are focused on empowering youth – connecting them with one another, and with resources that can help them build a nongovernmental organization, start a business, or begin a career in public service.
These initiatives include online networks, meetings at our diplomatic posts, and access to grants, internships, and opportunities to attend programs at American colleges and universities. Half a million people under the age of 35 are now a part of these networks. Over 3,000 of these young people have traveled to the U.S.
Every day, these young people are working to improve their communities from the bottom up. A Rwandan entrepreneur is using new technologies to provide power to villages that are off the grid. An activist from Thailand has organized young people across Southeast Asia to fight human trafficking. A city manager in the Philippines is launching new initiatives to promote women’s health and combat teen pregnancy; to do so, she is drawing on skills she learned on a fellowship in Montana. Reflecting on how far she’s come from her humble beginnings in a small village, she said: “The Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative is my life-changing chapter.”
No one of these initiatives will transform our world. But each of them creates a ripple of progress that can gradually bring the change that our world needs. And in talking to these young people, one thing comes up again and again – the value that they gain from being connected with one another. A Guinean who participated in our Fellowship program put it well: “When I made the trip to the U.S. and met all these extraordinary young people from Africa, I realized how blessed I was to see and learn how I can make an impact on people’s lives. I also learned tolerance and multiculturalism. Although I have had many experiences around the world, meeting helped me make the decision to impact millions of lives around me.”
These efforts don’t make headlines. But they reflect the optimism that I have seen in young people from different ethnicities, religions and nationalities all around the globe, including in the U.S. At a time when we are faced with so much division in global politics, young people are often more tolerant, more compassionate, and more committed to working to make change that benefits their communities from the bottom up. They give me hope, and I look forward to witnessing the extraordinary change that they can make as they claim the mantle of leadership.
countries visited during his time in office presidents who visited Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar before Obama
years since the last president visited Cuba