SEALNet was founded in 2004 by a community of people who are passionate about the well-being of the people of Southeast Asia and about the future of the region. SEALNet’s founders hold the vision of a Southeast Asia that is more regionally united and internationally integrated. To work towards that vision, SEALNet continually builds and nurtures a community of service leaders who are passionate about social development in Southeast Asia.
Since its inception, SEALNet has welcomed a diverse group of members who have significantly contributed to refining our practices. Though our practices have evolved over time, our philosophy remains consistent. Our philosophy includes two distinct but not exclusive pillars: service and leadership. The service component ensures that SEALNet strives to improve the well-being of people in Southeast Asia; the leadership component is the mechanism through which SEALNet nurtures a community of like-minded leaders. Through a life-long journey of public service, leaders are inspired and empowered to help Southeast Asia develop.
SEALNet – the Students
In the Fall of 2004, a group of students from Stanford University met two working professionals, KweeBin Teo and Kevin Teo, to discuss possible ways to contribute to Southeast Asia’s development. The professionals represented the Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative (SALI), a non-profit organization dedicated to the cause of creating a cohesive and vibrant Southeast Asia.
The students consisted of Hanna Chiou, Suksiri Kulvaraporn, T.T. Nguyen Duc, Kevin Siew, and Viet Minh Huynh, who were interested in contributing their efforts towards the development of Southeast Asia. Everyone in the meeting was excited at the prospect of serving the needy in Southeast Asia and learning from one another. SEALNet was thus founded as a student group at Stanford University, with SALI professionals as our mentors. Our official name then was The Southeast Asian Leadership Network. Jiun Haur Wang joined SEALNet soon afterward and has made significant contributions to SEALNet’s operation and growth since.
SEALNet’s pilot program was the Service Leadership Project in Vietnam in 2005 (PV05), a partnership with the Ho Chi Minh City Youth Union to build a computer laboratory, train English teachers to make use of the new facilities, and conduct service leadership workshops for local high school students. Our pilot program was supported by various organizations and generous individuals.
On the back of the tremendous success of PV05, SEALNet organized three trips to Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam in 2006. In the summer of 2007, SEALNet added two additional projects in Indonesia and the Philippines to make a total of five projects. Starting with an initial focus on technology and English education, we have gradually diversified our themes to include a wide spectrum of social issues, ranging from education and the environment to public health and the arts.
SEALNet is not only a service organization but also a community with a very strong shared sense of identity. Through the shared experience of performing public service and working together as a team, our members have fun together and foster lifelong friendships. In addition to exploring new cultures, our members also enjoy learning from the people we serve, from other SEALNet members, and from our professional mentors.
SEALNet – the Professionals
The SEALNet student group was inspired by professionals from SALI. SALI (The Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative) grew out of its cofounders’ shared ties, passion, and vision for Southeast Asia. With Leng Lim as the instigating spark, he, along with Mei Lin Fung, Kelvin Neu, Hung Nguyen and Andrew Long joined together to found SALI, conceiving it as a non-profit foundation that would incubate innovative social enterprise projects in Southeast Asia.
Kwee Bin Teo and Kevin Teo joined SALI soon afterward and brought with them the vision of service leadership and mentorship. They wanted to equip to lead those who were committed to serve. Through the Service Leadership Program that they developed, youths would have opportunities for personal growth, act as positive change agents for their communities and build strong bonds with like-minded individuals through shared transformational experiences and shared values. Their inspirational discussion at the Haas Center in Stanford University in 2004 marked the birth of the SEALNet student group.
SALI and the SEALNet student group continued to co-exist collaboratively: SALI professionals mentored SEALNet student leaders to implement service projects in Southeast Asia in 2005 and 2006. At the end of 2006, SALI and SEALNet merged into one entity – The Southeast Asian Service Leadership Network (SEALNet) – and SEALNet officially inherited the SALI’s 501(c)(3) non-profit status.
In the next few years, we plan to expand to other campuses and further refine our practices to design and implement even better projects. With a stronger student network in more campuses, we hope to have projects in all ten ASEAN nations. In addition to implementing traditional service leadership projects, SEALNet also hopes to develop other programs such as administering service leadership fellowships for students to spend time in Southeast Asia, collecting and publishing a book on ASEAN children’s stories, and instituting an ASEAN Service Leadership Award to recognize ASEAN members who have played a critical service role in ASEAN.
Since the founding of SEALNet, we have developed a model that successfully engages the college and local high school audiences. The SEALNet experience has transformed the lives of many SEALNet members who feel inspired to re-create the powerful SEALNet experience for others. After each summer, many of our members return as trip leaders for future projects. Our next step is to focus on continually engaging the alumni in our SEALNet community and we hope that in the near future, our alumni will provide a strong base of financial support. This will in turn enable SEALNet to become a self-sustaining organization to truly function as a community which nurtures service leaders who are passionate about Southeast Asia.