Barack Obama touches on equal opportunities, activism and social media at Singapore gala event

Reta Lee
Editor-in-Chief, Lifestyle
Barack Obama giving an hour long speech. (PHOTO: Education Benefit Gala)

SINGAPORE – Since leaving the White House, Barack Obama is still maintaining a high profile as he travels across continents to deliver his views on the state of the world including on the current US administration, and has entered into the entertainment and publishing arenas.

The former 44th US president is in Singapore where he has attended several events including at The Education Benefit Gala on Saturday (14 December) when he discussed youth activism, equal opportunities, and social media with venture capitalist Cheah Sui Ling.

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Obama, 58, spoke about his optimism for the youths of the world to make a difference and leave behind a legacy for future generations, calling on leaders to utilise youth talents.

“Find some young person out there who has talent, but doesn’t have the privileges, connection, or money, and figure out how you can help that one person achieve their dreams. Somebody unexpected, it doesn’t have to be through a formal programme, (it can be) an employee whose child would benefit from a scholarship or just a conversation. Take the time, make some difference,” said the keynote speaker of the event at The Ritz Carlton Millenia Hotel.

Already, the youth generation has been making a significant impact on public opinions and political leaders to make necessary changes. One such area is in climate change, Obama noted.

“One of the things that I'm pleased about is when you look at surveys in almost every country in the world, and overwhelmingly young people understand this issue of climate change and the urgency, much more than their parents or their grandparents. This makes sense as they're going to deal with the consequences when old people die off; we're starting to see the most significant effects and it's a generational selfishness in our consciousness.”

Barack Obama poses with beneficiary recipients Indra Putra, Bryan Lee, Nur Isabella Tiara, Crystal Jade Tan, Barack Obama, Afwah Syahirah, Ros Idaman , Nina Alisa, and Reymus Ong. (PHOTO: Education Benefit Gala)

Obama also spoke about today’s social media platforms and stressed that the likes of Facebook and Google have important roles to play in the dissemination of information. These social media giants are essentially media outlets, he said.

“They act as if they are utilities, that Facebook is the equivalent of, you know, electrical lines or telephones. Even though it's not obvious, they are making a series of editorial decisions in their algorithms and in terms of what rises to the top of the search page and what drops down to the bottom. And that means they've got some social responsibility.”

On the same night where Obama addressed the audience at gala event, his 55-year-old wife Michelle was at the Expo, sharing insights and reflections from her best-selling 2018 memoir, Becoming.

Obama paid tribute to Michelle for bringing up their children, Malia and Sasha. He stressed that he would always make time for his family when he was in the White House.

“No matter what my schedule - unless there was an actual emergency (pauses), Fukushima happens or, a shooting or terrorist attack - I would stop working at 6.30pm. I would have dinner with my girls and Michelle. I read to them, I find out how their day was and if needed, I’ll schedule three more meetings when I go back to the office.”

Outside of the event and speech circuit, the Obamas have also been preoccupied with various film and book projects.

Among them, the couple signed on with streaming giant Netflix to create a set of series and films under their production house, High Ground Productions. The first project, a documentary entitled American Factory, premiered on Netflix in August this year. The story is about a factory in Ohio run by Chinese glass manufacturer Fuyao and how it has had a significant impact on residents living in the US state.

Just like Michelle, Obama is writing a memoir in a deal with Penguin Random House that’s estimated to be worth US$65 million. Obama acknowledged that the writing process for his book is taking a while, and that it is slated for release next year.

Saturday’s gala event, organised by Novena Global Lifecare and The Sylvan Group, features a fine dining experience curated by four Michelin star chefs, Sebastien Lepinoy, Tetsuya Wakuda, Beppe De Vito, and Cheung Siu Kong. 

(PHOTO: Education Benefit Gala)

Four organisations championing various causes, ranging from empowering marginalised women to supporting children from disadvantaged families, were the beneficiaries of the gala event: Dreams Academy (South Central Community Family Service Centre), Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO) Service Fund, Daughters of Tomorrow and Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS).

Bryan Lee Jing Wen, who was one such beneficiary through Dreams Academy, spoke about the challenges of growing up in a poor family and his father’s gambling addiction.

He said, “Despite the challenging circumstances, I never felt poor. In fact, I always felt that I was lucky because of the support made possible by generous people like yourselves and good friends...I was able to follow my dreams and develop into a productive person and a contributing member of society.”