In over two decades of work in think tanks and foreign policy research, the most important, rewarding and frustrating project that I have been involved in has been the Pacific Forum’s next-generation initiative, the Young Leaders (YL) program.

By finding and bringing up-and-coming young professionals into our policy discussions, it provided an unparalleled opportunity to widen and warp minds. It has also exposed more clearly than any other endeavor the constraints when tackling the toughest, most obstinate problems.

The YL program was launched nearly 20 years ago when Ralph Cossa, my former boss and the then president of Pacific Forum, struck up a conversation with a young woman serving him coffee before a meeting at a Tokyo partner organization. She had a doctorate from a Boston university and despite being smart, personable and having a command of issues and English that bested a good number of senior professionals, that was likely to be the only encounter the two of them would ever have.