At a town hall organised by the Obama Foundation where he addressed nearly 300 young men and women from across India, he said, "The single most important thing I want to focus on is the next generation of leadership. That's the central goal of the foundation," he said.
With its largest young population in the world, India holds an important place for him, he said. Both India and the US are hugely diverse and have many common shared values, he said.
He said that the relationship between the two countries can be a "defining partnership of the 21st century".
"I also believe that charting the course for that future is going to depend on young people," he said.
He advised young leaders to work to make things better and embrace incremental changes as they will never get 100 per cent of what they want.
As the US president, he said, he was often attacked more by the progressive people who had voted for him than the other side on some issues, but he would always tell his staff that their goal was to make things better.
He advised them to be not only online activists but work among the people and listen to them as well.
Ahead of the event, Ben Rhodes, Mr Obama's Chief International Advisor told NDTV, "He is here to listen and learn from the young leaders about their work and how his foundation can help them. The Obama Foundation hopes to help them to grow their network and promote their work on the digital platform."
Among those invited was Gurmehar Kaur who found herself in the middle of a major controversy last year for her anti-war message, saying that her father, Kargil hero Captain Mandeep Singh, was not killed by Pakistan but by war.
"I woke up and checked my mail and there was an invite from The Obama Foundation. I have admired Barack Obama's work on healthcare and his stand on women rights. Engaging with him and emerging leaders will hopefully bring about the change much needed in our society," she said.
(With inputs from PTI)