This has been weighing heavy on my to-do list for a while since I’ve had a busy work month. I’ll be sharing my experience at the ASEAN+ Youth Leadership Summit (2015) – AYLS over a series of posts. For the uninformed, here are 10 points about it first for background/ context.
- It was a 2.5 day summit held for the first time ever.
- Involved youth activists, change agents, volunteers, officials, of all shapes, size and colour – 300 odd to be exact
- Besides the 10 ASEAN member states (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam), it also involved dialogue partner states – Australia, Canada, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Timor-Leste and the United States of America.
- Approximately 10 from each country (except for Malaysia since they were the Host Nation)
- Malaysia is the Host Nation because it is chairing this year’s ASEAN committee.
- Theme of this Summit was “Youth driving the ASEAN Community”, and it underscored the importance that youths play an important role in driving the ASEAN Community forward.
- It structured the summit around 4 pillars, education and employment, entrepreneurship, leadership and volunteerism
- Goal of AYLS2015 was to discuss and present policy proposals revolving around the 4 pillars at the end of the 2.5 days which would then be presented over to PM Najib Razak at the Opening ceremony of the ASEAN talks to be considered by government leaders.
- I was lucky enough to be selected – got this chance through Mendaki Club and National Youth Council – thank YOU! Was representing Project Khadijah, a social entity that seeks to help Single mothers in Singapore achieve financial independence through the matching of right opportunities – training, jobs or work from home opportunities. (www.facebook.com/projectkhadijahsg)
- Since there were many take-aways, and since I’ve had the immense honour of gleaning them as one of the 10 Singaporean youth delegates to represent this sunny island, I thought I’d definitely need to pay it forward by blogging about them. Hence, this series of posts. So here goes. Leave a comment if you can!
The important context of this year’s ASEAN discussions is that, ASEAN had agreed to establish the ASEAN Community by 31 December 2015, and this agreement has in fact already been ratified and signed by the 10 member states in November (read HERE). It’s a plan that includes economic, political-security and socio-cultural policies.
Here are a couple of articles on the ASEAN Community if you’re interested.
All, in all, the AYLS+ Summit was a rewarding and eye-opening experience for me. Before this summit, I have to admit that my knowledge of ASEAN was limited to ACFTA (due to work) and my ASEAN scholar friends, yes not much sadly. I regarded ASEAN a distant inter-governmental organization that only engaged parliamentarians and government officials to discuss big policy stuff. My attendance in the summit confirmed that this was true for many others too. So much more can be done to increase the layperson’s understanding of ASEAN and this summit was definitely a step in that right direction. It was refreshing that a youth like me could get a chance to learn first-hand what the ASEAN entity means, and be involved in discussing and proposing ideas that could potentially and collaboratively further its vision.
Alright, so for the first post, I’d like to share my favourite unforgettable segment of this summit. It’d have to be the keynote address by Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz. She is currently a Non-Executive Independent Chairman of Air Asia X, and also a past Minister of Trade and Industry (which was subsequently revised to Minister of International Trade and Industry) – a post she served for 21 years. I think many like me, deeply appreciated her candid, no-nonsense “brutally-honest” sharing of the successes, challenges and hopes for ASEAN. It was a befitting keynote speech for youths who are probably quicker to frown upon political correctness and who genuinely want to have a clearer understanding of ASEAN.
Managed to get a photo with her after her speech! (Shout-out to Mohsen, thanks so much for asking! 🙂 )
She gave a balanced introduction to ASEAN, and shared openly how we need to lead ASEAN to greater heights in not just one but all of its pillars – Economic, Security and Social and Cultural. However, she pragmatically asserted that in order for youths to play that leading role for ASEAN, we would first need to understand what ASEAN entails – its roles and responsibilities and its challenges (like the analogy of understanding how the car works before wanting to drive it). She praised ASEAN for some of its successes like ACFTA, but also highlighted the importance of doing so much more in the services sector, and also in the lagging areas of security and social-cultural aspects. There were many regional and international issues that required our close cooperation – like haze, terrorism (which she highlighted as being very important – in order to ensure that we “prevent it from germinating amongst our young”), capabilities and skills building and raising the benchmark of performance – reminding all that if we want to be a driving force, then our benchmark must be very high.
She also, at one point, brought the gathering down to earth when she highlighted the sad reality – that majority of our people across ASEAN may still did not quite know what ASEAN is ( I concur on this). Because there were so many quotable pearls of wisdom in her refreshingly blunt and honest sharing, I am going to have to list them down in point form and trust that they will do justice in summarizing her sharing:
- Advice to Youths: “Youths, don’t carry our excess baggage!” – Tan Sri Rafidah on the importance of youths having a fresh start and perspective to making ASEAN work
- ASEAN is not about creating a homogenous community. ( A good reminder as we seek to build an identity – but embrace diversity)
- Go in-depth! – her advice to youths on ensuring you pull out all the stops in getting ASEAN to work collaboratively.
- “Local planning (must be) dovetailed with regional ASEAN planning”
- “Good leaders don’t just think of the next elections, but of the next generation”. This was in response to my question – when I asked how to build greater accountability amongst leaders for ASEAN-related causes/ goals, since it is natural that a leader would prioritize the goals of his nation first, since that is what his electorate would hold him immediately accountable for.
She also outlined some practical proposals, which I appreciated for having cleverly ranged across a wide age span– seemingly driven by the goal of developing a pipeline of ASEAN-conscious individuals who are exposed to it from a young age and grow up continue being exposed to it from a more relevant angle as they age.
- ASEAN Civic Subjects to be taught in secondary schools – with the rationale of educating the youths of the existence and role of ASEAN
- Exchange Programmes Across ASEAN
- Conferences and Community Projects
- ASEAN Business Projects: To have networking, and collaborations within and beyond
- Internships between Companies in ASEAN states and beyond
- ASEAN Community Day – to raise awareness of ASEAN as an entity and what it means to the lay citizen (I suppose such long term soft-power efforts may cumulatively raise awareness, and therefore allow ASEAN priorities/ accountability to rank higher even in the national agenda) I suppose, that is also, one good thing of the Summit, bringing together like-minded youths across the region together to possibly make something out of it, and to keep the conversation alive. I’m heartened to see some already doing so – a friend, Roxanne, from Malaysia, from the Education and Employment pillar group – is already leading efforts to research more on what it will take to bridge the rural-urban educational gap first starting in her hometown Sarawak.
Well, the best is yet to be!
Hope you enjoyed this – any comments or feedback, please feel to drop me a note. Will try to pen the rest soon.