Partnerships for a Sustainable ASEAN

From 28 September to 5 October 2019, 39 young ASEAN Leaders gathered in Singapore for a week-long programme to exchange ideas as well as discuss issues and opportunities to collaborate for sustainable partnerships at the second run of the ASEAN Youth Fellowship (AYF) programme organised by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) and National Youth Council (NYC).

This leadership development programme comprises next-generation youth leaders from public, private and people sectors (3P) who have been identified as future leaders who can further contribute to the betterment of the region. The AYF programme aims to provide the participants with the opportunity to share experiences, build relationships and work together to establish a strong network of young ASEAN leaders who can encourage positive change in the region.

Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean together with 39 young ASEAN leaders from the ASEAN Youth Fellowship (AYF) after a closed-door dialogue on “ASEAN After 50: Sustainable Regional Growth” at the National Museum of Singapore.

Forging Sustainable Networks
Themed, “Partnerships for a Sustainable ASEAN, this year’s programme focused on the importance of warm people-to-people relations to ensure the social, environmental, and economic sustainability of the region. Over the week, the programme – which included a series of dialogues and learning journeys – presented the AYF participants opportunities to interact with distinguished thought leaders and political office holders including Singapore’s Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Mr Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Ms Grace Fu, Senior Minister of State for Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Ms Sim Ann, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Ministry of Trade and Industry Dr Tan Wu Meng, as well as Mr Mikkel Larsen, Group Chief Sustainability Officer, DBS Bank.

At an engaging dialogue session with SM Teo moderated by Professor Danny Quah, Dean and Li Ka Shing Professor in Economics, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, the Fellows earnestly queried the senior statesman on a wide range of topics ranging from the growth of ASEAN as a collective bloc amidst challenges, to the role of youths to build the ASEAN identity to national security. Besides this dialogue session, the participants had the opportunity to participate in sharing sessions on sustainable business practices by DBS Bank and CapitaLand, as well as a visit to Semakau Landfill to learn about sustainable waste management in land-scarce Singapore.

Throughout the sessions, the need to come together and collaborate to forge a sustainable future was a recurrent takeaway. His insights resonated with the Fellows as well where Indonesia Fellow Ainun Najib shared that through the AYF, he realised that there was more in common amongst his ASEAN peers than there were differences and saw it as his responsibility as a ASEAN person representing a community of 640-million population to encourage more communication, empathy, and friendship as key drivers to leverage on collective ASEAN strengths and overcome challenges as a community. Cambodia Fellow Som Monorum also echoed Ainun’s sentiments and said that the youth can act as a turning point in looking beyond differences defined by cultures and smith a common understanding on how ASEAN can move forward together.

The value of forging a regional network of youth leaders who wanted to give back to the community was clearly evident this year when the Malaysia Fellows from the inaugural edition in 2018  organised and hosted an overseas component of the programme in Kuala Lumpur. This expansion of the original programme was designed to widen the participants’ perspectives of ASEAN as well as augment exchanges and opportunities for collaboration.

The Malaysian segment included an engagement with Malaysia Minister of Youth and Sports Yang Berhormat Tuan Syed Saddiq Bin Syed Abdul Rahman who shared, “I’m pleased to have met these young ASEAN Leaders from the AYF programme who are making an effort to drive change for the future. The youth need to be our agents of change, as they are the leaders of tomorrow. Getting the youth to take an active interest in solving social issues has always been a challenge and hopefully, these advocates are able to change that.”

The AYF participants also visited an Orang Asli community and undertook a learning journey to Kuala Lumpur Kepong Berhad (KLK) Palm Oil plantation. At MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre), the SIF’s Young Social Entrepreneur alumni Babylon Vertical Farms, Langit and HiGi Energy shared their experiences of integrating their social missions with a business model.

It has been heartening to see several other outcomes from the inaugural batch of AYF including:

  • Vietnam Fellow Harry Pham being appointed as the SIF Representative in Ho Chi Minh City. In this capacity, he plays a key role in supporting SIF's mission to connect the Singaporean and Vietnamese communities and enable collaborations through meaningful projects that effect positive change - further strengthening the friendships between people of the two countries. Harry joins a network of SIF representatives across Bangkok, Jakarta, Mumbai, and Chennai.
  • Philippines Fellow Anna Karina Jardin collaborated with Malaysia Fellow Christine Cheah and Singapore Fellow Soh Yi Da on Artdialogo 2019, an art exhibition and cross-cultural art workshop to celebrate 50 years of Philippines-Singapore bilateral relations. Yi Da shared that his biggest takeaway from the AYF was the friendships he forged with his Fellows and that more of such platforms where young leaders from across the region can connect with one another to grow a community of ASEAN champions.

Looking Ahead
On the last day of the programme, the Fellows came together to propose project ideas to collaborate for a better ASEAN. These ground-up initiatives which address important socio-economic cultural issues for ASEAN will be supported by the ASEAN Youth Fellowship Impact Fund. Vietnam Fellow Phan Hoang Lan aptly summed it up when she shared, “There are many challenges that we share [as ASEAN] that includes climate change, inefficient waste management systems and lack of incentives for sustainable business practices. Yet, there are also many best practices in our region that once we share and learn, can be applied back in our own countries.”

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