Future of work, climate change: Youth delegates share experiences from inaugural ASEAN Youth Dialogue
The dialogue is themed “Youth in the Era of Fourth Industrial Revolution: Opportunities and Challenges in Post-Pandemic Recovery”.
The inaugural ASEAN Youth Dialogue was held in Siem Reap, Cambodia from Jul 24 to 27, and featured over 60 youth delegates from ASEAN member states and the Republic of Korea.
The dialogue, themed Youth in the Era of Fourth Industrial Revolution: Opportunities and Challenges in Post-Pandemic Recovery, aimed to engage youths in meaningful policy discourse with ministers and high-level representatives.
Some of the topics discussed during the dialogue include the future of work, sustainability and climate change, and inclusive growth.
The Singapore delegation consisted of the Minister for Community, Culture and Youth Edwin Tong, National Youth Council CEO David Chua and five youth delegates.
An exciting opportunity
Given that most events over the past two years took place online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ASEAN Youth Dialogue made for an exciting occasion as it marked the return of in-person and overseas dialogues.
One of the youth delegates, Sarah Chua, shared that it was exciting to be able to travel to Cambodia to represent Singapore in the ASEAN Youth Dialogue, especially as it was her first time travelling overseas since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the 21-year-old, the event had broadened her horizons through interacting with fellow youth leaders in the other ASEAN countries and the Republic of Korea (ROK).
“This trip certainly was a great opportunity to gain knowledge beyond class,” she added.
Sharing a similar sentiment is Sabrina Eng, 20, who felt “incredibly honoured” to attend the dialogue, especially since it was related to something which she was passionate about.
She said: “International relations is one of my main interests in my education, so being able to see it in practice was a fascinating venture I was excited to take up.”
Head of Youth Delegation Wang Junyong was also glad to see the “synergy between ASEAN and ROK youths.”
As the 32-year-old is residing in Cambodia, he also served as the bridge to connect his Singaporean counterparts with the Cambodian youths through sharing his experience in the country.
Importance of appreciating other cultures
Apart from the dialogue, the trip to Cambodia also provided opportunities for the ASEAN and ROK youths to exchange and learn more about one another’s cultures.
For Junyong, one of the key moments of the programmes that stuck with him was during the small group discussions.
“I observed how ROK youths actively participated in the discussion, contributing their ideas and presenting their views. Through the talks and speaker sessions, I was surprised to see ROK youths’ interest in ASEAN.
“It made me realise that as a citizen of ASEAN, we should have vested interests in our backyard. We should always learn and appreciate our rich and diverse culture in ASEAN,” he shared.
Similar to Junyong, 20-year-old Amirul Abdullah also found it intriguing to see youths from different backgrounds and nationalities coming together to suggest solutions to current pressing issues.
He also shared that the experience at the ASEAN Youth Dialogue had expanded his perception of international and intercultural relations that exist, be it on an individual or government level.
Amirul added: “The importance of international diplomacy and networks should not be overlooked and we should look into enhancing and building upon those relationships even further.
“These bonds should not be hindered by barriers or borders but rather it should be embraced and celebrated.”
The ASEAN Youth Dialogue trip also consisted of a Cultural Night, which saw all the youth delegates don their traditional costumes as they shared about their respective cultures through song and dance performances.
Sarah found it moving to see how despite the great diversity in cultures and nationalities, the youth delegates and various participants still had a great time together.
She said: “Though we may come from 11 different countries, it felt like one united ASEAN-ROK during those times. Our passion to work towards a better future for all and love for music united us on that night.
“I was amazed to see that our hype even reached His Excellency Hangchuon Naron, Minister of Education, Youth and Sport of the Kingdom of Cambodia, who joined us on the dance floor!”
Valuable insights from senior officials
Various senior officials such as ASEAN ministers and high-level representatives were at the dialogue for the youths to present their policy recommendations to.
While it was a nerve-wracking experience for Sarah to deliver her recommendations to the panel of ASEAN leaders, she shared that it was still one of her proudest moments at the ASEAN Youth Dialogue.
She said: “Knowing that our hard work is taken seriously and may even be implemented in future ASEAN policies demonstrates how receptive and open governments are to engage youths in policy making.
“All the time and discussion my group has invested paid off, and the sense of accomplishment is truly indescribable in words.”
For Junyong, what was memorable was the feedback provided by the senior officials during the ASEAN Youth Dialogue. He shared that the comments and insights they provided had “challenged” him and his group’s thought processes, and had ultimately sharpened their recommended policies.
Amirul, who is currently studying in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), shared that he had a “long and thoughtful” conversation about the arts sector in Singapore with Mr Tong over lunch.
He said: “It was insightful to understand the direction that the government currently has in plans for this industry that suffered greatly due to the pandemic and has still yet to recover.
“It was a nice space to have such a conversation where I could directly speak to the minister. I wish for more spaces or opportunities where youths could hold similar dialogues and dissent with key members of the government.”