Major economic sectors have been badly hit by the pandemic, but there is still reason for optimism especially with the engagement of youths from both sides.
We often hear our leaders speaking of the need to deepen bilateral relationships with neighbours closest to us, and the importance of exploring opportunities for regional collaboration.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only heightened global unpredictability and volatility, this spirit of cooperation and reflection has become ever-pertinent as we look towards the future.
In a bid to promote dialogue and youth reflections on bilateral relations and how Singapore and Malaysia can work together during the recovery phase of the pandemic, the National Youth Council held the inaugural INSPIRIT Regional Leadership Dialogue on Aug 22.
Here were some of the main reflection points gleaned from the 1.5-hour session:
Datuk Khairil Anwar Ahmad, president/CEO of Iskandar Investment Berhad, shared candidly about the adverse impacts that the pandemic has brought to all major sectors in Malaysia. From the closure of universities and F&B joints to headcount reductions in firms, COVID-19 has brought uncertainty to every segment in society.
Chng Kai Fong, managing director of Singapore’s Economic Development Board, also shared how the pandemic has given rise to greater inequality.
While many SMEs are struggling to survive, companies like Sea in Singapore and Top Glove in Malaysia have experienced more than 500 per cent growth over the COVID-19 period. This divide has invariably translated into the political scene, where country leaders find themselves grappling with the challenge of appeasing different groups and reconciling glaring disparities.
Both speakers emphasised the longstanding effects of the pandemic, with Mr Khairil even calling the pandemic “not a sprint but a marathon”. They expressed assertion over the endurance of change, as well as the need to remain open and adaptable in the midst of rapid developments.
While being conscious of the difficulties on the horizon is important, both speakers still share a sense of optimism towards the road ahead.
Mr Khairil commended both Singapore and Malaysia for successfully handling the issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic on the whole. He also praised the establishment of the Singapore-Malaysia Special Working Committee on COVID-19, calling it a “good set-up”.
Mr Khairil highlighted that conversations on food security between Malaysia and the Singapore Consul-General based in Johor have resulted in the establishment of farms to resolve food security concerns, and called for even greater collaboration between the two countries through more bilateral working committees.
Mr Chng also cited reasons for why Singapore and Malaysia can and should remain optimistic during these times.
He pointed out that Singapore and Malaysia, together with the rest of ASEAN, are extremely attractive as a base to create more resilient supply chains. The rise in the number of start-ups and unicorn companies is also an indication of growth, which is especially significant given the increasing fragility of supply chains and gloomy economic outlook in recent times.
Ending on a positive note, Mr Chng highlighted that Singapore-Malaysia collaborations serve as examples of maturity and the spirit of cooperation amongst neighbours, which points towards an optimistic future.
In response to a question on how to combat the sense of complacency amongst youths posed during the Q&A segment, Mr Chng remarked that youths must remain humble and willing to change. Youths should remain open to learning not only from generally high-performing Nordic countries like Finland and Denmark, but also from up-and-coming cities in India and Chile which have proven to be extremely innovative.
When asked to reflect on bilateral cooperation between Singapore and Malaysia, participants shared their desire for “more heartware”, continued “exchanges between youths from both sides”, and greater “understanding of each other”.
In the words of Mr Chng, “Youths have demonstrated the ability to bridge gaps between cultures. Instead of getting offended too easily, remember that real connections are made when you are vulnerable.”
Hopefully, young leaders will take this piece of advice to heart in their endeavours to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.
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