As future leaders of their countries and the ASEAN region, the youth is a key priority for ASEAN. The ASEAN Work Plan on Youth focuses on enhancing the capacity of youth through education, health and well-being, employment and opportunity, participation and engagement, and ASEAN awareness, values, and identity. The priorities include developing platforms that facilitate and promote ASEAN youth participation in ASEAN Community building, enhance awareness, belonging, and contribution to address regional and global challenges.
Adopted at the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summits last November 2022, the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement on the Year of ASEAN Youth to Strengthen the Role of Youth in ASEAN Community-building recognised that the youth are ASEAN’s future leaders and workforce, and are also catalysts for regional socio-economic and environmental development. ASEAN considers the young as important actors in realising the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and achieving the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. To set the momentum and strengthen efforts in building an inclusive, resilient, dynamic, and harmonious ASEAN with the youth, the ASEAN Leaders’ Statement proclaimed 2022 as the Year of ASEAN Youth. The leaders committed to strengthen youth participation/contribution in ASEAN’s work, ASEAN Community building, and addressing contemporary and emerging challenges.
Grassroots initiatives undertaken by the ASEAN youth to address key regional and global challenges should not be underestimated. Knowledge exchange between the youth and other stakeholders have resulted in creative and innovative ideas, piloted and implemented key initiatives, and in some cases, contributed to efforts in addressing contemporary local, regional, and global challenges.
Advocacies undertaken by the youth also catalyse changes in perspectives, policies, and approaches in addressing key challenges, including those related to the UN Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs.
In 2022 and early 2023, ASEAN youth representatives participated in several initiatives supported by ASEAN, ASEAN Member States, dialogue partners, and other stakeholders. These included the 1st ASEAN Youth Dialogue, the EU-ASEAN Young Leaders’ Forum, and the ASEAN-Australia Youth Mental Health Fellowship. ASEAN youth participation in these programmes provided for capacity building, exchanges of grassroots projects and the development of youth recommendations on various thematic areas relevant to ASEAN Community building, ASEAN-EU cooperation, and promoting mental health.
The key question is, what happens to these recommendations after the ASEAN youth develop, deliberate and present them in these events?
Youth participation in various forums, platforms, and initiatives have brought out youth perspectives and inputs which in some cases resulted in key recommendations. In 2022, young people in ASEAN participated in the 1st ASEAN Youth Dialogue under the theme, “Youth in the Era of Fourth Industrial Revolution: Opportunities and Challenges in Post-Pandemic Recovery,” which was supported by the Republic of Korea. They also joined the EU-ASEAN Young Leaders Forum under the theme “Scenarios for the Future of EU-ASEAN Relations”.
Both discussions and interactions with experts led to the development of ASEAN youth recommendations. These recommendations touched on various thematic focus related to ASEAN Community building and regional/global challenges including decent work, inclusive and relevant education, environment, and sustainable development (1st ASEAN Youth Dialogue); and enhancing ASEAN-EU relations from multiple perspectives, e.g. political, economic, socio-cultural, global health, green deal, and connectivity (EU-ASEAN Young Leaders Forum).
The youth recommendations from the 1st ASEAN Youth Dialogue were presented during the youth’s interaction with ASEAN Leaders at the 40th and 41st ASEAN Summit. The EU-ASEAN Young Leaders Forum recommendations were further discussed at the EU-ASEAN Youth Summit and presented at the ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit both in December 2022.
These youth recommendations have reached the highest levels of ASEAN’s leadership and this highlights that their views are valuable and can contribute to discussions on ASEAN Community building and ASEAN-EU relations.
The ASEAN Work Plan on Youth and other sectoral roadmaps and work plans already address some of the issues and recommendations raised by the youth.
In 2023, under the Indonesian ASEAN Chairmanship, the 2nd ASEAN Youth Dialogue will again be conducted. A youth interface with ASEAN Leaders will also take place at the 43rd ASEAN Summit in September 2023.
The ASEAN-Australia Youth Mental Health Fellowship was another significant event in 2022 and early 2023. ASEAN and Australian youth were given an opportunity to showcase their respective mental health projects and enhance their capacity and technical expertise. The youth’s engagement with health, education, and youth experts from the ASEAN Secretariat provided them with the ASEAN perspective, initiatives and advice on enhancing their individual and collective advocacy on mental health. These recent programmes that aimed to engage the youth are just the tip of the iceberg. Individual ASEAN Member States, dialogue partners, and international and regional organisations also work with ASEAN in providing platforms to support youth initiatives and maximise their potential contributions to ASEAN Community building. Implemented in 2022 with support from Japan, the ASEAN Youth Volunteers Programme provides young ASEAN citizens with the opportunity to work with local partners and undertake grassroots initiatives in various ASEAN Member States.
ASEAN clearly values the youth, not only by declaring 2022 as the Year of ASEAN Youth, but also in providing capacity building opportunities, knowledge exchange, and peer learning. Most importantly, ASEAN provides the young generation with platforms that enable, encourage, empower their voices, and strengthen their contributions to ASEAN and global community building.
The voices of the ASEAN youth are heard. They will make a significant contribution to ASEAN Community building and the regional and global challenges we face today and in the near future.