Prof (Adjunct) Datuk Dr. Mohd Hasbi Abu Bakar, President of Jamiyah Singapore
Jamiyah Youth Volunteers and participants of this virtual ASEAN Youth unConference
A very good morning to everyone.
1 My heartiest congratulations to Jamiyah Singapore Youth Group for the official launch of the ASEAN Youth unConference 2021. Thank you again to Datuk Dr Mohd Hasbi Abu Bakar, President of Jamiyah Singapore for inviting me to officiate at this event launch.
2 It is a pleasure to connect with all of you today, at the ASEAN Youth unConference. It is heartening to know that this effort, led by Jamiyah Singapore’s Youth Group, with the support of the Singapore-ASEAN Youth Fund (SAYF) by the National Youth Council of Singapore, has brought together youth leaders from across ASEAN who are active in community work and youth volunteerism. I hope that you have a meaningful and enjoyable experience learning from one another over the course of this virtual conference. The fact that you are able to gather today virtually amidst the COVID-19 pandemic speaks volume of the resilience and tenacity of our ASEAN youth – ever willing and ever ready to face any challenges head-on.
Youths, as Leaders of Tomorrow
3 ASEAN’s economy is projected to grow to US$4.5 trillion in 2030, making it the fourth largest economic bloc in the world. It is forecasted that by 2038, the youth population in ASEAN will be over 220 million compared to nearly 200 million today. With youths making up approximately 30% of the regional population, ASEAN Member States are naturally focusing on youth leadership development as well as harnessing the youth market and its impact on economic development. Young people like yourselves will play a major role in shaping our region for future generations. Your presence at this conference is testament to your desire to leverage your skills and experience to work for the betterment of society.
4 This unConference will provide you with an opportunity to interact with other like-minded youths from across ASEAN. The concept of unConference is unique and befitting for a gathering of young people. It means that nothing is cast in stone. You come with no preconceived ideas or prescribed agenda. The agenda evolves as the conference unfolds. This process will be enhanced as all of you here share a common aspiration to be active citizens that advocate for positive change for your communities, to make impactful change at the domestic and regional level. I hope that you will use this opportunity to connect over this shared vision, to build friendships, and support one another in your growth as leaders of tomorrow.
ASEAN in a Post-COVID World
5 The theme for this year’s unConference is “Active Citizenship and Social Media”. Indeed, social media has become integral to our lives, particularly as we grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media has helped to connect family and friends across borders, and bring together like-minded people passionate about community development and volunteerism. At the same time, we also need to be vigilant about misinformation and fake news on social media, so we do not form misperceptions about each other and about issues. Young people like yourselves are digital natives – born into the world of social media. It is thus critical that you develop capabilities to discern factual information and misinformation, and ready to correct the latter to prevent societies from being affected by them. ASEAN is not spared. I encourage all of you to think of how we can counter negative online narratives as one ASEAN community, and how we can leverage social media to encourage cross-border collaboration among ASEAN youths.
6 Our ability to grow as a region hinges on cross-border collaboration. This year, we have faced unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. ASEAN leaders have reaffirmed our commitment to strengthen efforts to enhance our collective resilience. This is so that we can respond quickly to challenges and sustain inclusive growth for the region. Collectively ASEAN’s economy shrunk by an anticipated 3.4% in 2020 compared to 2019. Unemployment in ASEAN Member States ranged from 3.1% to 17.7%, and our interconnectivity within ASEAN and with the rest of the world took a severe beating. We launched the COVID-19 ASEAN Response Fund, to which Singapore contributed USD 100,000, as well as the ASEAN Regional Reserve of Medical Supplies for Public Health Emergencies. We have also adopted the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework and the Strategic Framework for Public Health Emergencies.
7 Singapore is a staunch supporter of vaccine multilateralism. We were early supporters of the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility, which seeks to facilitate equitable access to vaccines by all nations. Singapore contributed US$5 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), which will help support 92 low- and lower-middle-income countries’ access to COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX Facility. These include several ASEAN Member States.
8 ASEAN Member States remain committed to working together to keep markets open, supply chains connected, and refrain from imposing non-tariff measures, particularly export restrictions on essential food, medicines, medical supplies and other essential supplies. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to underscore the importance of international cooperation so that our region can emerge from the crisis and recover from the adverse impact of the pandemic collectively.
9 Specifically for youths, the impact of the pandemic can be multifaceted. In some countries where lock-down had to be introduced, impact of social isolation and loneliness may lead to mental health concerns amongst youth. Access to digital devices to access academic materials when schools had to be closed is yet another challenge, particularly for our children in rural neighbourhoods. We must not allow segments of the youth population to lag behind due to the challenges brought about by COVID-19.
10 As a grouping of 10 countries with diverse political systems, stages of economic development and racial and ethnic background, ASEAN has shown the world how peace and stability can continue to be maintained despite this diversity. ASEAN’s unique way of managing differences and challenges is something you and young citizens of ASEAN will grow to appreciate. Platforms like this conference give you opportunities to establish lasting friendships that will be useful as you take over the reins of leadership in your respective professions and countries.
Developing an ASEAN Network of Youth Leaders
11 Continued growth, peace and prosperity in ASEAN depends on cultivating in our youth a belief in strong multilateral and bilateral ties among ASEAN Member States and its peoples. Some of you may be concerned about the uncertainty and volatility in the current global climate, particularly with the upheavals of 2020. You may be wondering how to navigate these uncertain waters to secure brighter futures for yourselves and those around you. I urge all of you to remain agile and adaptable. Refresh your skillsets, keep yourself relevant and consider opportunities you may not have considered before. Try to innovate and push boundaries to find new ways of improving the lives of those around you. Most importantly, work together and help others succeed because the collective success of ASEAN cannot be understated. Opportunities abound and you need to seize them when they come.
12 All of you here today share the same aspirations and it is heartening to know that you will bond over a common endeavour. The network and friendships developed here will form the bedrock for ASEAN’s continued growth and collaboration in the future. In fact, it is with the importance of our regional friendships in mind that we launched the ASEAN Youth Fellowship (AYF) programme in 2018, which was part of Singapore’s contribution during our ASEAN Chairmanship year then. We hope that initiatives like the AYF and today’s unConference will provide young leaders like yourselves the opportunity to network, explore collaborations, and work together in establishing a more cohesive and united ASEAN.
13 Together with our ASEAN Youth Fellows and all of you here today, I trust that the future of ASEAN is in good hands. I wish you all the best and a fruitful time ahead as you unConference the theme “Active Citizenship and Social Media”.