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ASEAN Youth Fellows Explore Opportunities to Drive Regional Growth Amidst Rapidly Evolving Global Landscape

SINGAPORE: Forty youth leaders from 10 ASEAN states gathered for the fifth edition of the ASEAN Youth Fellowship (AYF) from 28 October to 4 November 2023. The programme seeks to grow and connect emerging young leaders with a focus on public, private, and people sector collaboration.

It is co-organised annually by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) and National Youth Council (NYC) Singapore. This year’s theme aligned with Indonesia’s ASEAN Chairmanship 2023 theme, “ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth”.

The programme took Fellows to Singapore and Hanoi, Vietnam, where they participated in a series of dialogues and panel discussions. They also attended a Ministerial Dialogue session with Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mr Lawrence Wong.

Fellows had the opportunity to engage with prominent thought leaders on topics such as the opportunities and challenges in ASEAN, building resilient youths as future leaders, and regional cooperation in driving regional growth. These included:

- Singapore’s Ambassador to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Mr Jaya Ratnam; and

- Permanent Vice Chairman of the National Committee on Youth of Vietnam (NCYV), Mr Nguyen Tuong Lam.

Speaking to the Fellows at the programme’s closing ceremony, Ambassador Ratnam said: “ASEAN is not its leaders, ministers, nor senior officials. It is all of you who are here today. You have a common language to speak of connection, cooperation, and collaboration, and that is the key for us to become stronger and better together. Keep up your courage and passion to rock the boat, break new grounds, defy the odds, and open new frontiers for all of us.”

Throughout the eight-day programme, Fellows gained new perspectives from visits to organisations at the forefront of innovation in healthcare, food security, sustainability, and digital transformation. In Singapore, the visits included:

- Centre for Healthcare Innovation, which seeks to drive healthcare transformation through collaborative innovations and thought leadership;

- Comcrop, Singapore’s first commercial rooftop farming company;

- Sustainable Living Lab (SL2), a sustainability consultancy and innovation lab which leverages technology as a tool for sustainability;

- Repair Kopitiam, a community initiative by SL2 which teaches simple techniques to fix broken household items and so, to reduce wastage; and

- Changi Airport Group, which manages Singapore Changi Airport, one of Asia’s most connected international aviation hubs.

Ms Penhleak Chan, a Fellow from Cambodia, said: “Through the visits in Singapore, I have come to see the country as the hub of innovation in ASEAN. Instead of simply replicating successful case studies, we were challenged to question assumptions and focus on process of problem identification. Only then, will we be able to drive effective solutions tailored for each of our communities.”

Mr Ophakorn Kouphokham, a Fellow from Laos said: “The visits showed us the importance of ensuring that everyone is on the same page and has a shared goal. This will allow multiple stakeholders across different sectors to collaborate on solutions to address social issues. Singapore has demonstrated a keen ability to do so, while integrating sustainability into its innovative solutions.”

In Hanoi from 1 to 4 November 2023, Fellows visited the National Innovation Centre (NIC) Hanoi to learn how it supports and develops Vietnam's startup and innovation ecosystem; and KOTO, a social enterprise that helps at-risk and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam through its hospitality training programme.

Mr Antony Simon, a Fellow from Indonesia, said: “When we visited NIC, we learnt about the practices and initiatives in place to support innovation in Vietnam. I was surprised to find that they are actually similar to what we are doing in Indonesia, which got me thinking that there are many opportunities for collaboration, rather than competition.”

Mr Darren Lai Chai En, a Fellow from Malaysia, said: “Witnessing the determination of Mr Jimmy Pham, the founder of KOTO, to transform lives in Vietnam inspired me deeply. I believe that the "Know One, Teach One" spirit can create meaningful change and hope to implement similar initiatives in Johor, Malaysia and other ASEAN countries.”

Ms Jean Tan, Executive Director, SIF, said: “The ASEAN region is brimming with growth opportunities despite pressing challenges that are reshaping our way of life and work. Young leaders such as the ASEAN Youth Fellows can bring fresh ideas and collaborate on innovative solutions to help drive ASEAN forward as a sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous region amidst uncertainties.”

Mr David Chua, Chief Executive Officer, NYC, said: “As the apex youth leadership programme in the region, the AYF has been instrumental in promoting cross-border collaboration and growth opportunities among youth leaders. With growing global uncertainties and tensions, it is critical that our youths understand the importance of and work towards maintaining peace and stability, so that we can grow and thrive as a region.”

Ms Jolly Nguyen, a Fellow from Vietnam, said: “The AYF broadened my perspectives of the sustainability sector as well as its intersection with other sectors throughout ASEAN.”

The founder and CEO of EVOL Vietnam, a social enterprise which aims to raise awareness on single-use plastics in the ocean, also mentors young women entrepreneurs in the APAC region. She added: “The insights that I have gained through our fieldtrips, panel discussions and interactions with the Fellows and AYF alumni will also benefit the entrepreneurs that I mentor.”

Ms Delane Foo Wei En, a Fellow from Singapore said: “The AYF is doing important work by bringing young ASEAN leaders together to learn about each other and become friends with shared experiences. This becomes the bedrock of empathy and collaboration as we go about our work and lives. It also reminds us how important it is to be united in goal and spirit despite our differences as neighbours in the region.”

SIF Celebrates 29 Years of Collaboration with the People of Vietnam at SIF Connects! Hanoi

Fellows also attended SIF Connects! Hanoi – a platform for the SIF to reconnect and renew relationships with programme alumni and Friends of Singapore (FOS). More than 150 members of the diplomatic community, FOS, and Singaporeans based in Hanoi attended the event on 2 November 2023.

Ms Hoang Thai Ly, a lecturer at the University of Industrial Fine Art in Hanoi said: “It has been a year since I joined the SIF’s Arts for Good (A4G) Fellowship in 2022. It was wonderful to see old friends from the Fellowship and make new friends from other SIF programmes.”

Ms Yen Trinh, General Manager of Karuna Vietnam, said: “SIF Connects! Hanoi was a great chance to reconnect with other Young Social Entrepreneurs (YSE) alumni and catch up on how they are doing. I also had the opportunity to meet new friends who share the same hope for a better world, and to share about my social enterprise with them.” Karuna Vietnam, a social enterprise that makes sustainable bee-related products, participated in the SIF’s YSE Global programme in 2022.

Since 1994, the SIF and the Vietnamese community have collaborated on more than 100 initiatives in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and across Asia. These include projects in the fields of healthcare, education, social entrepreneurship, and the arts and culture.

For its efforts in promoting cooperation and friendship between the two countries, SIF principals were awarded the Medal for Peace and Friendship among Nations by the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organisations in 2022.

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