ASEAN Business Youth Association (ABYA) held its first event on 21st March 2020, rallying a crowd of 52 anticipative youths. Undeterred by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, youths were eager to ‘Talk about ASEAN’, nonetheless erring on the side of caution with social distancing practised throughout.
Held at *SCAPE HubQuarters, the event also marked ABYA’s official launch since its preliminary pitch at the Youth Action Challenge. The preliminary pitch took place a month prior, on February 1 2020, during which the National Youth council had granted ABYA a seed funding of $5000 to start its activities.
In light of this, ABYA kicked off the event with a snippet of the feedback received from its preliminary pitch. ABYA had received public commendation by Senior Parliament Secretary, Dr Tan Wu Meng. His speech subsequently recorded and published on his Facebook.
In Dr Tan’s speech, he shares his aspirations for ABYA’s youths to continue blazing their trail with a “spirit of adventure” to bring “young people’s ideas, skills and capabilities..going to markets outside Singapore, throughout ASEAN, where there is a big growth story happening before of our eyes”.
Let’s Talk About ASEAN
Another memorable activity held on this day was ABYA’s focus group discussion, which sought to create informal spaces for youths to start conversations through personal sharing and collaborative discussion.
To the audience’s surprise, the short 30-minute activity had given ample opportunity for many to establish meaningful connections. In recounting their own experiences and unpacking critical assumptions, the youth’s conversations had taken a positive turn towards their outlook for the future. Central to these discussions were the youth’s aspirations and qualms about venturing into ASEAN.
The group discussions had encouraged the youths to recall their past, for them to understand how their experiences may have triggered a greater interest in ASEAN, whilst shaping their personal development.
A recurring theme of ‘humanity’ was established, in which these youths shared that they were humbled by the cultures experienced when visiting the ASEAN countries. Several youths had a similar realisation — that it is often easy to enter a country with ethnocentric views. It was mentioned that such feelings often undermine their ability to truly immerse in the culture.
Ethnocentrism refers to the evaluation of another’s culture, based on one’s own culture and norms experienced. The result of ethnocentrism is that one may start to feel that another’s culture is unacceptable or even inferior to his or her own. The youths had told their stories of working with locals in the ASEAN countries, where they had realised the importance of entering a country with a humble intention to learn, rather than assume a position of authority, or that they understand the country’s culture. This would be crucial in reducing the likelihood of appropriating one’s own culture, whilst proposing misaligned solutions — to a country that otherwise seems ‘backwards’ to the unkeen observer.
Young NTUC: Aligning with Nation Building Goals
ABYA had also invited its mentor and supporting partner, Wendy Tan, to stage. She is Head (Covering Director) for the National Trade Union Congress’ youth development wing, Young NTUC. Young NTUC was proud to announce that ABYA had recently become officially recognized as one of its Affinity Groups. Through Young NTUC’s Affinity Groups, both ABYA and Young NTUC pledges for mutual support and recognition for its partners’ activities.
Most significantly, Wendy introduced ABYA and Young NTUC to both have their visions aligned with Singapore’s nation building goals. Such visions hinge on the future of SIngapore’s workforce, youths, to be ready to work with or in the ASEAN countries.
Wendy also shared the national imperative, as announced in the Straits Times . It quoted director of Economic Development Board, Chng Kai Fong, “We need to get to know ASEAN better because that’s how we’re going to make our living, by facilitating connections in ASEAN,”.
The criticality of ASEAN-readiness was once again highlighted, as Wendy touched upon Trade and Industry Minister, Chan Chun Sing’s speech featured on Channel News Asia. He had emphasised that over 50 per cent of Singaporean enterprises faced difficulties in expanding overseas given the insufficiency of right talent for their overseas operations.
In addition, keen insights from Young NTUC’s youth ASEAN-readiness survey on close to 1300 youths was shared. The research had uncovered that 57% of youths are willing to take an opportunity to be based in ASEAN for a period of 2 years, while the age range of 24-35 is most receptive to working abroad.
Young NTUC’s data findings have been one of many ways that Young NTUC has shaped the development of ABYA – the data has enabled ABYA’s understanding that youths are willing to envision themselves experiencing and adjusting to the culture and economy of the ASEAN countries. Youths may be even more receptive, given their early career and life stage. This could make them less likely to be held back by prior commitments which would discourage them from venturing abroad for work.
Guest Sharing: Advocating for Work Abroad
ABYA was pleased to have Smith Leong, a Young NTUC ASEAN Career Mentor, to give his advice on working in ASEAN. Seeing through the lens of a digital marketer who has lived and worked in Thailand, the audience was impressed by Smith’s affable and honest sharing.
Smith had shared that reaching a native level of proficiency in a foreign language is admittedly challenging, however should not deter people from working abroad. Instead, he gave the advice that one’s network and ability to foster new connections would be another essential skill, which he was able to hone during his independent travels in Thailand.
Guest Sharing: Envisioning Success in ASEAN
The next speaker was Rusydi Khairul, who heavily invests his time mentoring youth-led startups and curating Entrepreneurship Education programmes, with Reactor, a company he co-founded. His perspectives have also been shaped by his previous engagement as a SPRING Executive Development Scholar, while he still consults for small medium enterprises (SMEs) in the domain of Business Excellence (BE), across the 7 categories of Leadership, Customers, Strategy, People, Processes, Knowledge and Results.
Rusydi’s insights certainly intrigued the audience, as he highlighted the desirable competencies to succeed in ASEAN, alongside future opportunities within ASEAN. Firstly, being able to succeed in ASEAN would require tacit skills, most notably in the ability to work with peers from other ASEAN countries and contextualizing ideas based on the cultural nuances. Secondly, ASEAN is rife with opportunity, especially in the following areas – FinTech paired with social networks, education through travel, and agriculture using IoT.
ABYA’s event attendees and speakers had shared their aspirations towards a future in ASEAN. This event had certainly left the youths hopeful with an opportunity to be seized, enabled through initiatives such as this event, that will continue to enable ASEAN-readiness.
For the ABYA team, these takeaways had given it considerable insight into the motivations in learning about ASEAN, as well as the gaps realized in reaching such aspirations. As the team then reflected on the needs of youths, it proceeded with crafting an end-to-end development programme, aimed at preparing youths with ASEAN-readiness. Highly encouraged by its partner and youth community’s support, ABYA will continue striving to cultivate greater ASEAN awareness, interest, and developmental opportunities for youths to be able to work with or in the ASEAN countries.