2017 is the year ASEAN grouping of 10 member states of Southeast Asia turns half a century old.
2017 is also the first time one of its' relatively lesser developed member, Cambodia is hosting WEF ASEAN.
Well, 2017 is also a first for yours truly to experience WEF ASEAN outside Malaysia and to finally grace the land in between the great Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.
What a baptism of fire!
The kick-off event on Wednesday at the Cambodian Institute of Technology was a very engaging affair with more than 2,700 young ASEAN citizens from the host nation not shy in voicing their concerns to the leaders and role models of the region on stage at the ASEAN Open Forum.
The tough love they give to the likes of AirAsia’s Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, Kao Kim Hourn, Minister attached to the Prime Minister of Cambodia; Ms. Wai Wai Nu, Founder and Director, Women Peace Network, Myanmar; and Mr. William Tanuwijaya, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Tokopedia, was a refreshing delight indeed.
If the young Cambodians can be this honest and brave in facing up to the current top leaders and role models, imagine what the rest of the more than half of ASEAN over 630 million population that are below 30 years old and with way more sophisticated ecosystem and resources.
That has been one of the key messages at WEF ASEAN 2017 with the theme “Youth, Technology and Growth: Securing ASEAN’s Digital and Demographic Dividends”. The emphasis that this region has one of the youngest population in the world and that they are taking on new technologies like ducks to water, mean the potentials are great but the issue is how do we make them happen.
Vested interests and barriers of the status quo are among the main blocks to the power of youth and change transforming us faster and further. These were raised in the Open Forum by both the old and the young but deliberated even more specifically and rigorously all throughout the second day on Thursday.
For example, one of the largest telecommunications (telco) companies with Malaysian leadership in the region, Axiata Group who is led by Tan Sri Jamaludin Ibrahim the MD, President and Group CEO, calls for the empowerment of connectivity by making tools of the digital economy like broadband connection be made a national imperative instead of just a telco’s issue.
With this kind of empowerment, the young especially can bring forth innovation and creativity that can leapfrog ASEAN into being the global leader of the digital era.
Jamaludin reiterated more than once how if this done the information and communications technology (ICT) sector is poised to add not just billions but about USD 1 trillion worth of GDP for the region by 2027.
This is the mantra that drives the originally Malaysian born start-up now worth multi-million USD rising new economy company, Grab, to keep on doing good by using ICT and mobile applications to make the economy more efficient and development more sustainable to people and planet.
The Malaysian co-founder Tan Hooi Ling, with full of passion calls for the cooperation of all to achieve even more for ASEAN.
The passion is certainly energizing.
The action is certainly growing.
In this digital data driven journalist novice eyes, ASEAN’s digital and demographic dividends are already beginning to be secured and even enjoyed.
It is just that with some true and hard spring cleaning, the house of ASEAN can ensure even more for its’ very amazingly adaptive power of youth to not only wield but shape the fourth industrial revolution to global prosperity.