The ASEAN of the future

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Entrepreneurial and dynamic, the new generations of South-East Asia are ready to take a leading role

According to data from 2018, about 60% of the population of the ASEAN countries is under 35 years of age; a percentage that is destined to grow and that indicates how the young people of South-East Asia occupy a considerable role, not only in the political and social space but also in the economic one, making up a large part of the workers and consumers of the region. What horizons and opportunities does ASEAN offer them? How can young people shape the ASEAN of the future?

The United Nations Youth Development Index (YDI) considers several indicators to measure the economic, social and cultural development of young people between the age of 15 and 29, ranging from 0 (no development for young people) to 1 (great opportunities for young people). According to the latest available data, in 2015 the overall index of ASEAN countries was 0.6, a promising and indicative figure of good growth conditions for young people in the region. In the period between 2011 and 2015, the country with the highest development index was Singapore, followed in order by Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. This shows how, although young people are playing an increasingly important role in South East Asian societies, the prospects and resources they can access differ from country to country.

From an economic point of view, despite the differences in education performance, the trends in behaviour and consumption among young people in ASEAN have similar characteristics. The younger generations show a strong interest in innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. The digital market is growing enormously, with an expected value of $150 billion by 2025, up from $44 billion in 2019. Young people are consuming and socialising more and more online, and many companies in the region, such as the giants Grab and Gojek, are intercepting the new ways in which young people consume and socialise and making big profits. As far as job orientation is concerned, the under-35s in ASEAN show a strong motivation to develop new skills that will make them ready to face the challenges of innovation and technological changes of the future. They are enterprising, dynamic, open to new sectors and new job opportunities, particularly in technology and digital development. 

Regarding their political involvement in the region, significant progress has been made through local and international meetings and summits, such as the India-ASEAN Youth Dialogue 2020 or the ASEAN Youth Interface with ASEAN Leaders, held in the margins of the 36th ASEAN Summit on the 26th of June. These meetings aimed at promoting the inclusion of young people in the decision-making processes, as were also an opportunity to focus on the perspectives of the younger generation. In particular, the ASEAN Youth Interface with ASEAN Leaders 2020 offered twenty young people in the region the opportunity to virtually meet their heads of state and government, thus laying the foundations for an open and lasting discussion on key issues such as innovation, entrepreneurship, industry 4.0 and the environment. This and several other initiatives demonstrate how ASEAN seeks to encourage dialogue with young people and increase their involvement in the decision-making processes.

It is therefore essential for the development and for the economy of the ASEAN countries to exploit the enormous potential offered by the new generations, investing in human capital and offering them training and employment opportunities. With such a young and dynamic population, South East Asia is a candidate to become one of the protagonists of the post-Covid-19 recovery phase. 

Article edited by editorial Staff 

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