Youth forum leads the way
Forty up-and-coming movers and shakers from Southeast Asia and Australia will join forces in Jakarta later this year. As diverse as they are dynamic, the delegates attending the ASEAN-Australia Young Leaders Forum (AAYLF) are sure to have a few things in common.
They are likely to share a desire to connect with each other as they forge strong intercultural links to improve the relationships between their home countries. Importantly, all of them are under the age of 30.
Hayley Winchcombe heads up the ASEAN-Australia Strategic Youth Partnership (AASYP), the organisation driving the AAYLF. She downplays her efforts in securing the grant that made the venture a reality. Instead, the woman who juggles a part-time job with her University of Western Australia honours thesis is quick to mention the many others involved in preparing for the inaugural event.
"From fellow New Colombo Plan alumni to young leaders from across Southeast Asia, our team of volunteers are putting in a huge amount of hours to transform this project into a reality," she said.
She peppers her speech with references to the ongoing importance of reaching out, building connections and bridging divides. As she talks about the collaboration and cooperation at the heart of the four-day event, her enthusiasm is contagious.
"Our generation is in a good place to tackle transnational problems because of our access to digital infrastructure," Hayley said.
"We couldn't have done this before the internet."
The AASYP founder applauds the fast-paced and forward-thinking mindset of her tech-savvy peers. "Anything is possible," she explained, adding that she finds it exciting to be creating a close-knit community network of like-minded leaders.
Forum director Cameron Allan agrees. "With a whole lot of grit, young people can help set the agenda," he said.
Cameron is reading Law and International Security Studies at the Australian National University. As the current New Colombo Plan ASEAN fellow, he is interning at the Australian Mission to ASEAN. This has given him insight into how the Australia-ASEAN relationship operates.
"ASEAN is a complex creature, veiled in acronyms, hierarchy and behind-the-scenes dialogues," he said.
"I have had the chance to peek behind the veil to better understand how the organisation works and how things in ASEAN get done."
The AAYLF offers opportunities to explore themes as varied as digital economy, entrepreneurship, disaster resilience and counter-terrorism. Twenty delegates from Southeast Asia will team up with 20 delegates from Australia to design and implement projects that will improve ASEAN-Australia relations.
"Through working together in highly diverse teams, delegates will learn first-hand how negotiation, compromise, feedback and cooperation functions differently (and similarly) across cultures," Cameron said.
When the participants, aged between 18 and 29, leave the forum's Tokopedia venue, they will be changed. Serving as ASEAN-Australia Strategic Youth Leaders for a year, they will pave the way for peace and prosperity between the regions they represent.