ADB Headquarters Manila [Image: ADB.org]

Testimonials from the US Delegation to the Asian Development Bank Youth Forum

Asia ASEAN

In August, the Asian Development Bank held its 7th annual Youth Forum in Manila. The US Embassy in Manila and teamed up with the East-West Center in Washington to send an American delegation to engage with counterparts from around the Indo-Pacific on a wide range of development issues. Accounts from two of the delegates follow:

US Youth Delegation in the Philippines Connects with Peers from across the Indo-Pacific by Elliot Silverberg

In August, I joined a small US State Department-sponsored and East-West Center-selected delegation in Manila, Philippines, for the Asian Development Bank (ADB)’s seventh Asian Youth Forum. Held on the sidelines of the ADB’s annual summit, the Asian Youth Forum – as the name implies – brings together several hundred young development and policy leaders from around the world to learn about the international policy community’s efforts to promote sustainable social and economic development throughout Asia. The forum’s sustainability bona fides align with the ADB’s support for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a key area of regional cooperation according to ASEAN’s “Outlook on the Indo-Pacific” report released in June.

On the sidelines of the conference, the US delegation also undertook a program of engagements organized by the embassy in Manila and the East-West Center in Washington. We met with Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs officials, former senior government decision-makers, and other outside policy experts. In addition, we engaged Filipino and Australian forum delegates and participants of the US-supported Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) in a timely and wide-ranging discussion about climate change, combatting violent extremism, economic and social dislocation, and the hazards of technological disruption and populist nationalism.

A constant theme of the week’s events was the role of youth in policymaking. While young people often lack the tools and understanding to offer concrete solutions to the world’s problems, they are no less credible stakeholders in these conversations. Forum speaker Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, CEO of Plan International, emphasizes that youth possess “the legitimacy [simply] of being young and inheriting the mess that others have created.” Extraordinary young leaders like Malala Yousafzai, Joshua Wong, Emma Gonzalez, and Greta Thunberg are timely manifestations of the passion and resolve young people are able to inspire in society to grow.

Simultaneously, however, meeting scores of other young people – all driven to change the world – also reminded me of the inherent limitations of our relative inexperience to becoming fully engaged co-participants in the big decisions shaping our future.

Events like the Asian Youth Forum thus serve two important functions. First, they help inspired young leaders come together to take decisive action. Second, they encourage young people to reflect on their limitations and on how to turn those weaknesses into strengths.

US, Philippine, and Australian Young Professionals Come Together to Discuss Common Challenges, Goals by Elizabeth Smith

In August, after attending the 7th annual Asian Youth Forum at the Manila headquarters of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), young professional delegations from the United States, Australia, and the Philippines came together at the office of the Philippine Fulbright Commission to engage in dialogue about both global and domestic issues impacting all three nations. In particular, the delegates discussed climate change, Indo-Pacific regional identity, and the rise of violent extremism. Although the three countries experience each of these issues in very different ways, the youth of all three have a clear stake in working towards their resolution. As such, the dialogue provided an opportunity for young professionals in the fields of development, consulting, policy, and diplomacy to bring diverse perspectives to shared challenges.

Climate change is one of the issues that most clearly unites youth from around the globe. The delegates discussed the importance of both policy and citizen action in mitigating climate change. In particular, the delegates discussed the tangible impact of public campaigns, such as promoting reusable coffee cups in Australia and eliminating plastic straws in the United States, while also acknowledging that these efforts can feel incredibly small when compared to policy action.

Another topic of discussion was the idea of Indo-Pacific regional identity. Delegates discussed the relative merits of the term Indo-Pacific, as compared to terms such as Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia. Delegates also acknowledged the newness of the term outside of policy circles, and the relative lack of conception of the Indo-Pacific as a cohesive region, particularly at the person-to-person level. Additionally, the topic of Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy was discussed frankly and honestly among delegates.

Finally, the rise of violent extremism was the topic of a particularly fruitful discussion. In the United States, the rise of mass shootings as hate crimes linked to ideological extremism has become a source of public dialogue. The Australian delegation reflected on the similarities between anti-immigrant sentiment and islamophobia in the United States and the motivations behind New Zealand’s Christchurch shooting, which was perpetrated by an Australian citizen. The delegation from the Philippines brought up the Moro conflict in Mindanao, which is rooted in a very different historical and political background. A significant portion of the discussion focused on the diverse motivations for engagement in violent extremism, including the difference between ideologically motivated extremism, and the decision to align with extremist groups to find security and alleviate economic stress. Throughout the discussion, the themes of gender, human security, and inequality surfaced often. Despite the very different forms that violent extremism takes in the United States, Australia, and the Philippines, delegates were generally in agreement about the need to address not only the surface-level effects of violent extremism, but also the underlying insecurity that is very often a root cause.

Thanks to the U.S.-Philippines Fulbright Foundation and the embassies of the United States and Australia, the group was able to engage in a conversation that highlighted both best practices and shared challenges related to critical issues. In spite, or perhaps precisely because, of the heavy nature of the topics discussed, facilitating conversation between young professionals both provided a chance for members of all three delegations to broaden their perspectives, and paved the way for future collaboration.