SINGAPORE - The first youth-led virtual Asean Youth unConference kicked off on Saturday (May 29), gathering more than 220 youth and youth leaders from Asean countries to discuss and tackle social issues.
The two-day event hosted by voluntary welfare organisation Jamiyah Singapore allows participants to attend discussion groups based on topics they have interests in.
The organisers say it is called an "unconference" because it is a conference without predefined topics, and participants get to decide what to discuss.
Participants come from all 10 Asean member states, are aged between 18 and 35, and are engaged in community work and volunteerism, or have a passion for promoting active citizenship.
Speaking at the launch ceremony, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Maliki Osman said Asean faces unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
He added that the collective Asean economy shrank by an anticipated 3.4 per cent in 2020 compared with 2019, with unemployment in Asean member states ranging from 3.1 per cent to 17.7 per cent.
Dr Maliki said: "Specifically for youths, the impact of the pandemic can be multifaceted. In some countries where lockdown had to be introduced, the impact of social isolation and loneliness may lead to mental health concerns amongst youth."
He added that continued growth, peace and prosperity in Asean depends on cultivating strong multilateral and bilateral ties among Asean youth.
The unconference began with a panel discussion on the importance of active citizenship and the challenges of social advocacy.
Some popular topics that were discussed by the participants included mental well-being, climate change and promoting social cohesion.
Singaporean panellist Celina Feng Yuan, 17, who founded The Bright Flipside, an initiative to bridge local and migrant communities in Singapore, spoke about her experience as a youth leader.
She said: "As someone from Singapore, my responsibility isn't just to Singaporeans, it's to everyone around me in the community that I live in."
Celina, a Year 5 student at Raffles Institution, started The Bright Flipside last year, during the outbreak of Covid-19 cases in migrant worker dormitories.
She helped raise funds for migrant workers and organised a music competition that showcased collaborations between Singaporeans and migrant workers.
Ms Arizza Nocum, 26, a panellist from the Philippines, said everyone shares the responsibility and burden to be active citizens to address the problems in societies.
She said: "This is extremely necessary at the moment, because we have overlapping crises that are making it difficult for everyone to live their lives, such as the pandemic, climate change and inequality."
Ms Nocum co-founded Kris, a non-governmental organisation that builds libraries and provides scholarships to children living in areas affected by violence and poverty.
She added: "Active citizenship isn't just about seeing the problems that are happening around us, but doing even small things to alleviate that burden for others."