SINGAPORE - Covid-19 may have brought overseas travel to a halt, but it is still important for young Singaporeans to understand their region better and gain a global perspective on issues, said Mr Alvin Tan, Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, as well as Trade and Industry.
"Asean is such a vibrant region. Once travel is open again, I encourage youth to travel out to Asean… Go through airports, roads, see the vibe and vibrancy of these markets, learn the cultural context, and forge partnerships with young entrepreneurs that are already creating interesting products."
Even amid the travel restrictions posed by Covid-19, there are opportunities for young Singaporeans to gain global exposure from home, such as through the Asia-Ready Exposure Programme (AEP), said Mr Tan.
He added: "In addition to the AEP, youths can tap many other overseas exposure programmes. These include our Youth Expedition Project Goes Online (YEP-GO), where youths can volunteer with overseas communities without travel."
Mr Tan was speaking at a webinar for some 1,200 youth participants of the AEP on Friday (May 14).
The webinar, co-partnered by the National Youth Council (NYC) and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, was part of a series launched in October 2020 by NYC, in an effort to encourage young people to better understand regional issues and developments.
Mr Raymond Yee, DHL Express' vice-president (customs and regulatory affairs), joined Mr Tan as a panellist at the webinar. The session was moderated by Ms Faridah Mohd Saad, deputy director (agritech) of Enterprise Singapore.
Mr Yee advised young Singaporeans to think up innovative business strategies in a changing market.
"Youths find their niche very quickly. It's important to find your strength, niche, and be hungry for opportunities out there."
The importance of free trade agreements (FTA) to Singapore and businesses also weighed forefront on the minds of both panellists.
When asked to envision a world without FTAs, Mr Tan said Singapore would become unrecognisable.
"Singapore would be irrelevant to the world and much worse for wear if we are not open to trade, investment and talent. People, jobs, our young and best talents would leave Singapore."
He emphasised the need for young people to fight against inward-looking instincts and the adoption of an "others versus self mentality".
Similarly, Mr Yee noted that Singapore's growth would be curtailed, given that it has few natural resources, and highlighted the need for global cooperation under a multilateral trade system.
"It would be regressive to think a country would be better off if they were to close their borders and to be inward-looking.
"Trade is like a bicycle: the minute it slows down, the bicycle falls down. The momentum for trade needs to be there."
AEP participant Mahshuk Begam Shaik Mujibur Rahman, 22, said the webinar drove home the need for Singapore to stay relevant and connected to other countries, particularly Asean countries.
The webinar series is a mandatory component of the AEP programme, which aims to equip young people with a holistic understanding of Asean member states, China and India.
Reflecting on her generation's advantage in an increasingly globalised world, Ms Mahshuk said: "Nowadays, everything can be found online, youths always keep themselves up to date and are on the lookout for new trends.
"Youth are the next leaders in line, we have to take initiative to know what is going on around the world, look beyond Singapore's market and allow Singapore to grow with neighbouring Asean countries."