Time for the youth to lead Asia-Pacific's development future

Participants of the Asia Pacific Forum on Youth Volunteerism held from Oct. 27-31 in Bangkok, Thailand. How do young people perceive the responsibility of holding the future of global development? Photo by: International Young Leaders Assembly

When people ask about the future and who will manage it, the most logical and cliché answer is that the youth, with their potential to do great things, will have to take the reins of tomorrow — which government and development leaders unanimously claim to agree with.

U.S. President Barack Obama recognized young people’s potential when he said that the youth should be “the ones who lead us forward,” and the late Nelson Mandela stressed not so long ago that abusing young people is like “tearing the fabric of society.”

These, however, are the perspectives of those who have the privilege of hindsight to see the possibilities for young people. What is needed in the debate is the perspective of the youth themselves.

How do young people perceive this seemingly inherent responsibility being given to them at such a tender age? How do they understand development and the issues they think should be prioritized at this day and age while keeping in mind the advantages (and disadvantages) they have? And even more importantly, what motivates and attracts the youth to take part in the development process?

As a 23-year-old international development journalist, these are the questions I also ask myself everyday when I attempt to comprehend the complex development issues the world is facing. I admit — sometimes it is overwhelming to digest all these responsibilities. But with the rapid development of technology and the emergence of various international platforms for youth dialogue and exchange like the Global Peace Foundation’s International Young Leaders Assembly — which I was recently fortunate to be a part of — the responsibilities become more bearable and fulfilling.

In my conversations with fellow IYLs from Asia-Pacific in Bangkok last month — the South America leg is scheduled for this week in Asuncion — I learned that we seem united in our high hopes for the region despite our diversities in race, religion or culture. Devika Raj from Fiji shared that the youth should learn to embrace the responsibilities of being the future, while not forgetting to start being the leaders of today.

“It all starts with our mindsets and our willingness to work towards finding solutions rather than dwelling on problems,” she said. “Empowerment of young people is also very important especially for those coming from cultures where opinions of youth are not considered relevant in decision making processes.”

Zeina Merhi, who works for a peace media association group in Lebanon, noted that the concept of development and leadership may be new to young people, but we should never use our youth as an excuse to be apathetic and passive.

“The youth are every nation’s hope for a better future. Change can only be performed by those who are really looking for it, and it is usually the youth who are mostly eager for it,” she explained. “Young people are social actors of change and progress.”  

One of the highlights of the program is the adoption of the Bangkok Declaration following the Asia-Pacific Forum on Youth Volunteerism, a manifesto detailing the youth’s commitment to certain development issues including the environment, entrepreneurship, disaster management, peace and diplomacy, education health and volunteerism that several youth leaders like Samantha Curtis from New Zealand emphasized should be top priorities for the region.


In Bangkok we asked ourselves, what motivates the youth to be actively involved in development? What are the characteristics that young people are looking for before engaging and volunteering for multilateral institutions and nongovernmental organizations?

Curtis said she remains passionate to improve the future of Asia-Pacific because she believes in the region’s potential with its abundance of resources, and shared she wants to “see my own people within the Pacific aspire to be all that they can be.”

In terms of an organization’s characteristics, Teresa Sung from Taiwan highlighted that having a clear vision and objective with a clear-cut implementation plan makes an organization worth volunteering for.

“Vision is something that leads an organization and also encourages people,” she said, adding that NGOs should also understand certain the local context and circumstances before implementing a program.

Sherin Al Bloushi from Kuwait added that young people should also make sure about the credibility of the organization they are planning to join or get involved in — whether the NGO is transparent and accountable enough to its stakeholders and the rest of the international development community.

“I think the most important … is the credibility and quality of their work. It’s extremely important to know who you are volunteering for. Volunteers should look at the work the NGO has done,” she shared, adding that the organization should also recognize the youth’s potential by giving them opportunities to lead.

There are myriad challenges to realizing the potential of the world’s young people, mainly lack of jobs, food, education and medicine. But there is enough desire from the youth to lead and take responsibility. As GPF vice president David Caprara put it: “There is no way of telling what the future holds but we know who holds the future and that is, you, the young people.”

Read more development aid news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive top international development headlines from the world’s leading donors, news sources and opinion leaders — emailed to you FREE every business day.

About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.