Time for the youth to take over in Philippine development

Young Filipinos aged 15 to 30 make up approximately 35.5 percent of Philippine population. The Filipino youth want to play a bigger role in their country’s future. Photo by: Victor Villanueva / CC BY-NC-ND

From being called the “Asia’s sick man,” the Philippines has begun rewriting its own story by being now labeled as “Asia’s rising tiger.”

While other countries show their power by hosting global sports tournaments or other high-profile events, my country hopes to present itself to the world as one of the 23 fastest-growing countries by holding the 23rd World Economic Forum on East Asia on May 21-23 in Manila, and the first Open Collaboration for East Asia New Champions — known as OCEAN — on May 23-25 in Cebu.

Both the WEF East Asia Meeting and OCEAN will bring together members of WEF’s many partner communities, like the Young Global Leaders, composed of emerging leaders under 40 years old; the Technology Pioneers, companies or individuals that have come up with cutting-edge technology development innovations; and the Global Shapers Community, a worldwide network of young leaders between 20-30 years old.

I became part of the latter when the GSC’s Manila Hub was set up in late 2011. Approximately 35.5 percent of Philippine population is between 15-30 years old, making it a demographic that is difficult to ignore. Because the youth have such a large role to play in country’s present and future development, much needs to be discussed about the youth’s needs, concerns and vulnerabilities.

In Manila, TV anchor and YGL Karen Davila was chosen to appoint the founding members of the GSC Manila Hub. Three years later, we’re now a total of 33 young leaders doing game-changing development work in fields like agriculture, media, public health, environment, education, governance and the arts. I sometimes refer to the GSC Manila Hub as my “home team.” In addition to the privilege of working together with like-minded people for youth empowerment projects, we have become very good friends. We hang out in between meetings and collaborate to help each others’ advocacies.

One of our major projects is the Library Renewal Partnership, a collaborations with various public and private institutions to build 200 libraries all over the the country by 2020. As of May 2014, we have already set up over 60, and opening the next one on May 20 in the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm to give the children of farmers a space to read and learn. GK is largest homegrown poverty alleviation and nation-building movement in the Philippines, with a model based on building self-reliant communities to attain sustainable development. The second is Cat@lyst, a nationwide search for five youth-led, technology-based innovative solutions to existing community problems. We are set to announce the winners next month, but I already have my two personal favorites: WikiPangako, a website that tracks the progress of promises made by politicians, and BloodType, an app that aims to match blood donors with donees.

Now, and for the first time in history, the WEF East Asia meeting will be held in Manila. It will serve as an ideal platform for participants to discuss opportunities ahead of the 2015 ASEAN Economic Community and promote greater inclusion across the whole region. In particular, I hope the debates encourage participants to come up with good ideas for more resilient decision-making in the face of unpredictable economic and natural crises that we continuously suffer in this part of the world. This would greatly benefit #ShapePH, the GSC Manila Hub’s project after Typhoon Haiyan struck the country in November 2013. The funds we raised are being used to rebuild an elementary school in Malapascua, an island in northern Cebu, where we want to strengthen the community through creating livelihood opportunities, a waste management project, and organic gardening.

The conversations will then continue — at an island resort by the sea — in Cebu, where more than 200 leaders from government, business, the academe, arts and culture will share strategies and solutions on pressing issues to attain a collaborative action on a national level for development in East Asia.

Winston Damarillo, another Filipino YGL and chair of OCEAN, chose creative economies and innovations as the areas of focus, and thus one of the goals of the Cebu meeting is to develop a framework for creating “innovation zones” that would promote a new class of businesses. The idea is to explore more comprehensive opportunities for creative and innovative industries while keeping social initiatives and environmental concerns in mind. Specific deliverables are proposals for policies to amend existing economic zones to accommodate startups and technology firms.

The WEF is often criticized as being just a “talk shop.” While it’s true that attendees do a lot of talking, we have to remember that great changes begin with ideas, dialogue, networking and information exchange. It’s an exciting time to be alive, and an even more exciting time to be a Filipino. I see these two events as once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that can highlight the gains of our country in recent years, and showcase what we can offer the world.

“This is for the country,” Karen Davila always reminds us. “Let’s make it fabulous.”

Anna Oposa was chosen in 2013 as one of Devex’s 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in Manila.

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About the author

  • Anna Oposa

    Anna Oposa is a freelance writer, public speaker and environmental advocate. A member of the WEF's Global Shapers Community, she is also the co-founder of Save Philippine Seas, a movement to protect the archipelago's marine resources through social media and legal advocacy, and Isko Cleans UP, a waste management program.