Voices of the Future 2022: Youth delegates on the needs of a generation

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By APEC Secretariat

BANGKOK, Thailand – Thailand prime minister Prayut Chan-o-cha received a joint declaration from more than 100 Voices of the Future delegates with whom he met on Monday. Reflecting the views of the youth sector, the declaration highlights issues that are important to our younger generation.

Thailand is the host of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum this year. The theme of APEC 2022 is “Open. Connect. Balance;”  shorthand for making APEC open to all opportunities, connect in all dimensions, and balanced in all aspects, as the region aims for an inclusive and sustainable recovery in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Driven by this theme, Thailand introduced the bio-circular-green (BCG) economy concept as a promising post-pandemic growth strategy where science, innovation, and technology are applied to promote the efficient use of resources, to maintain and restore ecosystems, and to reduce waste to build a system where government and business can thrive. Emphasized in the BCG Economy concept is the whole-of-society approach – what can government, business, the academia, and the youth do to ensure a balanced, sustainable, and inclusive future for your generation and beyond.

This renewed focus on inclusivity and the environment has made 2022 a landmark year for putting the concerns and priorities of young people front and center as economies near the midway point of this crucial decade. Both issues are extremely important to our youth who are more than aware that they will inherit a highly unequal and environmentally damaged world.

As such, APEC Voices of the Future – a platform for “Youth Voice” held on the margins of the annual APEC leaders’ meeting holds special significance this year.

To showcase the BCG economy in Thailand, the Voices of The Future 2022 Working Committee prepared several activities. Of note, an educational tour at PTT Eastern Seaboard Facilities to show how business turns chemical waste into refrigerants, the activities at Panyapiwat Institute of Management showing how innovation could add value to Thai food, and the activities at Naraya will showcase how to create high-quality bags from Thai local fabrics and craftsmanship. These activities will demonstrate how Thailand capitalizes on the BCG economy concept to ensure a balanced, sustainable, and inclusive future.

APEC is an effective multilateral forum because of the diversity of its members as well as the of the sectors from which it draws its policy recommendations. The idealism of the youth, their innovative spirit and eagerness to make their mark in the world make them a powerful resource for change. To capture their voice this year, the VOTF organizers asked the youth delegations of APEC member economies to answer – “what can youth do to ensure a balanced, sustainable, and inclusive future for their generation?”

According to the delegation from Thailand, APEC host 2022, “Youth are could play a vital role in achieving APEC’s goals for a greener, more sustain regional. Our voice matters.”

While instilling the youth with the right values are vital, it is also true that youth face unprecedented challenges. The impact of COVID-19 pandemic has not been homogenous, and economic disparities across the youth must be recognized.

The delegation from the United States, incoming host of APEC Forum 2023, emphasizes this: “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many youths have fallen behind in their education, especially those in lower-income countries that do not have widespread internet access. Low-income nine-year-old in the United States are almost a year behind in math, and reading compared to their peers prior to the pandemic, according to a New York Times article. Education must be accessible and equitable for all students and it is up to the business leaders and governments to make reliable, high-speed internet and computers accessible for all students to use, regardless of their ability to pay.”

The inequality in the education gap is something that economies need to address, as a region. Education is vital for the youth if they are to become the advocates of pressing social causes. The host of APEC 2021, New Zealand, reflected on this:

“Youth can build and expand international cooperation through global networks that work close together to implement plans and provide diversity. Participation from all groups ensures adequate representation and fosters balance and inclusiveness. These youth-led networks or movements can generate societal and political change. Optimizing and creating opportunities for youth to collaborate with peers and senior leaders in a meaningful way, such as Youth Parliaments and APEC Voices of the Future, ensures a balanced, sustainable, and inclusive future. Being heard by leaders ensures young voices are considered, and issues concerning current and future generations are addressed.”

The Youth Declaration as well as the individual answers of the different delegations, are reiterations of how important it is to continue to encourage, inspire, and create opportunities for youth to have their say, and to never be afraid of speaking their mind as we seek to build a balanced, sustainable, and inclusive future.

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