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THERE is a degree of detachment from Asean among the youth, that it is a distant institution with no relevance to them or to their lives.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said he sometimes felt the presence of detachment among the youth.
“It is precisely this mindset that we need to change by increasing the younger generation's interest in Asean and helping them see and understand their power and their potential.
“But to achieve this, we must develop programmes, projects and initiatives and involve them in many, meaningful ways.
“I speak from experience when I say that it is a lot more fun to participate and see the benefits of Asean in person rather than to sit up late at night writing an essay on them,” he said in his keynote address themed ‘Leadership Challenges in Asean: Meeting Tommorow's Needs and Expectations’ forum, jointly organised by Asean Strategy and Leadership Institute (Asli) and the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce and Government.
Najib said he believed there was huge scope to engage the youth.
“But at whatever level we are working at, it is no longer good enough to fall back on the same old antiquated methods for far too long. We need to capture the imaginations of our young people, to feed their dreams and to inspire them to believe that they can make a difference to their country, their region and their world.”
Najib also highlighted the significance of human development to ensure Asean's continued economic progress.
“It is said that the Asean workforce is all too often considered low-skilled, knowledge-poor and lacking in opportunities for personal and professional development.
“That is why I made the development of human capital one of my key priorities as Malaysia strives towards achieving our goal of becoming a high-income nation by 2020 but it is clear that progress must be driven by all Asean members,” he said.
For this to change, Najib stressed the need to change the mindset of both employers and employees so they would see development as an investment rather than a cost.
“I know very well that this will not be easy but the benefits of such a shift will be felt by all. Employees will develop the skills they need to compete in an increasingly competitive global marketplace, thus helping employers to build and grow their businesses.
“A stronger business sector means countries will benefit both directly due to increased productivity and indirectly as a result of factors such as increased foreign direct investment.”
Touching on creativity, Najib said it was a quality “that too often still eludes us”.
“We might be highly dedicated workers, capable of working hard and fulfilling what is asked of us but as things stand the best, most creative, new ideas still come from elsewhere in the world.
“Perhaps this talent search conceals part of the problems, with our schools focusing too narrowly on traditional subjects and never really nourishes the more artistic sides of our young people.”
He also said Asean's successes did not mean leaders could be complacent.
“We must continue to adapt, evolve and reform wherever necessary. In three years as prime minister of Malaysia, I have made sure this is exactly what we have been doing, putting in place a number of far-reaching transformation programmes to pull all of our citizens and not just some of them out of the middle income trap.”
Only by working together, he added, Asean leaders could ensure the region could be taken to even greater heights by young leaders of tomorrow.