Supporting youth initiatives can propel Malaysia forward

Given the ongoing impetus being unleashed by youth in the country, we may have a real opportunity to turn the recently launched 12th Malaysia Plan into one of the most progressive and transformational processes that Malaysia could benefit from.

We are also at a crossroads in terms of climate action. This is an area where Malaysia needs to be really focused and serious about transitioning towards a greener, less fossil fuels dependent future and pressure on decision making must remain consistent.

Hopefully, a string of new initiatives being launched these days — some enabled by the international community, some genuinely local — will help Malaysia turn the page and embrace the future.

From the Youth SDGs Summit 2021 to the Youth Co:Lab Malaysia 2021 to Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman's international conference on the role and participation of youth in building sustainable cities to the Youth Empowerment through Climate Action — there is really a lot going on.

Can these events signal that the country is ready to tackle the key challenges of the next decades?

I am referring to the interlinked challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, inclusive and greener economy and humane technology, including values-based artificial intelligence.

Lastly, we have the civic engagement challenge that directly relates to new forms of people's participation in decision making.

Malaysia (well, the entire planet) should embark on key investments to turn around the fossil fuel economy, enabling, in this transition, the creation of better paid greener jobs, while also putting a firm framework on the use of technology anchored on meaningful digital citizenship and at the same time, create new pathways for civic engagement.

If so, a prosperous and rosy future will lay ahead. To win over these four mega challenges, we really need to start with the last one, reinventing the civic space.

This means, first of all, forging new ways for youth to be interested in the public good, and second, being imaginative in setting the stage for a more deliberative forms of democracy where the people will have more opportunities to express their voice.

In between is volunteerism as a complementary tool to policy actions, which can bridge gaps between problems and solutions.

That's why the upcoming youth initiatives can kick start a new phase in the national debate, a phase in which politicians should harness a skill that they forgot long time ago to leverage their capacity to listen to the people, especially the youth.

We still have to see how the outcomes from these platforms, charged with the energy and dynamism that only youth can unleash, will make an impact.

For sure, it is a long game, but certainly, upcoming programmes offer some opportunities.

On one hand, they can influence the decision-making process with the overarching goal of turning upside down the ways policymaking works, turning it into a more transparent inclusive and more citizen-centered exercise.

On the other hand, they could translate ideas and aspirations, for which the backing of the state at all levels together with the private sector is instrumental, into propositions able to attract and engage underprivileged youths.

Overall, it will be paramount that these programmes build and strategically maintain the much needed momentum. How to go about it? One idea could be ensuring consistent follow-ups and replications.

One big national event or lab could be, in a simplified fashion, organised locally throughout the country and it is here universities with their "third mission", one focused on co-creating and co-facilitating the common good in society, can play a big role.

Localising the Sustainable Development Goals is the new big thing and should really be the best way to face the four mega challenges mentioned earlier.

Localising means bringing discussions at local levels, finding ways, traditional or novel, to raise interest among the youth and other members of society.

Policymaking should be injected with a shot of dynamism and creativity only youth can provide.

Hopefully, Covid-19 won't bother us too much the next year, and face-to-face experimentations, ideation and deliberations will become the new norm.

Indeed, 2022 can be a very interesting year for Malaysia.

The author writes on social inclusion, youth development, regional integration and the Sustainable Development Goals in the context of Asia Pacific

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