(The following is excerpted from a speech delivered at the Yushan Forum-Asian Dialogue for Innovation and Progress, October 11-12, 2017, in Taiwan.)
I AM tasked to talk about nourishing young leaders for making a regional community, to share with you my ideas on cultivating youth leadership, the areas we should continuously explore and harness and the challenges we must grapple with if we are to truly empower the youth of today.
The world our youth inhabit is vastly different from the one we knew growing up. They come of age in a digital world, where information is available on their fingertips, where communication is faster, where citizen engagement is no longer a novel concept. Several years ago, youth involvement in social issues was not as prevalent as it is today.
While gains have been achieved in including the youth in the development agenda, our models for inclusion have largely remained the same. For the longest time, youth inclusion and participation meant institutionalizing policies and developing programs that address structural hindrances to youth development. This meant ensuring that they have access to opportunities that will lead to individual progress, and creating policies that will ensure equality and rights protection and promotion.
What is starkly different now is the young’s access to information, communications and social engagement. With the advances in technology, they have more mechanisms to acquire information, to talk to one another, to express themselves and form ideas for individual and collective development and action.
They can learn about traditional areas of learning like math, science, and languages online, in the same way they can learn about fundamentalism or where and how to buy a gun.
The possibilities for learning and entertainment are endless for them on the Internet, as well as the ways they can express themselves or come together for an advocacy.
If inclusion is about ensuring our youth have access to opportunities, this deeper and pervasive connectivity has empowered them to create opportunities for themselves. On some level, it means that they are building their own communities, away from what is traditional. In a sense, the millennial generation is growing up away from the establishment.
The pressing question then is, have we properly prepared and equipped them for this power and access they also hold today? Are our young ready to take on the challenges within their own spheres or communities they have built for themselves? Even more important is the challenge of bringing them back into the social fold so that we develop a generation that values “we” more than “me”.
As we continue our efforts in youth development, we must be able to also embrace innovation so we can reexamine our current mechanisms and programs for the youth. Our methods must be able to adapt to this distinct character of the youth today. We must continue to engage them in initiatives that invite them to be part of the communities that we have built, working on issues that affect all of us.
Our role is to ensure that we equip them with the proper tools, education and training so they can successfully and maturely navigate the challenges they face, while being conscious that they are part of a bigger social tapestry that can only be better with their involvement.
All over the world, private institutions have made a lasting impact on pressing issues we face as members of the human community. In the past decade, youth engagement in non-profit and civil society has increased. more organizations have built their programs around youth involvement in civic work.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, continue to engage the youth in meaningful programs. Code.org, a non-profit launched just three years ago, reaches more than 180 countries with their courses aimed at increasing access to computer science education. They reach thousands of underprivileged children with their programs, and more importantly, prioritizes those who are marginalized.
We must also harness existing mechanisms for youth participation and leadership development. For most of my public life, I have been involved with scouting activities. I was for a long time the national president of the Boy Scouts of the Philippines.
My involvement in scouting was borne out of my personal belief that we must invest in our children at a young age. The values and principles we need to learn to be responsible and compassionate citizens must be developed early on, through collaborative efforts and programs.
For nearly six decades now, I saw significant developments and challenges that have come our way not only in the Asia-Pacific region but in the entire world in the field of scouting. I had the opportunity to serve as the chairman of the Asia-Pacific regional scout committee and as ex-officio member of the world scout committee.
Scouting fertile ground for leadership
Out of the 40 million scout members creating positive change in their communities, 30 million are in the Asia-Pacific region. This is a fertile ground for leadership.
The principles instilled in scouting provide a solid foundation for leadership because it develops a deep-rooted sense of community, espouses the virtues of kindness, courage, friendliness, respect, loyalty, preparedness, helpfulness and other positive values that allow for the formation of responsible, community-centered youth.
One of the maxims of scouting is that we prepare our youth for life. We instill in them the necessary values and skills to survive and thrive in life. We train them to be prepared for challenges, to navigate the complexities of their physical and social surroundings, to include others in the way they live.
But another pressing challenge for all of us is the question of what kind of life are we preparing our youth for? What kind of global and regional communities are we building to be thrust upon them?
Governance for building communities
In my decades of public service, I worked relentlessly to ensure that governance was an instrument to build better communities that can effectively respond to the needs of our constituents. It was not enough to provide opportunities. What was crucial was to create the environment where creation of opportunities is a natural effect of a well-governed, closely linked, highly connected, and functioning city.
As we governed towards increasing local economic growth and created an environment where businesses can flourish, we consciously adopted social programs that will provide our constituents with the opportunities for individual progress. This is what we must also collectively do – encourage and harness economic growth towards social and individual prosperity.
Governments must continue to invest in the education of the youth – not only in the infrastructure but also on the programs. We must incorporate new trends in technology but also strengthen traditional areas of learning like agriculture, business, finance, science, medicine, law, education and the like. And to ensure that we continue to develop leaders in every sector we must innovate social and economic institutions so they can continue to be relevant to the needs of the youth. More than that, we must find ways to link these disciplines together towards creating a world that will encourage growth for them.
As a local chief executive of Makati City, it was my policy to allocate a substantial budget for education. Especially for higher education, we strengthened our University of Makati or UMak, to become the premier local university in the country.
Education, the great social equalizer
I firmly believe that education is a great social equalizer. We consciously adopted an innovative education philosophy. We innovated our regular programs to become more effective/ in addressing the specific needs of Makati youth. We redesigned our program offerings to reflect the nature and needs of the job market and the business sector. We conceptualized and implemented new innovative programs that changed the landscape of Philippine education delivery.
We championed innovation in education because we understood that our children are different and so the way we deliver education cannot be the same. We broke down the barriers between the academe and industries because we were cognizant of how the young understand the world – that education must lead to a meaningful professional life. As such, there must be no disconnect between the kind of education they receive to the demands of the workplace they wish to be part of.
Today, the University of Makati offers more than 30 degree and non-degree programs in business, education, allied health services, governance and public policy, and caters to over 17,000 students. Our city provided the university with an annual budget of P1.2 billion, an amount bigger than the entire budget of most provinces in the Philippines. We embraced education-for-employment and education-for-development, understanding that investing in our youth is the most valuable investment we can make.
Prioritizing health care
I also ensured we invested heavily in health programs to guarantee that our city nurtured healthy children. Primary health care was a priority. We were the first city to establish a primary care center, and also the first city to establish a world-class government hospital where residents do not pay for any kind of medical treatment received.
Private institutions such as the Prospect Foundation here in Taiwan must continue its work in research and program development to create opportunities for participation. The challenge of the private sector is to engage the young in programs where they can further develop their skills but also create meaningful change in society.
Both public and private institutions must invest in programs that will not only bring together the youth through online platforms but one that will physically bring them all together to personally exchange ideas and participate in discourse.
The national hero of the Philippines, Dr. Jose Rizal, said “the youth is the hope of our nation.” This is true but I wish to take this further and say that in today’s globalized world, the youth is no longer the hope of the future. They are what makes the present full of hope.
And so, participation and inclusion must be our fundamental strategy in engaging the youth. The world has no shortage of innovative ideas. Sometimes, what we lack are the opportunities to make these ideas a reality, to implement these ideas towards specific goals that will contribute to further development of humanity. This is the collective task we must address. We must work hand in hand with the youth to build the world they dream of in the future.
I remember the idea of former US President Barack Obama about citizens having a seat at the table. That is precisely what we must do. We must let the youth have a seat at our regional table and engage them in our efforts to cultivate and strengthen our regional communities.
They must be part of the agenda-setting, the development of the mechanisms to address the diverse issues we face, as well as the collective action needed to effectively achieve our common goals. More than that, we must be ready to break down barriers the same way that digital inclusion has broken down barriers for the youth. If participation and inclusion are our fundamental guiding principles for youth development, we must look at the mechanisms we provide them on education, employment, health, political, social and economic participation and find points of integration and develop innovative ways of service and program delivery.
In today’s changing world, the challenge is to prepare our youth to thrive and effect their own brand of change that will contribute to the development of people. For us, this means reinventing the way we govern, educate, engage, think and conceptualize programs, platforms and mechanisms to serve the youth. It is not enough that inclusion means providing them access to opportunities, we must reinvent the way we create those opportunities for them and be part of the way they also create opportunities for themselves.
In essence, we need to connect to the youth, the same way they connect to each other. If we are to do so, then we must embrace innovation and be ready to adapt to a rapidly changing world. Finding the balance between traditional objectives in development and changing needs and methods of participation and inclusion is a crucial task we must accept. We no longer just pave the way for the youth of today, we must pave it along with them.