KASYP Virtual Discussion Series 2020 - Regional Programme Political Dialogue Asia
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This SARS-CoV-2 pandemic could be the most wicked problem in our time. It is posing the greatest challenge to our health systems, choking our economies, putting governments on their knees, and reshaping our social realities into what we call “the new normal”. But despite all of these COVID-19 impacts, this situation also provides an opportunity for our young leaders to be creative and innovative in how they manage and govern in this crisis. Like many of the KASYP alumni, who are young leaders, are deeply involved in helping their respective governments, organizations, and communities to maintain public safety and economic security while trying to protect their people from this virus.
Last 25 June 2020, the KAS PDA team launched successfully its “KASYP Virtual Discussion Series” with the aim to facilitate an online exchange platform that will allow the KASYP alumni to share their best practices and on-going lessons in managing the COVID-19 pandemic. The first session of this series focused on discussing the “Impact of SARS-CoV-2 Pandemic among the Youth in Asia”. The objective of this session was to examine the varying impacts of COVID-19 pandemic among the youth in terms of their education, employment, career, social life, and many more.
For this first session, three KASYP alumni and one colleague from KAS Japan shared their insights about the topic. The keynote speaker was no other than Atty. Lesley Cordero who is a KASYP alumnus from Batch 01 (2010-2011). She is currently a Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist from the World Bank in the Philippines. There were three panellists comprised of two more KASYP alumni, Mr Shah Ali Farhad, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister, People’s Republic of Bangladesh and Dr Arya Sandhiyudha, Executive Director, The Indonesian Democracy Initiative, Republic of Indonesia. The third panellist was Mrs Cristita Giangan-Perez who is the Senior Programme Manager of the Regional Programme Social Economic Policies Asia (SOPAS), Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Japan Office.
Following the objective of this session, the presentation of the keynote speaker and the discussion with the panellists moved around the topic on the varying impacts of this pandemic among the youth in terms of their education, employment, and public life. When it comes to the youth, the issue of education was identified as the most crucial aspect of youth development affected by this pandemic. According to Atty. Cordero, over 90 per cent of the world’s students, 1.5 billion young people in 188 countries and over 60 million teachers are kept away from schools and universities. This is true in Bangladesh according to Mr Farhad where the government has closed all academic institutions since March 2020 until August of this year. Youth with no regular and affordable internet access fall behind as learning and participation shift to online platforms. Less than 40 per cent of low-income countries announced distance-learning education programme compared to 90 per cent of high-income countries. Distance learning is a driver of existing inequities stressed by Atty. Cordero. Even in a developed country like Japan, distance learning is also exposing the gaps in digital education technology between private and public schools as shared by Mrs Perez.
Another issue discussed was youth employment. Considered to be economically fragile with few savings, the youth are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults according to Atty. Cordero. 77 per cent of employed young people hold informal jobs and 126 million are considered extreme to moderate working poor worldwide with limited access to health services. In the next decade, 1 billion young people would enter the labour market but only 400 million are expected to find a job. With an expected economic downturn, a recession will only increase the uncertainty for the prospects of the remaining 600 million. In Bangladesh, Mr Farhad reported that 1 of 6 young people have lost their employment already due to this crisis. He also emphasized that younger women compared to men were more at risk of losing their jobs. Meanwhile, this economic downturn is already happening in some Asian countries like Japan and Indonesia. As reported by Mrs Perez and Dr Sandhiyudha respectively, Japan’s economy has shrunk by -3.4 for the 1st quarter of 2020 while Indonesia’s economy is expected to shrink by -4.8 to 7 per cent of the gross domestic product in the coming 2nd quarter of this year. Currently, Indonesia has already experienced an increase in unemployment of 3.05 million due to this pandemic. In Japan, the virus is ravaging the labour market with an increasing number of firms declaring corporate bankruptcies resulting in massive layoffs. Economic opportunities are limited, and competition is fierce especially damaging to fresh graduates. New working arrangements such as telework have been challenging to a Japanese work culture where salaryman stereotype of working long hours in offices is forced to work offsite or from the confine of their own homes. The uptake may be slow for telework or other out-of-office working arrangements, but this new normal is also changing the share of household work for families which might be a good development.
When it comes to social and public life, this pandemic has created a “new normal” for everyone. The need for social distancing, as a health measure, has resulted in limited gatherings and increased in virtual meetups. This effect could even go beyond our personal lives like our civic and engagement spaces. With restrictions on movement, peoples’ ability to mobilize to support communities might be hampered. Freedom of assembly, privacy, and other forms of expressions will be affected resulting in the contraction of civic and political spaces. In Japan, young people have shown greater compliance in social distancing than older people as reported by Mrs Perez. An interesting observation from Japan is the drop in suicide rate in April 2020 falling by 20 per cent compared to the same time last year. But resurgence is expected as the impact of this pandemic on livelihoods, higher risk of domestic violence, and constrained access to psychosocial support might eventually kick-in. While in Indonesia, Dr Sandhiyudha shared the potential post-pandemic baby boom due to limited access to birth control. Around 400,000 new babies are expected to be born in the country. For Bangladeshi youth, their main fear comes from the insecurity of the future.
The presentations were followed by an engaging exchange among the KASYP alumni. They shared best practices and strategies in managing the health crisis. Apart from sharing their experiences, they have discussed the role of youth leaders in crisis management during emergencies which addresses the point posed by the keynote speaker, “the search for the invisible youth”. Atty. Cordero shared her observation that the youth is lost in the narrative of cross-cutting issues and not merely a portion of the demographics. On the other hand, she emphasized that this pandemic is an opportunity for the youth to redefine the narratives by ensuring they get a seat at the table of decision-makers in order to represent the unheard voices. They need to speak up and speak out to remind the people in power that the youth matter. They have to be prepared with their data and stories to share. They have to demand that their ideas and recommendations are considered. Most of all, the youth have to deliver. This advice was a strong call for action among the KASYP alumni and youth leaders in the region, and an apt way of ending an online yet equally engaging discussion.
Of the 32 confirmed participants, only 10 were present during the online session. These 10 KASYP alumni came from 7 Asian territories (Cambodia, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, and Taiwan) and represented 8 batches of KASYP (Batch 01, 02, 03, 04, 06, 07, 09, and 10). In terms of gender representation, 7 were males and 3 females were present.