People to People Connectivity for a Greater Sense of an ASEAN Community
Ms. Elaine Tan,
Executive Director, ASEAN Foundation
Excellencies, Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Firstly, I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to this forum today. I hope to contribute to the discussions by providing new ideas to this forum. I would like to speak on people to people connectivity and how connectivity enables us to collaborate and create in an ASEAN Community.
A community has to be believed in, sensed, and nurtured by the people. A community has to share same values and beliefs. In ASEAN, we believe in durable peace, stability and shared prosperity.
A 2012 survey on the ASEAN community building effort found that 76% of the population of the capital cities of the ASEAN states lacked a basic understanding of the organisation, while 19% had never heard of it. In addition, language barriers and differences in education levels posed a threat to achieving comprehensive and effective communication between ASEAN’s citizens.
Despite the lacklustre understanding of ASEAN from the 2012 survey result, there is nascent sense of community developing among the younger generation in the ASEAN member states, which is encouraging. A survey carried out in 2007 among undergraduate students in the region showed that about 75% of the respondents felt they were citizens of ASEAN, although at individual country-levels there was considerable diversity in attitudes towards the ASEAN processes, ranging from the ambivalent and skeptical (to strong enthusiasm.
The survey is being updated currently by us, the ASEAN Foundation and ASEAN Studies Centre of the Institute of the Southeast ASEAN Studies, Singapore, to compare how attitudes have changed (or not) since 2007. The findings will be relevant to an ASEAN pre-occupied with examining regional identity and its efforts for community building on the eve of its first comprehensive integration milestone.
People to people connectivity in ASEAN allows for the ordinary person in the street to connect, collaborate and create.
I like to illustrate this by sharing how ASEAN Foundation is deepening collaboration with the ASEAN Puppetry Association, an organisation made up puppets enthusiasts who are keen to preserve the puppet tradition and heritage in ASEAN as well to reinvigorate the in dusty.
ASEAN’s puppeteers play the role of cultural ambassadors at grassroots, state and international events. However, the cooperation to date is cosmetic and perfunctory at best at regional level. Genuine collaboration with each other is limited. This results in poor cohesion of ideas, working relations and practices to properly advance the skills and knowledge of ASEAN puppeteers. For ASEAN’s artistry, knowledge and craftsmanship to grow from strength to strength, regular and constant association i.e. people to people interaction is a necessity.
In 2012, the Singaporean member of the ASEAN Puppetry Association together with their festival organiser, Artsolute, arranged for 10 days of interdisciplinary workshops with young puppets enthusiasts alongside the biennial ASEAN Puppetry Festival in Singapore. These interdisciplinary workshops started a journey for those young workshop participants. There is now a beginning of a genuine collaborative development amongst ASEAN’s young puppeteers that is starting to emerge, with the puppeteers of Cambodia, Myanmar, Philippines and Laos inculcating some of the concepts and practices of Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore.
No genuine collaboration can emerge if there is no acceptance and appreciation of each other’s skills, traditions and artistic directions. This development requires require time, sensitivity and expertise to nurture.
At the same time, there is tendency of a cultural partner of greater development and deeper heritage to dominate the other. A way to overcome this dominating manner is to encourage a middle ground where moderators and experienced theatrical advisers who have the understanding of the region’s history, cultures mediate with participating artists.
The ASEAN Foundation is working with the ASEAN Puppetry Association to develop a greater quality of exchange between two countries’ puppeteers by bringing 3-5 of puppet troupes or associations in ASEAN Member States together, twice a year, so as to be efficient and effective in the development of a unified ASEAN culture.
People-to people-connectivity is a bottom-up process. Connectivity has to be inclusive or it will not be sustained without support from the bottom.
To illustrate: just two days ago, the ASEAN Foundation with Microsoft brought together young micro entrepreneurs to Jakarta to celebrate the end of a two year project in Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam where we worked with local partners to develop ICT skills of young micro-entrepreneurs to be more technology savvy in harnessing ICT to grow their businesses. We exposed them to the ICT software that can help strengthen their business operations. Over 20,000 young people participated in these ICT trainings. We went a step further by identifying potential young micro-entrepreneurs who could scale their business by incubating them and assisting them to develop their websites to start them on their e-commerce journey.
During the sharing sessions, what struck me when listening to these young micro-entrepreneurs were how confident they were; how enterprising and entrepreneurial. They drew from their culture, support from their community and took inspiration from their environment to start their unique businesses. It was interesting that none of the entrepreneurs was involve d in the same industry.
These young entrepreneurs view the ASEAN Economic Community as an opportunity. They acknowledge that it will be competitive. But through competition, they believe that they can innovate and provide better services and products to their customers. In competition, collaboration is also necessary. The bringing together of these young micro entrepreneurs strengthens connectivity creating opportunity for collaboration and eventually creation of ASEAN branded goods.
The above examples that I have provided illustrates how ordinary people are getting involved and participating in the ASEAN Community. Through these common people, their interaction, their collaboration and their creation, the ASEAN Community can be sustained and enriched. This helps to build a shared ASEAN identity, bringing together the diverse peoples of Southeast Asia, engendering greater cohesion and solidarity.
In conclusion, there is a need to build more ASEAN networks of civil society, cultural groups, and institutions in a cross-border and cross-sector manner. Dialogues between peoples and their participation create connectivity, collaboration and creation.
Ultimately, ASEAN’s success in integration will be assessed by whether the citizens of ASEAN Member States are able to participate in the various regional processes. This is the heart of the work-in-progress of the ASEAN Community building process.