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ASEAN companies and governments can tap on youths to show the way forward for cross-border collaborations and greater understanding within the region
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Thought Leadership

How youths can boost cross-border collaboration

Published on 5 October 2021

As any avid Facebook user might be aware, vlogger Nas Daily has recently been accused of being disrespectful of Filipino culture. He was alleged to have scammed a revered Filipino tattooist into conducting an online course featured on his website, and of being impudent during interactions with another Filipino social entrepreneur. While keyboard warriors are divided on whether the Singapore-based, Israeli YouTuber is guilty of being exploitative, one thing is for sure: the ASEAN region is highly diverse in its value systems and cultures. As much as this richness in diversity offers a broad range of perspectives, it is also a source of challenge in creating a cohesive community for cross-collaboration.

Earlier this year, Dr Paul Lim, Lecturer of Organisational Behaviour & Human Resources at the SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business, was one of six invited speakers at the webinar, Practical Ethics in a Diverse ASEAN: New Challenges and Priorities for Action. The inaugural webinar was organised by the ASEAN University Network (AUN) to discuss issues, identify challenges, and collaborate on initiatives within ASEAN.

Dr Lim, who previously spent 10 years in the brand management of ASEAN based Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) brands, shared insights on how the solution to working and thriving together within the region may lie in the hands of our youths.

“ASEAN’s youths do not have emotional, political baggage that traditional and experienced leaders possess,” noted Dr Lim, who currently teaches Ethics, Conflict Management and Employer Branding at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

“We should allow them to share ideas and collaborate ASEAN-wide. If we spend time understanding them, and them with us, we will learn that old ways and ideas may not work for future challenges.”

Here are four ways in which ASEAN companies and governments can tap on youths to show the way forward for cross-border collaborations and greater understanding within the region.

1. Inspired by passion

As much as millennials and Gen Z have been dubbed the “strawberry generation” — a derogatory stereotype of youths who cannot withstand the pressures of work or society at large, the younger set can prove to be incredibly resilient, as Dr Lim observed. He cited the example of an SMU-X consulting project for a tea plantation in Indonesia.

The SMU-X Overseas programme offers SMU students the hands-on opportunity to tackle complex, real-world business challenges that overseas organisations face by taking on the role of consultants to provide fresh perspectives and decisive insights.

The tea plantation initiative involved Singaporean, Indonesian and Vietnamese students from SMU and Universitas Gadjah Mada, and was riddled with unexpected challenges, “sleepless nights and, literally, blood, sweat and tears”, recalled Dr Lim. Despite the stress and a steep learning curve, the students pushed through because they were passionate about achieving their objectives.

“Even though the overseas experience was sponsored, the students did not become complacent and say, ‘oh, this is a free holiday’,” said Dr Lim.

“They broke through cultural and communication barriers in a very short amount of time and displayed extremely high levels of cooperation and collaboration that was at its purest — agenda-free. It was a beautiful thing to see, because the students, sincerely wanted to do a good job.”

2. Crack reverse ageism

As Dr Lim explained, reverse ageism occurs when the older and more experienced look down upon and underestimate the youth. Often, the older generation behaves in a discriminatory fashion because they feel threatened by younger workers, and resist having to share power.

“A lot of companies think they understand young people, but they don't know what young people really want,” said Dr Lim.

“There's a talent management issue, and they don't know how to attract the right talent.”

However, with 61 per cent of the ASEAN population made up of youths aged 15 to 35, governments and companies are beginning to shift their mindset in an attempt to engage with this important demographic. Before we can learn from or collaborate with the youths, we need to combat such prevalent stereotypes against young people.

3. Adopt a clean slate

Today, the ASEAN region is integrated by common goals of economic success and political stability. However, the bloc had to overcome years of historical fragmentation to reach its current status, and still faces great disparity in terms of economic development and domestic stability among its 10 member countries.

An advantage that ASEAN youths have over their older counterparts is the absence of emotional and political baggage. Rather than be bogged down by preconceived mindsets that stem from historical tensions, the younger generation is a “clean slate”, and provide the neutrality necessary to share ideas and collaborate, ASEAN-wide.

Moreover, today’s digital natives are more conversant in a global environment than their predecessors, with Generation Z more likely to consider cross-cultural communication skills as highly important according to this study — being motivated by a desire to work in a multicultural business environment. Research from Generation Z: Global Citizenship Survey conducted by the Varkey Foundation also reveals prevailing support for making legal migration easier among the young respondents, and to make a wider contribution to society beyond looking after oneself and one’s family and friends. As such, youths are well-positioned to initiate cross-border channels of communication, and exchange forward-thinking ideas for lasting impact.

4. Embrace a spirit of learning

During the SMU-X Overseas project, Dr Lim was impressed by how the students — who hailed from various faculties across SMU and Universitas Gadja Mada — were able to openly learn from one another. The Singaporean students, for example, remarked that their Indonesian course mates were more adept at using Instagram as a marketing tool, and were able to pick up several social media “hacks” from them. Through the experiential learning programme, the students were able to adopt the perspectives of others who come from different backgrounds and better understand cultural nuances.

Rather than be stuck in our ways, Dr Lim suggested that we adopt the spirit of learning from the young.

“Don't assume that you understand them; take some time, find out what they like, be vulnerable with them,” added Dr Lim.

“There must be humility on all parts. Let the youths show the way forward, accept them, embrace them. It is our ethical duty to do so.”