Digital technology plays a vital role in connecting the ASEAN youth and increasing their awareness of their ASEAN identity. This was the gist of the Foreign Service Institute’s online Mabini Dialogue, “The Youth and ASEAN Identity in the Digital Age,” held last 26 May 2023 via Zoom webinar and Facebook livestream. Over a hundred participants joined the online event, including officers and staff from the DFA and FSI, the ASEAN youth sector, and students and professors from various academic institutions.

One critical point raised in the forum was how the swift integration of digital technology into ASEAN economies shapes societies and the values of the ASEAN Community. This development presents massive opportunities for Southeast Asian economies, according to Mr. Keith Detros, Program Lead of the Tech For Good Institute. He stressed that the region’s digital economy is expected to increase by US$1 trillion by 2030. With this trajectory, the ASEAN Community is projected to become a mobile-first population, reflecting the significant upsurge in the use of the internet and digital technologies as mediums for intraregional socio-cultural and economic connectivity.

Speakers listen to comments during the open forum of the online Mabini Dialogue. Clockwise from top left: Mr. Eugene Sumakwel Servigon (moderator, Foreign Service Institute), Ms. Royce Lyssah Malabonga (discussant and Assistant Professorial Lecturer from the De La Salle University Manila), Ms. Amira Bilqis (speaker and Co-Chair of the ASEAN-Youth Agenda 2023, Indonesia), and Mr. Keith Detros (speaker and Program Lead from Tech For Good Institute, Singapore)

An evident outcome of this upsurge is an increased interest among ASEAN youth to work in the digital sector. Mr. Detros emphasized that the ASEAN youth’s increased preference for work in the technology sector presents opportunities for greater regional connectivity.

The exchanges during the forum also highlighted digital platforms as key drivers of the youth’s increasing awareness about their ASEAN identity. Through the internet, the youth learns that ASEAN countries have cultural similarities and parallelisms in historical experiences, which form integral parts of the broader ASEAN identity. This awareness strengthens the notion that productive use of social media and digital technologies can facilitate a positive cross-cultural understanding and linkages among the ASEAN youth, transcending geographical barriers.

Despite the enormous opportunities that digital technology could offer, low levels of digital literacy and inadequate technology infrastructures in the region impede connectivity among the youth, appreciation of their common identity, and enhancement of their competitiveness in the digital age. Ms. Amira Bilqis, Co-chair of the ASEAN-Youth Agenda 2023, said that the ASEAN member states play a crucial role in facing these challenges, which can be addressed by building infrastructures critical to the digital economy through investment and implementing policies that will promote the ASEAN youth’s education. Ms. Royce Lyssah Malabonga, Assistant Professorial Lecturer from De La Salle University Manila, echoed a similar concern, reiterating that the success of ASEAN’s digital development will be dependent on the democratized, equitable, and inclusive access to digital technologies for the youth, which ASEAN should enable by intensifying intraregional cooperation on digital programs and policies.