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Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Asia youth leaders call for a more cohesive region in Singapore forum

Critical pillars to building a more cohesive Asia were put forward by the region's youth leaders at the press conference concluding the 5th Hitachi Young Leaders Initiative (HYLI) held July 29 to August 2 in Singapore.

The theme this year was an urgent call to reexamine how Asia could foster greater regional cohesion for global advancement. Among the issues examined and challenged were the media's changing role in Asia, corporate social responsibility and entrepreneurial spirit.

The findings and recommendations are outcomes gathered from deliberations on the speeches of today's thought leaders during the first two days of the HYLI forum and from discussions in the workshops where the participants were grouped according to sub- themes.

On the whole, the participants heeded the reminder of the keynote speaker, Singapore's acting Minister for Information, Communication, and the Arts, Minister David Lim, to be "realistic idealists." Below are some of the top-line findings from the 5th HYLI:

1. Cultivating entrepreneurial spirit in Asia

Recommendations to reexamine Asia's education system, culture dynamics, and the lowering of barriers to entry for entrepreneurs, were cited as key fundamentals to fostering the spirit of entrepreneurship. A key point mooted is the call for greater acceptance of risk among Asians.

"The acceptance of risk calls for a great shift in Asian culture. Countering outdated mindsets and antiquated values that have hindered the development of entrepreneurs within Asia would require the shift in fundamentals of Asian mindsets," said Marie Grace Tee Vera Cruz, student leader from the Philippines.

After the 1997 Asian Financial crisis, governments in Asia realized that foreign direct investment was not sustainable or even a reliable source for economic development. Governments realized the need to focus more on cultivating indigenous entrepreneurship as an important key to economic growth in Asia.

"To grow economically, countries in Asia must give importance to cultivating entrepreneurial spirit in their respective countries, and eventually, collaboratively in the region," said Ms. Cruz. "It is highly desirable to create an environment in the business world that welcomes new players. For example, tax systems of governments could be reviewed to relieve the financial burden of budding entrepreneurs.

The group's recommendations touched on how Asia's vast resource is a potential launch pad for successful Asian entrepreneurs.

2. The changing role of the media

The student leaders examined the status quo of Asian media's role, from its excessive freedom to excessive regulation. Citing examples on why the media has grown to be such a powerful institution in Asian society, the group examined how that power could be redirected as an effective tool in forging regional cohesion.

Concerns with the status quo include Asians' preference to learn about Asian issues through the eyes of Western-based media.

"The problem lies in the tendency of foreign journalists and media to presume and generalize much when discussing issues such as human rights in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, whose governments are in fact democratically elected," said Rita Zamzamah Binte Mohamed Nazeer, student leader from Singapore.

As Minister David Lim said during his opening address, modern societies are becoming increasingly cosmopolitan, with multi- cultural, multilingual and multi-religious interactions to be dealt with. Such diversity will inevitably mean more differences.

3. The growing importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Asia

"Corporate social responsibility is an investment, not an unrecoverable expense," said Panuwatana Ittigusumaln, student leader from Thailand, in his delivery of his group's findings.

The understanding of CSR is still in its infancy stage in Asia. The new global economy poses a call for it to become much more crucial for Asian companies to also position as active corporate citizens, not just thriving businesses.

"Our group questioned the definition of CSR. CSR is neither a clear concept nor a central one from ethical business in a global economy. Since no one can say definitively what social responsibility means, no one can strictly apply standards to determine if a company is socially responsible," added Ms. Ittigusumaln.

The group brought up non-government organizations, communities and governments as key collaborators becoming agents in shaping CSR within Asia.

The award-winning HYLI, a platform for leadership development of tomorrow's leaders organized by Hitachi, returned to Singapore this year for its fifth installment since inception in 1996. As in past programs, it brought together 24 top tertiary students from Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, to converge with current thought leaders on Asia's future.

Participating from the Philippines were William Panlilio, Ateneo de Manila University, Dominic Pascasio, De La Salle University, Leslie Ann Tan and Marie Grace Vera Cruz, University of the Philippines. Joining Minister David Lim at the two-day for a are top- level leaders like M R Sukumbhand Paribatra, former deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Member of Parliament, Thailand, and Tan Sri Dato' Abdullah from Malaysia. Speakers from the Philippines are Sec. Luis "Cito" Lorenzo, presidential adviser for Creating One Million Jobs, and Prof. Ernesto Garilao, Asian Institute of Management.


2002 BusinessWorld Publishing Corporation