The Star >

Sunday, July 07, 2002

Good opportunity

EXPOSURE to different perspectives is a vital part of learning and this is something that Malaysian participants in the Hitachi Young Leaders Initiative (HYLI) will readily vouch for.

Since it was started in 1996, 16 lucky young Malaysians have had the chance to take part in a programme that is said to be a platform for budding leaders of Asean nations.

This year, the five-day programme will see young people from six countries –– Malaysia, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand –– discussing regional issues and proposing resolutions which will be compiled into a “white paper” and submitted to the respective governments.

Regardless of whether or not their recommendations will be taken seriously or implemented, the initiative is a unique opportunity for young leaders to broaden their minds.

For Azrul Mohd Khalib, his involvement in the programme three years ago when it was held in Kuala Lumpur lent him a new perspective on things.

“Prior to attending the HYLI, I had participated in a number of conferences where young people and adults met to discuss issues. What I found in these conferences was that the adults were inclined to dominate the proceedings and the young people became mere tokens.

“As a result, I came to the HYLI with some scepticism. However, I was in for a bit of a shock because there were no adults present at the discussions, so the ideas and resolutions that came out of the sessions were entirely from the youth,” says Azrul, presently information resource manager with the Malaysian Aids Council.

The sessions, he adds, led him to appreciate the diversity existing in the region.

“It was very sobering to be with a group of people who viewed things very differently, based on where they came from. For example, a discussion on poverty would be different for someone from Malaysia or Singapore and someone from Indonesia. As a result, there was sometimes a clash of ideas and priorities with regard to what was best for the region.

“Sometimes we think that our priority is, or should be, the region’s priority. For example, my main concern was HIV/AIDS. However, this was deemed as not important to the other delegates and it got sidelined.

“It was sobering because this is the way things are in the real world –– not everyone will see things the same way. This has influenced the way I deal with people,” observes Azrul.

Last year’s participant Teofilus Ponniah describes his experience at the HYLI in Bangkok as a “humbling one.”

“We (the Malaysian participants) thought we could bulldoze our way through and present what Malaysia had to say on the various issues discussed, but it was a total clash of ideas. We were merely thinking on a national level, which was very limited in scope.

“At the HYLI, however, we were challenged to think about and discuss these issues. All the participants went in with national agendas but were forced to think about regional issues and listen to what the other delegates had to say. It was really good exposure,” says the young lawyer from the Zaid Ibrahim & Co. law firm.

Though the programme was mentally demanding, participants found time in their tight schedules to forge new friendships.

Says Teofilus: “We still keep in touch and have actually set up an e-group on the Internet which receives, on the average, about 150 messages a month.”

When the Sept 11 tragedy occurred, everyone wanted to talk about it online, he adds.

“And just last week, I met up with one of my fellow participants from the Philippines to attend the wedding of yet another HYLI participant!”

Their advice to this year’s participants?

“Just be open to ideas and be willing to accept constructive criticism,” says Teofilus.

Azrul, however, says he does not want to offer any advice to the participants who will be meeting in Singapore from July 20. “Even conflict and the lack of understanding among participants can be a learning experience. Just enjoy yourself.” –– by S. INDRAMALAR

© 2002 Star Publications (Malaysia) Bhd