Having been incepted for over a year now, the awareness of ASEAN Young Professionals Network (AYPN) as an organisation has considerably spread across the United Kingdom and the ASEAN region itself, but the reason behind its inception may not be very well-known, and this piece aims to address just that. The AYPN is a privately held developmental organization whose aim is stimulating students and young graduates, from the country members of the Association of South East Asian Nation (ASEAN) or anywhere else in the world, to come together and fully engage in ASEAN’s integration efforts. There are two aspects of the organization in particular which differentiates itself from other similar developmental enterprises.
Firstly, AYPN epitomises a novel example of grassroots, bottom-up South-South cooperation within the ASEAN area. Secondly, its uniqueness can be observed in the way the platform is challenging the dichotomised and very often unequal geographies that feature a “developed” North as opposed to an “underdeveloped” South of the World.
These unique aspects of ASEAN Young Professional Network form in turn a double shift in developmental paradigms, which will be now dealt with in turn.
Classic models of development normally see a “developing” or “under-developed“ country receiving money or other forms of aid from a “developed” one in a way that often leads to hierarchical and top down relations between these countries. The aid donor, by virtue of its donation, has in fact political leverage over the aid receiver. AYPN, on the other hand, typifies a version of international development that is horizontal, rather than vertical as were the classic forms. AYPN is a South-South initiative, namely a development cooperative enterprise where countries of the South of the World, in this case countries of Southeast Asia, collaborate to pursue collegially their socio-economic empowerment, through knowledge exchange, shared economic and political initiatives, networking, etc.
This characteristic of AYPN is not unusual. There is a great deal of South-South initiatives in the international arena. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), within which AYPN operates, the India, Brazil and South-Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA), and the South-directed Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) are all examples of this. What makes AYPN’s version of South-South cooperation unique is how such a cooperative initiative was incepted. IBSA, ITEC and ASEAN are top down organizations, in which the foreign ministers or prime ministers of the country members took the initiative and instituted platforms for interactions between countries of the South, in order to foster development and progress horizontally.
AYPN, on the other hand, is a bottom-up platform where students and young graduates took the initiative to foster grassroots cooperation within the ASEAN area, not the prime ministers or foreign ministers of the region. This is indeed rare, as there are not many other examples of South-South initiatives that are bottom up or student-lead like ASEAN Young Professional Network. The young character of AYPN might be due to demographic reasons: 60% of the people involved in the ASEAN economic plans (620 million) are below 35 years of age.
Furthermore, AYPN’s policy recommendations will hopefully one day have the potential to influence government and business leaders within ASEAN, inspiring South-South cooperation from below, in a way which would be avant-garde. This constitutes a first shift in developmental paradigms, especially in Asia, where normally the State deals with every aspect of the citizens’ life in a top down fashion. In China, for example, religious creeds like Catholicism, are often co-opted and managed by the government directly.
A second shift in development paradigm is represented by AYPN’s status and reputation outside ASEAN. AYPN has received media coverage in two European regions: Sicily (Italy) and Cornwall (England), and the platform is seen as a model to follow in both regions. In Sicily, Tempo Stretto, a newspaper based in Messina, published an article on AYPN, highlighting the platform’s commitment to stop the diaspora of young people which plagues the ASEAN area (http://www.tempostretto.it/news/politica-internazionale-asean-young-professionals-network-esempio-studentesco-cooperazione-sud-sud.html). In Cornwall, a young Labour politician, Chris Drew, highlighted the potential of AYPN as an initiative aiming to put an end to the brain breakaway in the South East Asia (http://chrisdrew12.blogspot.co.uk/). Additionally, AYPN’s efforts to raise the awareness of ASEAN and its potential to an international audience, shaping the region’s future in the spirit of global citizenship, are underlined in the two articles.
AYPN is, therefore, portrayed, in both pieces, as an initiative aiming at containing the brain breakaway within the ASEAN area, not only inspiring young ASEAN talents overseas to return home, but also encouraging young talents in general to contribute to the development of the ASEAN region from wherever they may be. Hence, AYPN is seen as an example to follow. This is due to the fact that both Sicily and Cornwall suffer from issues of emigration and brain breakaway, just like the ASEAN area. As found by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), over 80% of all migrants from Thailand and the Philippines find work outside of ASEAN. The figures are not much better off for Vietnam and Indonesia. Similarly, 90% of Cornish students leave Cornwall indefinitely for university, after they complete their sixth form, and never return home. The same occurrence takes place in Sicily: the Sicilian youth emigration rate is the second highest in Italy, with 50% of young people who declared their willingness to go and live permanently abroad.
Anomalously, the developed economies of the Northern Hemisphere, in this case Italy and the United Kingdom, seem to be looking at the “South” of the world, the Southeast Asian AYPN, for inspiration and ideas on socio-economic development and not vice versa, as is usually expected. In the 2013 United Nation Development Programme’s Report ‘The Rise of the South’, it is argued that the “North” needs the “South” in the same way as the “South” needs the “North” in order to foster global development. Such an argument is often understood in sheer economic terms: markets of the “North” need markets of the “South” for development and vice versa. Through its strategies, ideas and policies that aspire to tackle the brain breakaway in the ASEAN area and raise the awareness of the ASEAN region in an innovative way, AYPN shows that not only the ‘market’ but also the ‘marketplace of ideas’ characterising the “South” can attract and inspire the “North”. This signifies AYPN’s second shift in development paradigms.