Building a Sustainable Future:
Reflection on APEC Voices of the Future 2015
By Miki Kobayashi
For a week in November, I had the opportunity to attend the Voices of the Future (VoF) forum, which took place concurrently with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Manila, Philippines. This annual forum invites youth from across the Pacific Rim, allowing them to share their experiences, perspectives and visions with other young leaders, APEC leaders and APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) members. APEC’s motivation to incorporate the youth in international dialogue echoes the dynamic nature of the region’s demographics: over 60% of the world’s youth live in the Asia Pacific, and they also constitute a significant portion of the region’s total population. Manila seemed to embody this young demographic structure. The malls were constantly packed with young people (reflecting the Filipinos’ passion for shopping, which, according to one of the delegates, is their national trait), the streets were always bubbling with energy, and the VoF Philippine delegation showed impressive enthusiasm for how they can make lasting impact on the future of their country.
The thematic focus of this year’s VoF was on how the youth could take part in building a sustainable future in the region via greater promotion of inclusive growth, empowerment of marginalized individuals and communities, and design of more resilient societies. It is, without a doubt, a very large and challenging topic—a subject that international organizations still grapple with, a discussion that the youth rarely have opportunities to participate in. But throughout group discussions and presentations in the VoF forum, I began to realize that we, as part of the driving engine for the region’s future prosperity, can make small but significant steps in achieving the sustainability goal. One example that inspired me was “Project H2O,” an initiative founded by a young Filipino scientist (Mr. Kiko Cortez) that aims to address water availability during natural disasters with the use of mobile filtration devices. Although this filtration device is made from simple objects and technologies, it has and continues to impact the livelihoods of those who are most vulnerable to natural catastrophes and water shocks.
Furthermore, as part of the VoF package, we had the opportunity to attend the APEC SME Summit and CEO Summit. For the SME Summit, an impressive lineup of Tony Fernandez (CEO of AirAsia), Karen Reddington (President of FedEx Asia Pacific) and Jack Ma (Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group) provided their analysis on the emerging consumer trends in the Asia Pacific, as well as their personal stories on making big changes with innovative and inclusive ideas. For the CEO Summit, we were able to listen, first hand, to the insights provided by the region’s leaders: Benigno Aquino III (Philippines), Michelle Bachelet (Chile), Xi Jinping (People’s Republic of China) and Barack Obama (USA), to name a few. Needless to say, it was an incredible experience to listen to these leaders and become inspired by their visions on the future of sustainable and inclusive development.