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Fostering Digital Talent to Achieve the Goals of the ASEAN Digital Masterplan 2025

By Dr. Yang Mee Eng, Executive Director of ASEAN Foundation

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations' (ASEAN) journey toward a digital economy and digital society has been radically accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic over the last two years. This situation has led to an unprecedented rise in demand for digital skills while further stressing the importance of having a conducive learning ecosystem capable of cultivating more digital talents in the region.

ASEAN's commitment to building a sustainable digital talent ecosystem is epitomized by the ASEAN Digital Masterplan (ADM) 2025. ADM 2025 provides a robust action plan, among other things, for ASEAN Member States to increase their citizens' capability to participate in the digital economy. One of the key interventions is promoting the development of advanced digital skills, such as coding, hackathons, and innovative challenges. At the same time, ADM 2025 charts a path forward to achieve a digitally inclusive ASEAN community by making digital technologies more accessible for people in the region.

As an organ of ASEAN, mandated to unlocking the potential of youth, the ASEAN Foundation is well placed to contribute to the achievements of ADM 2025. Since 2017, the foundation has been developing and implementing digital initiatives such as the ASEAN Data Science Explorers, ASEAN Digital Innovation Programme, ASEAN Online Safety Academy, ASEAN Cybersecurity Skilling Programme, and ASEAN Digital Literacy Programme. These programs strive to provide a platform for young people in the region to strengthen their digital capacities, equipping them with the essential future-ready skills that will make them a competitive workforce in the era of the Industrial Revolution 4.0.

ASEAN Seeds for the Future: Bridging the Digital Skills Gap in the Region

In 2021, ASEAN took another important milestone step in its digital empowerment effort by launching the ASEAN Seeds for the Future program with Huawei. The program launch was signified by a signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the ASEAN Foundation and the Huawei ASEAN Academy, which took place during the Asia Pacific Innovation Day — Digital Talent Summit 2021. The agreement highlights both entities' readiness to implement ASEAN Seeds for the Future, which is a scaled-up version of Seeds for the Future, Huawei’s global Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) flagship initiative that has been providing world class digital skills training for young people across the globe since 2008.

Through ASEAN Seeds for the Future, the ASEAN Foundation and Huawei aim to build a resilient and inclusive digital ecosystem to develop local Information and Communications Technology (ICT) talent, enhance knowledge transfer, encourage a greater understanding of the ICT sector, and promote regional building and participation in a digital society. By creating a sustainable learning ecosystem, the aim is to bridge the digital skills gap and meet the increasing demand for digital talents.

The program, which will be officially implemented in June, 2022, combines virtual and onsite approaches to encourage higher participation from youth, especially those coming from underserved communities and youth with disabilities. The program's first phase will consist of capacity building sessions, digital competitions, and leadership training. In 2023, if the situation allows, the main beneficiaries of ASEAN Seeds for the Future will be flown to China to visit Huawei's headquarters and immerse themselves in knowledge exchange with tech experts and leaders in innovation.

As a home to over 200 million young people, ASEAN has in its hands a wealthy pool of future leaders who will, in time, shape the region's destiny. In order for youth in the region to strive in this era of a new economy, and be able to navigate the opportunities and challenges that the new economy brings, equipping them with digital skills is no longer one option among many: it is an absolute necessity.

ADM 2025 envisions ASEAN as a leading digital community and economic bloc, powered by secure and transformative digital services, technologies, and ecosystems. In that respect, ASEAN Seeds for the Future will play a critical role in achieving the objectives of ADM 2025 by providing a strong foundation for a sustainable digital talent cultivation ecosystem to take root, grow, and flourish.

ADM 2025 also puts heavy emphasis on the important role of key stakeholders in creating a digital society that is both inclusive and sustainable. On that note, the hope is that ASEAN Seeds for the Future, jointly implemented by the ASEAN Foundation and Huawei, will inspire more impactful public-private partnerships in the future.

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