An Interview with Elaine Tan, Executive Director of the ASEAN FoundationCountry Focus
Three decades after ASEAN was established, leaders recognized that there remained inadequate shared prosperity, ASEAN awareness and contact among the people in the region - thus the ASEAN Foundation was born.
Established in 1997, the ASEAN Foundation aims to build a prosperous and cohesive ASEAN community and acts as a platform that brings different stakeholders together to get people - young people in particular - to learn more about ASEAN under the motto “Think, Feel and Be ASEAN”. We spoke to Executive Director Elaine Tan about the ASEAN Foundation’s mission, projects and achievements.
The ASEAN Foundation mainly works in four different areas: Education, Arts and Culture, Media and Community building. Could you explain more detailed what exactly you do in each area?
Education is an area where we develop capacity-building for young people, either through scholarships or our programmes. One of our programmes is the Model ASEAN Meeting. First launched in 2015, the Model ASEAN Meeting has given the opportunity to 249 participants, comprising undergraduate students and faculty members, to become more familiar with ASEAN processes. They take on the role of senior officials, ministers and leaders in order to gain a deeper insight into the workings of ASEAN, based on different topics like political security, economics and culture. They learn what it’s like to be an ASEAN diplomat and develop a better appreciation of ASEAN history.
Our initiative ASEAN Data Science Explorers, in partnership with SAP, aims to encourage ASEAN youth to explore the use of data by highlighting ASEAN issues and come up with innovative solutions and recommendations. In 2017, we were managed to encourage the participation of 886 youths across ASEAN. We also provide scholarships with our partner, Chulaborn Graduate Institute of Thailand.
In the field of arts and culture, we focus on preservation. For the last two years, we have been focusing on puppetry. We have been working with puppeteers in the region to promote exchange so they can learn from one another. By the end of the week-long exchange, the puppeteers are challenged to work together and create a story based on shared heritage in relation to ASEAN. The ASEAN Puppets Exchange has helped to make culture more visible in contemporary times. Puppetry is an old art form, but we strive to learn from other countries on how to make it more relevant to a modern audience, to keep the art alive and getting people - especially young people - more excited about it. Through our 10 championed puppeteers from ASEAN Member States, with each puppeteer chairing a network of local puppeteers, we were managed to reach thousands of viewers across ASEAN. Currently, we are also developing a new programme related to contemporary art.
In terms of media, the ASEAN Foundation encourages the young people in the region to present insightful stories that emphasize ASEAN principles and ideas through citizen journalism. Our newly ASEAN Youth Citizen Journalism initiative that was organized in 2017 managed to attract the attention of 400 registrants. Through a strict selection process, we were successful in indentifying 20 most qualified youths to take part in our citizen journalism training in Singapore. We also connect senior journalists with policymakers, researchers and people from the Secretariat, so they are updated and know what’s happening.
Community building is about engaging with ASEAN through advocacy and engagement in collaboration with civil society and partner organisations.
What are some of your upcoming projects and programmes that we should look out for?
We have the Youth Video Contest coming up, where we ask young people to be creative and look at things through the ASEAN perspective by using interactive media, in order to raise awareness about ASEAN and feel a sense of familiarity with the ASEAN identity. The theme we have given them for this year is “Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue”, and 2 March is the deadline.
On 14 and 15 March, we will hold our SRE-ASEAN Community Forum Series. For this forum, we engage with Civil Society Organisations and get them involved in the realisation of a shared ASEAN identity by 2025.
What role does the foundation play in strengthening the general message of ASEAN, also in collaboration with the Secretariat?
The ASEAN Secretariat and the ASEAN Foundation complement and support each other. ASEAN is a community of opportunities, and we emphasize this message and try to convey how people can build this community by thinking, feeling and living ASEAN. All our programmes and initiatives are tailored to do so, mainly by linking up people and getting them excited about ASEAN. In the end, we would like to build an ASEAN identity, so that people see ASEAN as a dynamic and positive region that opens up possibilities for the future.
Last year, ASEAN celebrated its 50th anniversary, while the ASEAN Foundation itself turned 20. How did you commemorate these milestones?
Together with the Secretariat, we held an exhibition called “Assemblage: Reflections on ASEAN”. The exhibition showcased significant paintings from the whole region, comprising works that were in the ASEAN Secretariat Gallery as well as loans from prestigious private collections, looking at the transformation and advancement of ASEAN over the last 50 years. We also worked together with the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) to launch a couple of publications on ASEAN and hosted the High Level Forum on ASEAN at 50 in Manila.
Where do you want to take the ASEAN Foundation in the future?
Over the last couple of years, we have very much grown in the way we have approached our target audience. More and more young people are getting to know ASEAN and are quite excited about our initiatives. This is where we believe that we are relevant, and there are more opportunities to realise our full potential. I would like to see the foundation growing stronger. I would like young people to know more about ASEAN because of the foundation and hope that we can strengthen the feeling that we belong to this region and that we can support each other when we work together.
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This article is originally from paper. Read NOW!Jakarta Magazine March 2018 issue “Design for Living”. Available at selected bookstore or SUBSCRIBE here.