Of Civil Society, Jobless Youth and Short Skirts

Of Civil Society, Jobless Youth and Short Skirts

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  The Annual Meeting is off to a lively start with standing room only as civil society participants meet ADB senior Management, journalists turn up unannounced demanding entry to the opening day press confrence, why youth can't get jobs and short skirts are deemed unacceptable.

Written by Ann Quon, Head of External Relation

The Annual Meeting is off to a lively start with standing room only as civil society participants meet ADB senior Management, journalists turn up unannounced demanding entry to the opening day press confrence, why youth can't get jobs and short skirts are deemed unacceptable.  

First, to the  NGO meeting where it was standing room only as labor, youth groups and NGOs such as Plan International and WWF  have the opportunity  to interact with ADB senior Management in a no holds barred session with the agenda set by NGOs. We talked about helping communities deal with climate change issues and how to ensure the voices of young people are heard, and how  labor standards are enforced among others. Particularly refreshing - apart from the distinct lack of formal business suits so prevalent elsewhere around the venue - was the frank exchange of views from both sides. 

Over to the “Financing Liveable Cities” session, where panelists, including one of India’s foremost experts on urbanization, Isher Judge Ahlawalia and  Agence Française de Développement ‘s Jacques Moineville, noted that  even as urban centers in Asia face challenges such as pollution and overcrowding, trying to stem the flow of migrants into cities by governments  is a futile exercise.   Instead, cash-strapped national and local governments in the region need to find ways of encouraging greater private sector funding of urban infrastructure to meet the needs of a population that is growing by about 44 million annually. Frank Kwok, representing the private sector, gave  some valuable  insights into what is needed to attract major global funds into urban infrastructure investment to finance some of the much needed $8 trillion over the next decade.

The “Jobs and Skills in the 21st Century” session covered some of the thorniest questions facing Asia and the Pacific, including the region’s large and poorly educated informal sector workforce,  skills gaps and quality of education issues,  and youth unemployment. While there were some gloomy projections about the mismatch between the number of new jobs being created and new entrants into the labor force, there was also optimism expressed over Asia’s dynamism, growing middle class, youthful population and willingness to invest more in higher education and vocational training. Vineet Nayar, of HCL Technologies raised eyebrows on why many young graduates are struggling to get jobs -- it may be the sense of entitlement among youthful jobseekers. But he also noted that with young Asians, the aspiration to succeed was  also creating many successful entrepreneurs.

Increased social protection coverage to prevent the poor and vulnerable falling through the cracks during times of hardship, including unemployment and ill health, was also discussed, with Santosh Mehrotra, at India’s Planning Commission making a compelling case for stepped up coverage in India starting with its poorest citizens, without causing undue fiscal pain on government coffers.

Back at the registration center, where hard-working volunteers have seen to over 5,000 delegates, a group of 20 journalists turn up demanding to be registered in time to attend the scene setting opening day press conference. Among them is the BBC’s  Singapore- based presenter of Asian Business Report, Sharanjit Leyl who later proceeds to do a great job moderating one of the closing sessions of the day on the knowledge economy.

Finally, our  efforts to provide useful information to delegates about India on travel, health requirements and visas with links to relevant websites, have unravelled. A link to an independent (non-ADB) website on attire advising  women to dress modestly with legs covered and that “trousers are acceptable but shorts and short skirts are not” has raised hackles. Upon closer inspection, we discover the web link was inadvertently provided and order it taken down. It is a close run thing when shorts and short skirts threaten to sideline  the global economy, the challenges facing Asia and the biggest challenge of all -- helping the poor, at our Annual Meeting.