WORLDPOST

Tomorrow's Leaders Descend on Singapore

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As President Obama joined leaders of the world's fastest growing economies this weekend at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference in Singapore, his actions were being watched by a group of youth delegates who may have only just finished a growth spurt themselves.

Kartik Mohan Das, for example, celebrated his 20th birthday this year. APEC celebrated 20 years of pan-Pacific cooperation.

He was joined by youth representatives from 18 of the group's 21 member economies for a week-long program that included sitting in on a press conference by Hillary Clinton, sipping tea with the President of Singapore, and, according to Das, sleeping little more than 2 hours a night.

The youth delegates offered a decisively youth-centered perspective on the conference's theme of "sustaining growth, connecting the region."

Das warned that "if you want to sustain growth we need to have people who are experienced in their specific professions and have the ability to contribute and innovate in the long term. And if youth were to compromise those long-term careers now [during the world economic crisis] by just insuring financial security, that would have been a bit of an issue."

Connectivity also posed a bit of an issue for Das, who said that despite the well-connectedness of his generation - the youth representatives had "met" on Facebook before they congregated in Singapore, offered live updates on Twitter, and published daily reports on a group blog -the problems of connecting the vast region wouldn't be solved by technology alone.

"Facebook and email provide the means but there is a significant need for the will to stay connected," he said. "You stay connected to people, you really connect with people who share the same views with you, and you have the ability to stay connected with those who you think share that kind of bond. But is there a desire to do that? That is the question. I think it really comes down to will."

The youth representatives parted ways on Sunday after the conference's closing, but according to Das, many of them will stay connected and will continue to asses the world's economic future at events like the World Youth Conference in Turkey next year.

As for Das, next year he will be studying at Cornell University with a focus on hospitality and management. He hopes to open a chain of eco-friendly hotels and use the profits to fund language study for promising students, an effort he hopes will bring better connectivity to the region.

"My perception has always been that language is one of the key tools to connecting people from different backgrounds." Das currently speaks English, Hindi and Tamil, and he's studying French and Russian.

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