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Australia's ambitious diplomacy program: Prospects, opportunities for Philippines
Mark Manantan (Philstar.com) - March 29, 2019 - 3:08pm

Last week, Australia’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Maris Payne unveiled the flagship public diplomacy program of Australia for 2019 called Australia Now ASEAN. With the youth and emerging leaders taking centerstage, the year-long program serves as a platform of collaboration in the field of culture and the arts, tech and innovation, intellectual exchange and connectivity.

It is ambitious on its own right, but the drum beat to Australia Now ASEAN is warranted. It is a bold move for Australia that goes beyond trade or government to government interactions with the 10 ASEAN member states. At its very core, Australia Now ASEAN fosters a dynamic conversation between Australia and its neighboring states to celebrate unique stories of partnerships, diversity, opportunities and values.

An ASEAN founding member, the Philippines has a longstanding relationship with Australia spanning more than 70 years. Hence, the Australia Now ASEAN offers both the Philippines and Australia a platform to celebrate shared milestones but most importantly chart new possibilities and opportunities for deeper collaboration.

Sports diplomacy through rugby

Last month, Australia launched its Sports Diplomacy 2030 strategy which seeks to leverage on Australia’s excellence in the field of sports. Capitalizing on its passion for sport as a diplomatic advantage, Australia is on the move to start building links among regional partners. As a sports loving country, the Philippines’ has started to pay close attention to Rugby and the developments are promising.

This year, the Philippine national rugby union team also known as “Volcanoes” are expected to represent Asia, along with Hong Kong, in the 2019 World Series Qualifiers next month. The Philippine Volcanoes secured the spot after bagging the Bronze Medal in Asia for the 2018 Asia Sevens series.

Under the Australia Now ASEAN, the Philippines and Australia could use the growing traction to the achievements of the Philippine volcanoes to champion development programs centered on sports targeting the youth. Through its sports diplomacy framework, Australia can partner with the Philippine Sports Commission, Commission on Higher Education and Department of Education to design programs or activities that raises the profile of rugby and/or other sporting activities that promote positive social interaction, self-confidence and active lifestyle.

Mentor-mentee: Australia Awards and the New Colombo Plan

Australia’s word class education remains to be its biggest asset in international engagement. Through various development scholarships and professional exchanges under Australia Awards and Endeavor Leadership Awards, Australia has attracted thousands of Filipinos poised to become leaders and changemakers down under. To date, Australia has produced an illustrious list of Global Alumni excelling in their respective fields.

For the Australia Now ASEAN, why don’t DFAT do the reverse? Through its revitalized New Colombo Plan, the Philippines could be the student-exchange country of choice among Australian students.

The twist? A group of New Colombo plan scholars will be paired to a member or communities of Australia Global Alumni based in the Philippines. This will elevate the intellectual and professional student mobility experience to a different level by adding a layer of mentorship among individuals or group of Filipino alumni networks spread across the country.

Having English as the second and to some degree, even first language among Filipino alumni, this mentor-mentee model is not impossible to realize. Surely, the outcomes of this exchange will integrate Australian’s deeper into the social fabric of the Philippines, making a lasting impact for generations to come.

AUSSIE X FILO Start-up Collaboration

The Philippines will be the second fastest growing emerging market in 2019-2028. It was also hailed  as the best country to invest in for 2018. The country boasts a young labor force that is expected to drive inclusive growth momentum and domestic consumption. It has a thriving local start-up scene that exudes potential yet lacks resources to scale and benefit others. To mitigate this, the Philippine government recently passed the Innovation Startup bill, marking a shift from the country’s position as a passive aid recipient to an active player in the global value chain.

Through Australia Now ASEAN, Australia can infuse further optimism and growth into the Philippines’ start-up ecosystem. The program could bring Australia’s leading start-ups for a series of workshops and engagements in key cities such as Manila, Cebu and Davao. This could be a venue for Filipinos and Australians to share best practices on business market entry, investment intensives strategies, even demos for pitching to lure possible investors, stakeholders and customers.

Coalition of empowered young women

Australia continues to advance the pivotal role of women in driving economic growth in ASEAN. In 2017, Australia and ASEAN partners, released the ASEAN Manila Statement and Action Agenda on mainstreaming Women’s Economic Empowerment. Subsequently, it launched the ASEAN-Australia Business Summit that enjoined a network of 130 delegates from business, civil society and government across the region.

Australia and the Philippines can replicate this initiative under its current Australia Now ASEAN. But the spotlight will be on a new generation of young and emerging women leaders and innovators. Half Filipina and half Aussie, and reigning Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray is known to champion causes for women empowerment. She could be the ambassador for this movement to raise the issue on the global stage.

The goal is to establish a strong coalition of young female leaders and innovators that will push for greater gender equality and economic parity. More than just a talk shop, the forum could map out strategies benefitting women to gain advantage in the labor market and reduce the risk of being poor in the future.

Mark Manantan is a research fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies in Taipei. He is also a research affiliate of Manila-based think tank Pathways to Progress. His current research focuses on diplomacy, foreign policy and cyber security. Views expressed are entirely personal.

ASEAN PHILIPPINES-AUSTRALIA RELATIONS RUGBY SOUTHEAST ASIA
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