Their potential has, however, been limited by a lack of digital skills, inadequate digital infrastructure and funding shortages
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented disruptions, putting ASEAN youths to a tough test.
Nonetheless, they exhibited signs of strong resilience, adaptability and creativity during the pandemic, finds the World Economic Forum's ASEAN Youth Survey 2020.
The survey also finds that the potential of ASEAN youths has, however, been limited by a lack of digital skills, inadequate digital infrastructure and funding shortages.
Going digital permanently
According to the survey, conducted in collaboration with Sea among 68,574 ASEAN citizens aged between 16 and 35, 87% of the respondents increased their usage of at least one digital tool during the pandemic and 42% of youths started using at least one new digital tool.
Throughout the ASEAN region, 33% of entrepreneurs took greater advantage of e-commerce opportunities. Of those, one-in-four used it for the first time. The survey's results confirm that ASEAN's youths will likely continue using many digital tools beyond the Covid-19 pandemic.
Becoming more resilient, adaptive and creative
A significant number of those surveyed showed resilience and adaptability during the pandemic.
Some 48% respondents said they learned to be more resilient and felt better prepared for future uncertainties.
Many also reported having learnt to think more creatively, and found new business models and ways to improve their income during the pandemic.
Continuing growth mindset and lifelong learning, particularly women
Of those surveyed, 41% reported having learned new skills during the social distancing.
Online education boomed not only among full-time students, but also workers, confirming ASEAN youths' strong aspiration for lifelong learning and underlining their general growth mindset.
Meanwhile, 64% of full-time students and 38% workers said they used online education tools more actively during the pandemic.
Notably, women tended to learn more skills during the period.
Some 63% reported learning how to better prioritise spending compared to 53% of men, while 44% of women said they'd learned new skills compared to 39% of men.
To fill the region's digital skills gap, the ASEAN Digital Skills Vision 2020 pledge programme under the Forum's Digital ASEAN Initiative will continue to gather collective pledges to fulfil eight digital skills training targets for ASEAN's small and medium-sized enterprise workers, students, regulators and the region's wider citizens.
To date, 23 organisations have committed to the pledge and in doing so, will train more than 16 million people in digital skills by the end of this year.
Challenged by a lack of digital skills, inadequate digital infrastructure and funding shortages
Some 69% ASEAN youths found remote working and studying during the COVID-19 pandemic a challenge, including 7% who said it was impossible.
A lack of digital skills and inadequacy/unavailability of quality and affordable internet connection were cited as the most binding constraints.
Around 19% of respondents reported a lack of funding as a key constraint. Among them, entrepreneurs and youths in the gig economy faced the greatest funding constraints and needed more external funding sources.
Only 33% of those who faced funding constraints said they relied more on bank loans, while 31% relied on government support and 23% turned to online financing. Some 14% had to turn to informal financing.
"The Forum supports data-driven policy-making and the survey was originally designed to offer statistical insights towards understanding ASEAN youth's perspectives and to contribute to shaping policies for ASEAN youths," said Joo-Ok Lee, head of Asia Pacific, the World Economic Forum.
"The insight from this calls for timely multistakeholder actions to empower ASEAN youth with much needed digital skills, improving digital infrastructure and sufficient funding to capitalise the unprecedented digital transformation brought by the pandemic and realise their potential for the region's inclusive and sustainable recovery."
"Our analysis has shown that digitalisation has become a necessity rather than a luxury and will play a crucial role in supporting young entrepreneurs and consumers during economic recovery," said Dr Santitarn Sathirathai, group chief economist, Sea.
"It is crucial that the public and private sectors come together to raise digital literacy for everyone to ensure that no one is left behind during these challenging times," he added.