MANILA, Philippines – Youth bloggers and social media influencers gathered on November 15 to discuss the opportunities and challenges of the looming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Economic Integration in 2015.

In a social media-led event called “Blogged In: ASEAN,” youth from across Southeast Asia learned about the pressing issues regarding the integration of the 10 member states of ASEAN, set to begin in 2015. (READ: ASEAN Economic Community: Are we ready for 2015?)

Participating teams were challenged to research, write, and design their own blogs on issues such as education, economy, human trafficking, food security, tourism, and labor.

The event in Manila featured lightning talks and presentations by Apprentice Asia’s first winner Jonathan Yabut, Heritage and conservation advocate Ivan Anthony Henares and Undersecretary for Rehabilitation Lesley Cordero.

Not your typical conference

“Anything ASEAN is traditionally discussed in a very academic manner which doesn’t really work well for today’s twittering, social media savvy youth. So, to be able to communicate and engage them, we came up with an interesting format patterned after the start up community’s ‘hackathon’ wherein teams use their coding talents to come up with apps or programs that can solve a business or social problem,” said Billie Dumaliang, program director.

“Blogged In: ASEAN” deviated from the usual sit-down conference by fostering 3-way interaction between the lightning talk speakers, the bloggers, and the netizens, Dumaliang added.

Held at A_Space Manila, a thriving co-working, innovation, and startup community at the Makati central business district, the teams collaborated to discuss an ASEAN integration issue then wrote thought-provoking blogs.

The bloggathon’s official website generated at least 10,000 unique visitors in a couple of days. Each team was asked to continually share their blogs in their social networks to generate awareness on the various ASEAN-related issues.

A panel of judges including Rappler’s Move.PH director Zak Yuson, Ayala Foundation’s Ebony Lautner and U.S. Embassy Manila’s emerging media specialist Jay de Jesus selected the winning teams.

Overlooked issues

For the first Blogged In champion, TEAM KKIBB, the bloggathon was an ideal platform to engage the youth in “issues that are overlooked.”

Composed of 5 junior journalism students from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) – Queen Arra Vinluan, Nikka Marie Valenzuela, Ria Mendoza, Sheela Orosa and Mary Paulene San Miguel – TEAM KKIBB took a critical look at the economic condition and capacity of the Philippines heading into ASEAN integration.

“We compared the coming ASEAN integration to a wedding ceremony. We looked at the preparations and the effects of a marriage. Our conclusion is that the Philippines is not yet ready (for) economic integration,” said the team.

In their blog, “Ready, Set, Wed? Is the Philippines Ready to tie the Knot?,” the group argued that the Philippines should address economic issues and establish its own identity to avoid being overpowered by stiff competition in ASEAN.

On the other hand, first runner up Team Super ASEAN, composed of students from University of the Philippines Manila, highlighted human trafficking as one of the most pressing issues ASEAN as a community should address.

In their blog, “I am ASEAN and I am not for Sale?,” the team tells the story of a sex worker named Maria who is forced into prostitution for a living.

The team says human trafficking is just one of the overlooked issues in ASEAN even before the planned integration.

Just the beginning

The ASEAN Economic Integration in December 2015 is just the beginning of the long road toward a strong and competitive sub-region.

The event organizers said they will continue the discussion online.

“We envision it to be a source of online content that will showcase ASEAN culture from the eyes of the ASEAN youth,” said Dumailang.

The teams will play a big role as contributors of content to continue the discussion. The organizers are looking at the possibility of reapplying the Blogged In format on other socially relevant issues, she added.

The event was organized by the Philippine team under President Barack Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders’ Initiative (YSEALI), through a grant from the US Embassy in the Philippines and the Ayala Foundation. – Rappler.com