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Reflections from Dao Nguyen, AASYP’s first Publications director and retiring Non-executive director

Back in the region after two years studying abroad in Europe, we spoke to one of AASYP’s founding team members – Dao Nguyen – about his proudest achievements at AASYP, where he’s going next and the legacy he leaves behind.

How did your journey with AASYP start? Tell us about yourself.

I joined AASYP in May 2019, so now it has been over two years, and most of that time I lived in Europe because of my master’s program. A fun fact: I have never met anyone from the 2019 team in real life. Applying for AASYP was a very spontaneous decision as I considered pursuing a master’s degree in Australia. In the end, I did not come to Australia, but what I received from AASYP far exceeded what I expected.

            My name is Dao, I am from Vietnam. I was the inaugural Publications Director of AASYP, and then I switched to the Non-executive Director role in 2020. If I have to choose one word about me, it would be “bridge-builder”, I have been working on promoting people-to-people and international cooperation since I was a junior at university. I started working for existing multilateral organizations like the United Nations, EU, and ASEAN to gain more experience before taking part in new initiatives like AASYP. I remember before AASYP, I had little knowledge on ASEAN-Australia relations, compared to other partners of ASEAN such as China, Korea, or Japan. I believe we have witnessed major progress on the regional awareness of the ASEAN-Australia partnership, with several ideas having been turned into reality.

After two years, which moment sticks in your mind about volunteering with AASYP?

During the 2019 AAYLF in Jakarta, I was in Prague at that time so I could not attend the forum. Sherly and Jesse called me and I was able to see Hayley, Cam and everyone from 10000 kilometers away. It is not something fancy but I really felt like I am a part of AASYP. A sense of belonging sometimes is more important than any achievements and benefits.   

What did you learn during your tenure?

With different roles, you can learn different things. As a Publications Director, I learned how to run an Editorial Office, manage the reviewing and publishing process, and lead a multinational team. As a Non-Executive Director, I got to learn new things about laws, finance, and governance. Building a strategy and governing such a big and diverse organization like AASYP was not easy at all. As a multilateral platform, any decisions we make need to be inclusive as much as possible. In other words, we need to take into consideration the situations and developments of all 11 countries and deliver programs that meet the needs of young people from both ASEAN and Australia. 

AASYP is about building Australia-ASEAN relations. What are your thoughts on the future of our region?

It is really unpredictable because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many countries have closed their borders, including my country, to focus on domestic recovery. However, after the pandemic is over, I believe multilateralism will still be the key pillar in the foreign policies of Australia and almost ASEAN member states. Indeed, facing the geopolitical competition in Indo-Pacific, middle and small powers tend to cooperate with each other, and Australia is an important partner of ASEAN and vice versa. I am not a policy-maker, so I am not in a position to think about what should be done to strengthen the relations. However, all the efforts of young people in leveraging bilateral relations between ASEAN – Australia should be resilient and consistent. Substantial changes could not be made within a few years, it will probably require 7 years, 10 years, or even more. As such, continuously empowering the next generation to take part in and contribute to the partnership should be prioritized

What is your hope for AASYP?

I hope people, regardless of their backgrounds or nationalities, will perceive AASYP as a reliable and inclusive organization, where they can find opportunities to grow and feel safe to speak up their voices to talk about what they need and care about. It is still a long way to come for AASYP to achieve that, but if we steer us in the right direction, we can make it happen.  

Where will next year take you?

I will commence my study at Peking University as a Yenching Scholar this September, with a focus on China-ASEAN relations. At the same time, I am leading a think tank called Student Think Tank for Europe-Asia Relations (STEAR). I am working on promoting other bilateral and multilateral partnerships as I believe AASYP has built a strong foundation and it is high time for me to establish new platforms for youth. Rest assured that no matter where I am, I will continue to support AASYP and the future of the ASEAN-Australia partnership.

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