Youth Engagement Summit 2009

Now we all know that YES2009 is a thinly veiled data-mining operation of massive proportions.

But a few days ago I received a free ticket via their lucky draw, so yay me: free hotel stay! Chen Chow pointed out that I was but part of a fortunate 500 who were selected out of 550,000 people, for a 0.1% success rate. And off I went to YES2009 as a delegate. Gratis, muchos gracias.

And now the best (read: aptest, most truthful, critical, scathing) review so far of the event has been by Zedeck Siew on KLue, and adding to the cacophony of post-YES2009 comments are my rants.

One must wonder, though, why no one has written about all this except Zedeck, especially given the massive media coverage of the event (CNN, IHT [what. really? official partnership = free IHT newspapers in their definition], Media Prima, et al] with the Malaysian journos and dozens of self-proclaimed twitterati in attendance.

But we all know why.


This was how low the New Straits Times stooped:

Net-savvy Najib is way to go, says Facebook’s Zuckerberg

Twitter founder applauds Najib for embracing new media


YES2009 was held in the Putrajaya International Convention Center, which despite its spanking interior design and impressive architecture, was a massive flop.

Wi-fi sucked ass, and was as steadfast as Ibrahim Ali and Jelapang’s Hee Yit Foong. But the clincher was that the designer of the 5,000?-seat auditorium did not find it fitting to place plug points anywhere near the audience, and where plug points were placed, they did not work. Syabas, Malaysia boleh!

If this is an International Convention Center, my college Lecture Hall must surely qualify to be an Interplanetary Convention Center. Okay, bad joke.


What was truly disappointing was not the USD450 ticket price, the non-engagement (only two questions from the floor for Biz Stone, really?), the shoddy logistics, the shitty Hotel Malaya with its nonexistent wake-up call, or the misnomer “Youth Engagement Summit,” as Zedeck points out. Rather it was the patronizing attitude with which the organizers saw fit to treat the “youth” in the summit. This is the biggest irony of it all: that a convention supposed to “inspire” and “empower” youth import and duplicate such “adult” condescension from the outside world.

Right before the summit began I went to relieve myself, as is my habit, trained no less by 11 years of Malaysian education. When I came back, however, a couple of delegates and I were told to “wait outside” because “dia kata apabila pintu dah tutup, tak boleh buka” (instructions are that once the doors are closed they cannot be opened again). Right.

So I asked “Bang, dalam ada tandas tak?” (Are there bathrooms inside [the auditorium]?)

“Takde.” (No)

“Ah. Jadi bagaimana?” (How now, brown cow?)

The guy was hesitant, but another person in charge was nicer, smarter, and opened the door for the rest of us to go in.

Such bullshit. Of course I was incensed. As if they were going to tell captains of industry or CEOs that they could not go to pee, because if they did, they would not be allowed in. This was way before the summit started, and when we were allowed in the band had just begun playing their opening song.

This was the attitude with which YES2009 treated its youth delegates throughout the event.

Underlying this condescension was a sickening, parallel system which treated “non-delegates” better. Youth delegates who came for free (all 500 of us) were given blue tags, and everyone else (sponsors, media, paying delegates), who probably outnumbered the youth, had tags of different colours (refer to picture).

In this system, non-delegates sat in front; the youth sat at the back, away from the speakers.

Non-delegates could go pee anytime they wanted; youth delegates would be locked out.

Non-delegates could enter the auditorium from the ground floor; youth delegates, coming from lunch at the cafeteria on the ground floor, had to enter the auditorium after a pointless climb on three or four escalators, and take their seats after descending a few flights of stairs.

During tea breaks non-delegates and youth delegates were served in exclusive areas: no cross-socialization was allowed.

These are small things, yes, but all these small things exactly replicate the inequality in access, status, opportunity, information, and networks that the youth face, vis-a-vis the rich, old, connected, and powerful, in the outside world. That a self-proclaimed equalizer of the playing field (“where opinions, discussions, and experiences can be shared”) can duplicate real-world, systemic, structural barriers is the ultimate irony.

Youth Engagement Summit? More like Non-Engagement Summit. Or Non-Youth Engagement Summit.


Of course there were good things.

Goethe-quoting Geldof was very inspiring.

I had fun, I met amazing people, I stayed in a shitty hotel, and (this is for you, Zedeck) I talked to some very cool Indonesians about rasa sayange and batik and told them how much I liked their Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi (Corruption Eradication Commission).

All in all, however, it was a very expensive (rumour has it that Sime Darby paid RM5 million? and AirAsia more than that?) summit that did not walk its talk. Really, all I wanted to do was to meet more amazing South East Asians. But there was no time and no structured program through which to do so. Ahmad, fellow Malaysian, shares my longing for more engagement.

And thus, YES2009 is at most but a wasted opportunity: feel-good, inspiring in the vaguest sense possible, and enjoyable for most participants, but utterly and sickeningly hypocritical for me.


Filed under Blogroll, Events, Rants, wtf

8 responses to “Youth Engagement Summit 2009

  1. Ahmad

    Yo Andrew! Some very interesting viewpoints you got here; definitely in agreement with what you’ve said! Definitely was hoping more on the engagement part 😦

  2. Jamie

    1. The hefty price tag by itself already shows they’re looking for ubber-fat-rich-ppl with nothing else to spend on

    2. Alternatively, they’re looking for the sons/daughters of ubber-fat-rich-ppl-with-nth else to spend on.

    3. A multi-faceted change is what The Star says it promotes. Truth: Sounds more like multi-faceted propaganda to me… with the massive array of celebrities and the huge price tag to it… really the kind of ‘change’ it advocates is- Only the elites can bring in change… let’s heck the others in the other social classes.

    IF you’re not already somebody, you’re nobody. This also means youths are not the future, its the old people with hell loads of money.

    Change is perpetuation of the current status quo.

    Change is only for the elites.

    Its not Yes 2009…. its Fuck 2009.

  3. sukhan

    oooo so this is where u went and wat u did.. =p

  4. anna

    i agree that i would have liked to have more space for engaging with other youths. but i as i read your blog post i wish the ticket went to someone more deserving.

    i am a Filipino delegate, and I know so many other youth from my country and perhaps other countries who would’ve benefited more from YES2009 than you have.

    Why do I say this?

    If you compare Ahmad’s blog post to yours, or if you hear the experiences of foreign delegates like myself – we came here knowing opportunities like this don’t come often, and we have to make the best of it! We used time in the bus and in the halls and at night where we made so many new friends and connections for future projects. We took the chance to speak to other corporates who were there, to get them to engage with us and share stories. We took the SEACHANGE Youth Report home to show it to our bosses at work, so they understand what needs to be done.

    Yes – they need to know where they went wrong.

    But the organizing committee of YES2009 also need the encouragement, and for us to write to them constructively, or even volunteer ourselves to assist them next year. For youth engagement to really happen – we need to help the older generation to engage us too.

    I hope you don’t take my comments personally. I just wish that our generation be more positive and helpful.

    I grew up being taught that respect has to be earned. And when young people rant of self-importance and ungratefulness, it does not help our generation one bit.

    • hi anna,

      your point that “opportunities like this don’t come often” is good and duly noted. perhaps i have gotten cynical with the impact of conferences as such, from past experience. and you are also right about the importance of actively engaging with fellow delegates and corporates despite the lack of formal programs.

      nonetheless this is besides my point. my point was that the lack of such programs and the dual system of delegate versus non-delegate is indicative of how the summit perpetuated systemic, institutional barriers against the young/poor/unconnected/disenfranchised. zedeck also points out the various flaws in the design and implementation of the summit. this is how we are helping: by giving critical feedback that i’m sure the yes2010 committee will take into account.

      put our criticism into perspective. RM 5 million (just from one sponsor) for 500 sponsored delegates? that is at least RM 10,000 per youth. this is not including $$ from other companies and from paying delegates. sponsored youth were a minority of the audience. is “change” then only for those who can pay? or for us the lucky 500? we both know that many other more impactful, egalitarian conferences have been held with a smaller budget.

      i think you assume that because i rant about the lack of engagement + not blogging about the friends i made and corporates i met and how great the speakers were = i didn’t engage. in this sense you are wrong; i think there was no one who didn’t take time at night and in the bus to speak to wonderful and amazing people.

      i am glad that you enjoyed yes2009, along with the loads of other delegates. i only hope that yes2010 will live up to its rhetoric, be even more engaging than yes2009, and address the various issues that critical voices have brought up.

      • Faisal

        Hi Andrew,

        I tried to go for the summit. I applied for it, sent in my article and plus my college wanted to pay for the tickets but I didn’t go.

        After I read your blog post about the YES 2009 I was ‘amaze’ that they treated the delegates in that manner. I think you are correct when you say that it’s not even engaging with the youth but non engaging with the youth.

        I was also expecting incredible, out standing speakers. Having Geldof, Stone and Trump was a bang but I was also hoping for some politicians. Maybe Al-Gore???

        Well somehow I feel that I am pretty lucky that I didn’t go but I bet it was a good experience and also you might had gotten some good tips from the speakers.

        Take care!

  5. haha ya faisal al gore wouldve been AMAZING
    the good part of the summit: i met some very cool people!

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