A recent survey of 70,000 youths aged 16 to 35 in the ASEAN region revealed that 72% of youths showed evidence of adaptability and resilience during COVID-19 by learning pandemic resilience (48%), learning new skills (41%), thinking creatively (38%), or finding new sources of income (31%).

More specifically, youths, particularly women, learned the value of budgeting, having emergency savings, improving incomes and business models, etc. For example, 63% of women learned to budget better during the pandemic compared to the 53% of men. 

The survey also showed that ASEAN youths adjusted to COVID-19 by increasing their digital footprint, with 87% of respondents increasing the usage of at least one digital tool during COVID-19. One digital tool that saw a rise in usage was online education, with 64% of full-time students using online education tools more actively during COVID-19 and 70% believing that the increased usage of online education will last beyond COVID-19. 

Another digital tool that has spiked in usage is e-commerce. For instance, in Singapore and Indonesia, over 50% of the youths surveyed have seen an increase in e-commerce buying. Consequently, 33% of entrepreneurs utilized e-commerce selling more during the pandemic.

The shift to a digital world that occurred during the pandemic will most likely last beyond COVID-19 as over 60% of respondents said that they will permanently increase their usage of social media, e-commerce, online education, e-banking, and food delivery. 

These changes entail a lasting economic impact. For example, previous research done by Sea showed that ASEAN SMEs which adopted e-commerce saw over 160% increase in total revenue by selling more outside of their regions. Also, digital tools such as e-commerce create a new breed of entrepreneurs including homemakers, students, full-time employees, and even retirees. 

Although this shift to a more digitalized world has shown to be mostly positive on ASEAN youth, it has also revealed that there are some key gaps that need to be filled to unlock the full potential of the post-COVID-19 world for the young generation. 

One is digital access. For example, internet quality and cost were reported as the two most commonly cited constraints to remote working. Therefore, youths need quality internet at an affordable price. Another gap is digital skills: 84% who lack key digital skills found it difficult to work or study remotely. Hence, all youths should have basic digital literacy to use basic digital tools. The last gap is funding gaps. For example, 19% of respondents reported lack of funding as a key barrier. In the short run, government support will help close this gap, but in the long-term, funding should go to improving financial inclusion.

Sathirathai, Group Chief Economist of Sea commented, “It is inspiring to see the resilience and adaptability youths in ASEAN have shown in the face of these unprecedented challenges”. 

“Nonetheless, our analysis clearly highlights the need for the public and private sectors to come together to support our youths – to raise their digital skills, remove barriers to internet access, and increase access to funding. Only then, will our leaders of tomorrow be able to unlock their full potential,” he adds.