Prior to joining the eMpowering Youth Across ASEAN (EYAA) programme, Nikko Elnar worked as a consultant for a private company that deals with projects on smart cities, agricultural and transportation activities prior to the programme.
He first learnt about the programme through social media. From there, he discovered that EYAA is an initiative by the ASEAN Foundation and Maybank Foundation that aims to alleviate poverty and improve social and economic well-being of ASEAN communities through youth volunteerism and social innovation. The programme encourages youth between the ages of 19 to 35 years old from all 10 ASEAN Member States to leverage their experiences, knowledge and put their project ideas into action and create meaningful change for the local community in the Southeast Asian region. Additionally, the programme aims to build the capacity of youth in ASEAN region to achieve the goals of the ASEAN Community by contributing to the implementation of the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Blueprint 2025 that will see ASEAN becoming a more open and adaptive region.
After coming across the programme, Nikko realised that it’s an opportunity that he should take advantage of. Therefore, he decided to apply for the programme and as a result, he became one of the ten chosen Filipino youth to be part of the EYAA programme in 2018-2019. After the selection, he was grouped with 9 other ASEAN youths to work together to tackle the thematic area of environmental diversity. Together, the team knew of a problem that they wanted to tackle, which was food waste. “Food waste constitutes 60% of the total food waste in Malaysia. Waste segregation is not commonly practiced and waste collection system is not effective,” he shared. The youth then created the Integrated Organic Farming Project in Gombak, Malaysia, with an aim to change the perception of the community towards organic farming and sustainable food waste management.
In February 2019, Nikko and his team traveled to their project site in Malaysia to implement the community project in just two-weeks. With a grant of USD 20,000 from the programme and the partnership with EcoKnight Malaysia, the project was successfully carried out. In two weeks, the initial target of collecting 100 kg of food waste was surpassed as Nikko and his team managed to collect a total of 9,200 kg of food waste. On top of that, the team also produced an educational outreach module about food waste and Black Soldier Fly suitable for future school awareness-raising programmes. Through the community outreach efforts, the team effectively engaged and conducted surveys with a total of 283 local people, which surpassed the team’s original target by more than 100%.
For Nikko, working in a team with fully-diverse individuals was challenging but it taught him new skills. “It was not easy, but it taught me how to interact professionally with people of different beliefs, perspectives, and walks of life,” he admitted. He quickly understood that the key to successfully work together with diverse individuals is to understand one another. “The team planning became easier for us because we determined first what we are capable of and learned each other’s strengths and weakness,” he said.
After joining the EYAA programme, Nikko now works as a Technical Assistant to the Deputy Chief Operating Officer for Operations of Duty-free Philippines Corporation. He believes that EYAA has taught him the key ingredients for a successful project, which was “passion and camaraderie.” On top of that, what helped was “our common goals to persevere more and work harder.” Being involved in the project provided Nikko with vital lessons. “It has helped me to take more risks and learn about project management in a different level,” he said. Nikko wants to encourage more youth to join EYAA. “I highly recommend this programme to those individuals who want to be a changemaker and a future leader. This programme will help the youth to go beyond their competencies of solving one of the world’s pressing issues,” he continued.