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Delivered by Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

17 March 2021


Opening Statement


Excellencies, Distinguished participants,

Dear Colleagues, Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to have an opportunity to speak at the ADB’s Southeast Asia Development Symposium 2021.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the South-East Asia region experienced a contraction in GDP growth in 2020, causing rising socio-economic vulnerabilities across member States. Now, achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is falling short of its 2020 milestones as highlighted in the recently launched ESCAP Asia and the Pacific SDGs Progress Report 2021.

The lesson learnt from the pandemic is the need to build back better with resilience, inclusiveness and sustainability.

Technology, innovation and collaboration – three themes that are particularly relevant to this Symposium – provide us all with opportunities to achieve this objective.

First, digital technology.

The pandemic has highlighted, more than ever, the importance of digital technologies. Digital technologies have supported governments to implement social protection schemes and enabled e-health, while digital finance and e-commerce have enabled businesses to continue to operate, trade and remain resilient.

However, challenges remain. Those who have no access to internet cannot engage in the digital economy. Therefore, inclusive objectives must be at the heart of digital policies if the promise of “leave no one behind” is to be met.

ESCAP’s inclusive technology strategy has focused on addressing these core foundations of the digital economy:  

  • Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (APIS) initiative aims to bridge the digital divide;
  • Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development (APCICT)equips policymakers and young people alike with the digital skills needed to engage in the digital economy; and
  • Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship initiative enhances innovative digital financing and e-commerce solutions to support women entrepreneurs, who have been hit harder than most during the pandemic.

Second, innovation and entrepreneurship.

Business has been a source of innovation and economic dynamism in the region. However, to achieve the SDGs, innovative government policies that incentivize businesses to focus on creating social and environmental impact, as well as economic value, are urgently required.

In response to this challenge, innovative business models and practices - such as social entrepreneurship and inclusive business - are emerging.

Social innovators and entrepreneurs are at the forefront of building back better. From providing educational technologies for the most vulnerable to developing community tracing initiatives, the work of social innovators and entrepreneurs is more critical than ever.

ESCAP has worked with several Governments to spearhead policy innovation on this agenda:

  • Social Enterprise Act in Thailand;
  • Integration of social entrepreneurship in Indonesia's National Development Plan; and
  • We also supported the ten members of ASEAN to promote inclusive business. This innovative business model puts inclusion at the heart of business operations by providing goods and services to the very poorest and integrating those at the base of the economic pyramid in supply chains.

I was encouraged to see outcome of the 52nd ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting in 2020 that endorsed the  Guidelines for the Promotion of Inclusive Business in ASEAN: the first region in the world to endorse such a set of guidelines – demonstrating ASEAN’s leadership in promoting business innovation.

Third, multi-stakeholder collaboration.

Collaboration will be critical to leverage the potential of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship for a sustainable recovery.

Governments, the private sector, academia, civil society and development organizations, will need to harness the spirit of open innovation to develop the solutions needed now, and in the future.

The diversity of organizations participating at this event is testament to the importance stakeholders are placing on collaboration in our region.

ESCAP has developed productive partnerships with several technology companies:  

  • In collaboration with Google and Amazon, we are scaling up support to direct artificial intelligence towards social good and to assist women entrepreneurs with economic recovery; and
  • We are also leveraging social entrepreneurship and inclusive business in close partnership with Governments and other stakeholders; and
  • Together with ADB, we are advocating for innovation to chart the path towards an inclusive post-COVID-19 recovery.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to Mr. Masatsugu Asakawa, President of ADB, for his leadership and commitment.

Distinguished participants, Ladies and gentlemen,

In closing, I am pleased to inform you that ESCAP member States agreed "to support the development of enabling environments for social enterprise", the first time ever the concept has been endorsed in a UN resolution.

ESCAP, along with UN family, stands ready to work with Governments and all other relevant stakeholders in advancing technology, innovation and entrepreneurship so that we recover better together from the pandemic in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

I wish you a very successful Symposium.  Thank you for your attention.

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