Dr. Eden Woon, President, Asian Institute of Technology,
Dear Students, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to participate in your graduation ceremony today. Thank you for giving me this honor.
You are graduating in unprecedented times. We are all in the midst of a great transformation.
The COVID-19 pandemic’s devasting health and socio-economic impact has reached every corner of the world.
We are facing a climate crisis, and countries have been thrown even further off track on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs.
However, challenges also present opportunities.
With the entrepreneurial mindset and technological know-how that AIT has instilled in you, the world – now - urgently needs your solutions to come out of this pandemic with inclusiveness, resilience and sustainability.
Take urgent actions to tackle the climate crisis; and get us back on track and accelerate progress on the SDGs.
Entrepreneurship, technology, and collaboration provide you all with opportunities to achieve this objective.
As you enter the next stage of your careers, I want to share three straight forward messages.
First, apply a social entrepreneur’s mindset.
The private sector has been a source of innovation and economic dynamism in the Asia-Pacific region.
However - to achieve the SDGs - we urgently need a private sector that focuses on generating social and environmental impact, as well as financial return.
This will require a shift in mindset from entrepreneurship to social entrepreneurship, business as usual to inclusive business, and investment to impact investment.
Social enterprises address social and environmental problems using business methods.
Inclusive businesses provide goods, services and livelihoods to people living at the base of the economic pyramid; while impact investors invest for social and environmental impact as well as financial return.
Governments have taken note of these emerging opportunities in determining their policy decisions.
The conditions have been set for you to start businesses, influence corporations and re-imagine financial markets to strive for social and environmental as well as economic impact.
All of you - the next generation of business leaders - must think about social purpose as well as profit.
As social entrepreneurs and impact investors, you will be at the forefront of creating a new vision for inclusive economies that work for society and the environment.
Our responsibility is to show you the path, but to succeed, you have to be the agent of change.
Second, focus on developing technologies for the benefit of all.
Digital transformation has been a defining feature of the pandemic and has highlighted, more than ever, the importance of digital technologies.
Digital technologies have enabled governments to implement social protection schemes, online education and e-health solutions; while digital finance and e-commerce have enabled businesses to continue to operate, trade and remain resilient.
However, many countries and communities have been left behind.
It is hard to believe that over 2 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region do not have access to the digital world.
In this context - for those of you embarking in a career in technology - I urge you to put inclusion at the heart of your work so that the promise of the SDGs to “leave no one behind” can be met.
Our technology strategy has inclusion at its heart.
The Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative aims to bridge the digital divide.
The Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development is equipping young people with the digital skills needed to engage in the digital economy.
Similarly, our Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship initiative is implementing innovative digital financing and e-commerce solutions to support women entrepreneurs, who have been hit harder than most during the pandemic.
The unprecedented pace of digital transformation - accelerated by the pandemic - provides you with an opportunity to scale up your solutions and ambitions.
In the next stage of your careers, I urge you to think about how you can develop accessible and affordable digital technologies, so that they benefit the many and not just the few.
Third, embrace the idea of collaboration and solidarity.
Now this may sound like a daunting prospect, however you are not alone.
You have each other, as well as AIT’s alumni network and global connections.
Additionally, through the Memorandum of Understand between ESCAP and AIT, the UN family stands ready to support you.
At the United Nation's 75th anniversary event last year, I stressed the need for innovative solutions and stronger collaboration across all stakeholders, particularly the youth.
Our commitment to supporting young innovators and entrepreneurs is clear.
With the skills you have gained at AIT, along with collaboration and commitment, you can help the world to recover better together.
Think big— and be innovative and down-to-earth.
I wish you every success and well-being.
Thank you very much.