Flagship business sustainability event kicks off with discussion on investments required for an inclusive, resilient and sustainable future in ASEAN

The changing global economic and political landscape coupled with digitalisation have impacted both the business and labour markets. While digitalisation may have displaced some from employment, it has also democratised entrepreneurship and opened the possibility for wealth to be spread to more people and create more inclusive growth opportunities. How to balance the needs of profits and people responsibly is the key to sustainable development.

These are a few salient points raised in the first session at the ASEAN Business Forum this morning.

The focus of this year's Forum is “Towards Inclusive, Resilient and Sustainable ASEAN: The Role of Responsible and Inclusive Business”. In her opening remarks, Ms Yanti Triwadiantini, Chair of the ASEAN CSR Network (ACN) which co-organised the Forum highlighted while ASEAN has prospered since its formation, this has come with serious challenges including a widening income gap, environment degradation and pervasive corruption. The ASEAN Responsible Business Forum thus provides an avenue ‘to discuss and debate how we as a vibrant, determined and resilient region can and must address these topics’.

Ms Triwandiantini also stressed the need to support for Micro, Small, and Medium enterprises (MSMEs) which forms the backbone of ASEAN economies, as MSMEs make up over 90% of companies in the region and provide the majority of jobs. “In order to achieve the ASEAN Economic Community, we must support and ensure growth for MSMEs. They must not be left behind if we want an inclusive, socially responsible and equitable ASEAN.” It is with this objective that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed at the Forum by ACN to be a partner organisation of the ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN). First launched in Philippines in November 2017, AMEN is an initiative of ASEAN-Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC) that seeks to bring together a pool of mentors made up of entrepreneurs, business practitioners and other thought-leaders, to facilitate the scaling up of MSMEs in priority sectors such as digital economy, trade and industry and agriculture.

Dr Robert Yap, Chair of the ASEAN BAC said, “This initiative will assist and empower MSMEs in Singapore so that the entire business community can play a part in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.” AMEN has also been launched in Australia, Korea and Malaysia.

Also present as Guest-of-Honour at the opening of the Forum is Mr Liang Eng Hwa, Chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee for Finance and Trade, Singapore. Mr Liang highlighted one of the reasons that Singapore supports responsible business is because the country has ‘reaped the benefits of a clean society where corruption is not a systemic issue’. Money lost through unethical practices can be channelled towards boosting a country’s economic growth and job creations, he said.

Mr Liang also highlighted that inclusive and responsible business practices is ‘not only good for business, it is good for their employees’, saying that “when the benefits from the companies flow to employees and allow them to provide well for their families, it creates a stable environment for society as a whole to flourish.”  Despite the challenges facing the ASEAN Community, Mr Liang is confident that ASEAN would remain active in addressing its social, economic and environmental issues. “What is needed is to further strengthen ASEAN’s commitment to responsible and inclusive business,” as he urged the business and people sectors to do more to ensure that business operations in the region respect employees and people while protecting the environment.

Ms Triwadiantini said that the collaboration of ACN and ASEAN-BAC to co-organise the Forum is a first step. In March 2018, ACN was appointed the sector-champion for Responsible and Inclusive Business with the ASEAN-BAC.  “We hope to organise this Forum every year and with more and more companies joining us to make the vision of a prosperous, sustainable, equitable and inclusive ASEAN a reality,” said Ms Triwadiantini.

Some 180 delegates and guests from the business, civil society and academic communities of the 10 ASEAN member states are attending the 2-day Forum.