“Business Beyond Borders” Emphasizes the Need for Inclusive Economic Growth in ASEAN

Why is the growth of smaller businesses important, especially for Southeast Asia? What kind of measures can governments implement to help these businesses, and how can entrepreneurs best take advantage of these opportunities?

These questions were central to “Business Beyond Borders,” the second of the three-part ASEAN 2017 Dialogue Series held at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM). The dialogue was held on July 11th, 2017, with over 200 attendees from both the public and private sectors. The forum was organized by the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), in partnership with Asia Society Philippines and in collaboration with the AIM Economics Department.

The ASEAN 2017 Dialogues aim to address each of the pillars of ASEAN, creating understanding through discussion. The Dialogue on the Political Pillar of ASEAN took place last June 16th, 2017, and the discussion on ASEAN’s Socio-Cultural Pillar will be held this coming July 31st, 2017.

“Business Beyond Borders” featured three panels with the following focuses: Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME); start-ups; trade and investment. The open forum was moderated by Elizabeth Lee, President and CEO of BizNewsTV. Before the panel discussions, opening remarks were delivered by Assistant Secretary Kissinger Reyes from the PCOO. He emphasized the importance of these ASEAN dialogues moving forward, noting the milestones that the ASEAN community has achieved together in the last 50 years. Doris Magsaysay-Ho, Chair of Asia Society Philippines, also welcomed the attendees to the forum. Magsaysay-Ho stated that dialogues such as these, by creating understanding between different communities, allow for a more inclusive growth in the ASEAN region. Atty. Allan Rivote delivered the keynote message on behalf of Assistant Secretary Anna Diaz-Robeniol, highlighting the pivotal role that smaller businesses play in employment and GDP growth in ASEAN.

In the first panel on MSMEs, Gil Gonzales, Executive Director of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC), spoke about the structure of the ABAC and its goals to achieve sustainable projects that promote “partnership for change, prosperity for all.” Gonzales’ speech was followed by a presentation from Sherill Quintana, the Founder and President of Oryspa, a company that sells wellness and beauty products solely based on rice bran. Quintana spoke from the perspective of entrepreneurs, telling the audience about how she took advantage of workshops and assistance from larger organizations such as the AIM and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Quintana noted: “it takes a whole nation to raise an entrepreneur.”

To open the second panel on start-ups, Atty. Kristine Alcantara, Policy Consultant and Program Director of the DTI Startup Ecosystem Development Program Department, delivered a presentation that analyzed the current start-up ecosystem of the Philippines and emphasized the need for policies to “address the bottlenecks,” moving the start-up ecosystem from the foundational to the accelerating stage. Jojo Flores, Co-founder and President of Plug and Play Technology Center, continued this theme of accelerating start-ups, sharing with the audience how he has achieved this through his company.“It’s important to accelerate success, but also to accelerate failure,” said Flores. “If an idea fails quickly, they can move on to a better idea quickly. Start-ups can’t waste time or money.”

Dr. Neil Adrian Cabiles, Finance Attaché and Division Chief at the International Finance Policy Office of the Department of Finance, spoke during the final panel on trade and investments. His presentation highlighted the benefits of larger markets and liberalized trade for the Philippines as well as other ASEAN member states. The CEO of PLDT Global Corporation, Katrina Luna Abelarde, followed Dr. Cabiles; she spoke about the role that technology plays in globalization. “Our goal is to be present wherever the global Filipinos are,” said Abelarde, regarding PLDT’s recent efforts to expand continuously.

The forum closed with a synthesis from Professor Fernando Roxas of the AIM who noted the importance of cooperation between the public and private sectors in order to “make starting and closing businesses an easier process for everyone.” Prof. Roxas remarked, “Markets, markets, and more markets. Larger markets will benefit the ASEAN community.”

Text by Jeewon Lee

Photos by Bea Hidalgo