Asean MSMEs to be equipped with digital skills, tools amidst COVID-19 crisis

Azlan Othman

ASEAN and The Asia Foundation, with support from Google.org are collaborating to equip 200,000 micro, medium and small enterprises (MSMEs) in the region including over 4,000 from Brunei Darussalam with digital skills and tools amidst the COVID-19 crisis, the Asean Secretariat stated on Monday.

The ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (ACCMSME) and The Asia Foundation have come together to launch the Go Digital ASEAN initiative.

Supported by a USD3.3 million grant from Google.org, the initiative is designed to equip the enterprises as well as under-employed youth, particularly those in rural and isolated areas, with crucial digital skills and tools; expand economic opportunities across ASEAN member states (AMS); and minimise the negative impact from the COVID-19 crisis.

The Go Digital ASEAN initiative focusses on closing the digital gap across ASEAN, in support of the vision set out by the ACCMSME’s Action Agenda on Digitalisation of ASEAN MSMEs through Capacity Building.

Implemented by The Asia Foundation with support from Google.org – Google’s philanthropic arm, the initiative will train up to 200,000 people from rural regions and underserved communities — including entrepreneurs, under-employed youth and women.

Working with local partners in AMS, the USD3.3 million grant will broaden participation in the digital economy to include groups that have the most to gain from digital literacy skills and online safety awareness. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, this initiative will also be a mechanism to help MSMEs learn about programmes or assistance that can help them continue to operate during the COVID-19 crisis.

The project will reach up to 200,000 underserved people and rural micro enterprises across the region, including 60 per cent women and 40 per cent youth (ages 15–35). Leveraging The Asia Foundation’s on-ground networks, the initiative will bring critical digital skills training directly to those who need it the most.

COVID-19 is a significant threat to enterprises across ASEAN. The disruption of business operations and supply chains, along with the slowdown in sectors such as tourism, is putting MSMEs at severe risk. Digital capacity will be vital to helping small-scale entrepreneurs stay in business, providing access to wider markets, information, and services previously unavailable.

Working with governments, local partners, and youth volunteers across the 10 ASEAN member countries, Go Digital ASEAN delivers trainings for beneficiaries in villages and secondary cities, equips MSME owners and workers with the capacity to engage in the digital economy, and provides information on COVID-19 assistance.

The local partners have deep-rooted experience working with rural, poor, and disadvantaged communities, including women, youth, ethnic minorities, and people with disabilities.

These partners were also selected for their expertise in the informal sector or in target industries such as agriculture, tourism and handicrafts. Through the Go Digital ASEAN initiative, participants will learn how to better utilise the internet and digital tools to grow their businesses and reduce vulnerability against cyber-threats.

Training will be customised to local conditions and will cover modules such as digital marketing, business development, and online safety components to enable participants to access the most relevant tools and skills to help improve their livelihoods. Information on relief programmes and measures provided by AMS will also help MSMEs continue to operate amidst the COVID-19 crisis.