ASEAN businesses aim to be inclusive

Azlan Othman

ASEAN has made significant advancements at both national and regional levels in promoting inclusive business models, according to a statement from the ASEAN Secretariat at the end of the Fourth ASEAN Inclusive Business (IB) Summit on Wednesday.

The summit discussed diverse inclusive business models operating in the region, showcasing essential elements that make a business model both inclusive and commercially viable, said the secretariat.

The meeting explored how inclusive businesses and social enterprises are helping low-income and marginalised populations to recover from the economic crisis.

The meeting also discussed digital solutions, investment models, and partnerships that enable businesses to address the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Building on Guidelines for the Promotion of Inclusive Business in ASEAN, which was endorsed in 2020, the summit discussed its application in the national context of individual ASEAN member states.

One initiative is the establishment of an inclusive business accreditation and registration system and the provision of business coaching services for firms to develop inclusive business models, said the secretariat.

“This will help identify, incentivise, and support businesses, including social enterprises, that can amplify their social impacts by developing inclusive business models.”

To promote utilisation of the guidelines, briefing notes on the guidelines are translated into the national languages of ASEAN members countries, which provides the overview of inclusive business landscapes for each country and a summary of the policy options.

At the regional level, an e-learning module developed to encourage learning on inclusive business among ASEAN policymakers is accessible on the ASEAN SME Academy.

Meanwhile, in collaboration with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC), ASEAN aims to highlight good practices through the ASEAN Business Awards this November by recognising 10 businesses with the ASEAN Inclusive Business Awards.

Permanent Secretary (Industry) at the Ministry of Finance and Economy Pengiran Hajah Zety Sufina binti Pengiran Dato Paduka Haji Sani, who attended the meeting, said, “As a result of efforts to promote inclusive business at the national levels, ASEAN member states are actively engaging in inclusive business policy development and capacity building to better understand the inclusive business concept and approaches among its policymakers and businesses.”

Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) said, “At ESCAP we are convinced that inclusive businesses have the potential to bridge the growing gap between the economy and people, and help countries with their resilient, inclusive and sustainable recovery.”

Head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Unit for Social Economy and Innovation Antonella Noya said, “Social enterprises and inclusive businesses can help foster the inclusive and sustainable growth needed to build back better. To capitalise on this potential, policy makers should help social enterprises scale and involve stakeholders from the start.”

Inclusive businesses provide goods, services, and livelihoods on a commercially viable basis to people living at the base of the pyramid, making them part of the value chain of companies as suppliers, distributors, retailers, or customers.

Executive Director of Inclusive Business Action Network (iBAN) Christian Jahn said, “Inclusive businesses are a triple win for the poor, the government and the businesses.

“Besides improving the lives of the poor through improved income or services, they contribute to inclusive economic growth and a reduction in poverty, and at the same time the company can make profit and is therefore also a sustainable business.”