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Towards bolstering businesses, accelerating COVID-19 recovery

Azlan Othman

The United States (US) Government through the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the US-ASEAN Business Council announced a plan to redesign the ASEAN SME Academy, an ongoing e-learning platform for micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Southeast Asia initially launched in 2016, the ASEAN Secretariat announced yesterday.

Managed by the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on MSME (ACCMSME) under the leadership of the Philippines Department of Trade and Industry – Bureau of Small and Medium Enterprise Development (DTI-BSMED), the academy features interactive online courses in finance, branding, marketing, trade, and technology to accelerate MSMEs’ growth and equip them for success in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The ASEAN SME Academy is a one-stop-shop for the region’s MSMEs, comprising up to 99 per cent of Southeast Asia’s firms and employ a regional average of 85 per cent of its workforce,” said US-ASEAN Business Council President and Chief Executive Officer, Ambassador Ted Osius.

“The redesigned platform will be user-friendly, content-rich, and accessible in at least two key regional languages. We’re upgrading the academy to reach many more MSMEs and give them the tools to grow their businesses as the region emerges from the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Philippines DTI-BSMED Director Jerry Clavesillas said, “The core of the ASEAN SME Academy is a series of robust training materials from a variety of global companies and international organisations tailored for MSMEs in the region.”

A file photo of the Gadong night market which attracts visitors due to the availability of a variety of goods. PHOTO: BAHYIAH BAKIR

He added that strengthening the academy to improve accessibility and enhance the learning experience of the business community in the region will help expand inclusive economic growth.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, MSMEs in the region quickly discovered that they need to adapt to new ways of operating, adopt new proven business practices, and pursue opportunities for future growth. These businesses need innovative skills and training courses catered for MSMEs, with a focus on COVID-19 recovery through enhanced digital and traditional skills.

“The US continues to proudly support the growth and expansion of MSMEs to benefit the region,” said Chargé d’Affaires of the US Mission to ASEAN Kate Rebholz. “Strengthening the ASEAN SME Academy platform provides the opportunity for small businesses to accelerate their post-pandemic recovery and offers new tools to help them thrive, expand, and further contribute to the region’s prosperity.”

As part of the US’ objective to drive regional prosperity in the Indo-Pacific, USAID partners with ASEAN to promote prosperity and security through economic inclusion, women’s empowerment, and good governance.

The new version of the ASEAN SME Academy jointly supported by ACCMSME, USAID, and US-ASEAN Business Council will cater to the needs of business owners and private citizens through a new design to improve accessibility and enhance learning experience, and will feature more online courses and customised capacity building programmes needed for businesses to recover stronger from COVID-19 pandemic. The redesigned flagship initiative will be unveiled in April.

The academy also contributes to the implementation of the ASEAN Strategic Action Plan for SME Development 2016 – 2025 which envisions to create globally competitive MSMEs that are seamlessly integrated into the ASEAN community by focussing on initiatives to promote productivity, technology, and innovation; increase access to finance, expand market access and globalisation; enhance policy and regulatory environment, and encourage entrepreneurship and human capital development.