ASEAN CSR Network (ACN) assisted the ASEAN Foundation with the first large-scale initiative for civil society engagement. This not only evolve forging people to people engagement but also explored alliance building and collaboration with corporates and policy makers to come up with solutions for economic dynamism and resilience in ASEAN's integration. Close to 50 civil society organisations (CSOs) took part, representing three key sectors in women empowerment, rural development and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSME) development. As a facilitator, ACN led discussions for about 10 CSOs from the MSME cluster, including the Women Business Council of Brunei Darussalam, the Cambodia Women Entrepreneur Association, Fair Trade Laos Association, Vietnam Women’s Union and the Philippine Young Entrepreneurs Association. After a 1.5 day of intensive discussions, ACN presented the key findings to the ASEAN Foundation and members of the ASEAN Secretariat, which were:
- CSOs in ASEAN were already embarking on a wide range of effective programmes in line with ASEAN’s 2025 Blueprints. Specific to the objective on MSME development, ASEAN has published a Strategic Action Plan for SME Development (2016-2025), of which many of the goals were already being pursued by CSOs. In other words, CSOs and ASEAN bodies were closely aligned in their objectives.
- However, CSOs in ASEAN were not tapping into resources provided by ASEAN – such as free online courses offered by the SME Academy. Better communication flows between CSOs and ASEAN bodies would be beneficial.
- The CSOs recommended that, in order to support MSME development, focus should be placed on 2 key areas: First, to improve market access, and second, to advocate for more business-friendly government regulations
This represents the first in a series of civil society engagements organised by the ASEAN Foundation. ACN will continue to work closely with ASEAN bodies, striving towards the goals set out in the ASEAN 2025 Blueprint.