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· For South-East Asian countries to achieve inclusive growth, they must find ways to cope with and take advantage of the transformations brought on by rapid technological change
· Education must focus on giving young and old the skills to build 21st-century competence
· Cambodia will host next year’s World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Phnom Penh, Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Prime Minister of Cambodia, announced
· For more information about the World Economic Forum on ASEAN: http://wef.ch/asean16
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2 June 2016 – South-East Asia’s economies can achieve inclusive growth if they master the wrenching transformations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Co-Chairs of the 25th World Economic Forum on ASEAN concluded in the meeting’s closing session. “How can you not be optimistic when you have 630 million and more than half of them are young people – creative, connected and collaborating to create value for the region?” asked Shahril Shamsuddin, President and Group Chief Executive Officer of SapuraKencana Petroleum in Malaysia. “Development will be inclusive and ASEAN won’t just be a platform to propel the haves, segregate the have-nots and widen the wealth gap. There’s a lot of passion here to be sure that people are not disintermediated from growth.”
South-East Asia’s rise through its often turbulent history “may seem frustratingly non-linear” to some outsiders, George Yeo, Visiting Scholar at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy of the National University of Singapore, conceded. “But there is reason for this non-linearity. Many problems need patience to solve. In ASEAN, we somehow have an ability to endure, an ability to heal.” Yeo remarked that the cultures of the region have lasted a very long time, which is reflected in the concern for older people. “When we talk about an inclusive economy, our fear is not that the young will be included but that the not-so-young won’t be. That is ASEAN today.”
The rapid advances in technology offer opportunities for increasing productivity, creating new business models and driving fresh growth. But there are deep concerns about those who may be disrupted by the changes, particularly those who are not “digital natives” (young people who were born and have grown up in a connected world). “It is much more difficult to predict the future,” said Sigve Brekke, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Telenor Group in Norway. But it is important to harness the swiftly emerging digital technologies to promote inclusion in all areas including finance, health, education and agriculture. Adopting the technologies quickly is crucial, Brekke advised. “This revolution will be much, much faster than any we have seen before.”
That means an intense focus on educating people – both young and old – so that they can cope with the unsettling transformations and the uncertain future. “The world is changing so rapidly,” Kathleen Chew, Group Legal Counsel of the YTL Corporation in Malaysia, observed. “How do we prepare children for jobs that won’t yet exist when they leave school? And how do we reskill and retrain people? Every time there is a change, there are people left behind.” The goal is to find ways to help students and workers develop skills for 21st-century competence – such as the capacity for collaboration, communications, empathy and openness. People must have the tools and the inclusive environments that will allow them to be creative.
“Diversity is the source of innovation,” Yoshiaki Fujimori, President and Chief Executive Officer of the LIXIL Group in Japan, told participants. “Without diversity, there is no innovation. Salil Shetty, London-based Secretary-General of Amnesty International, agreed. “There is a voice gap, which is not unlinked to the wealth gap,” he said. Groups who are often excluded – women, minorities, migrants, among others – “these are people who do not have enough of a voice. This gap accentuates the wealth gap. Somehow in ASEAN there is a thinking that, if you sort out the economics, you sort out the rest. That is not the global experience.”
At the 25th World Economic Forum on ASEAN, five senior political leaders, including the heads of government of Malaysia, Cambodia and Timor Leste, called for deeper ASEAN integration, arguing that this is a prerequisite for inclusive growth. The meeting also provided a platform for 150 media representatives and 600 business, government and NGO leaders, including emerging young leaders who are part of the Forum’s Community of Global Shapers, to engage in a frank exchange on the challenges for civil society throughout the region, including human rights and freedom of expression.
Business leaders urged ASEAN governments to push forward the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) initiative, launched in 2015, and to harmonize their economies, particularly regulations and standards. They were also urged to cut red tape to unleash growth, allow for more trade and break down barriers to talent development and mobility. Participants recognized the need to quicken the pace at which ASEAN economies adapt to profound technological changes so that the region can benefit fully from opportunities arising from the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
In that context, participants put education and employment firmly on the ASEAN agenda. The region’s young demographic and the challenges posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution mean that exploring new ways of teaching and learning and promoting public-private partnerships in skills development are particular priorities, in large part because of its youthful demographic. The World Economic Forum report, Human Capital Outlook on ASEAN, which provides fresh insights and data across sectors, was published today.
Participants from the region issued a strong call to action to counter human trafficking – a persistent and still growing problem in the region that affects predominantly women and children.
At the Grow Asia Forum that preceded the World Economic Forum on ASEAN in Kuala Lumpur, government, business and civil society participants as well as farmer organizations expanded five country partnerships to cover almost half a million smallholder farmers. Going forward, Grow Asia’s goal is to reach 10 million smallholder farmers by 2020 and to improve farm productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability by 20%.
To conclude the 25th World Economic Forum on ASEAN, Samdech Techo Hun Sen, Cambodia’s Prime Minister, welcomed participants to next year’s meeting in the capital, Phnom Penh. Much like the whole of South-East Asia, he said that “over the past two decades, Cambodia has experienced remarkable transformation in its political, security, social order as well as socio-economic sectors.”
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