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My father was an active participant in ASEAN for a number of years. Joecon was a formidable figure in the ASEAN, working on ASEAN Economic Cooperation with as much dedication as he did in his job as Department of Trade and Industry secretary and as chairman of the NAMFREL. He was active in the ASEAN Chambers of Commerce and Industry and was the founding chairman of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN-BAC) Philippines.
He served as a mentor to many who followed in the ASEAN-BAC, including myself. Without either of us being aware of it, he mentored me and prepared me for when I became chairman of the ASEAN-BAC in 2017. Because of him, I understood what the work was, and it is encapsulated perfectly in the ASEAN-BAC motto: Business for Good.
When I spoke at the handover ceremony dinner of the ASEAN-BAC last week, I was rather candid in my observation that, even today, wealth is not distributed in a manner that brings greater equality and prosperity for everyone. When you look at our economies, much more needs to be done to make them inclusive.
Many in that gathering last week were successful businessmen. And I can confidently say that there are three elements that helped them get there: access to money, markets and mentors, the three M’s that form the pillar of our advocacy at Go Negosyo.
Mentorship is at the heart of AMEN, or ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network, our legacy program from our ASEAN-BAC chairmanship in 2017. Put simply, it can be likened to an MBA program for MSMEs. It is a modules-based training program facilitated by accredited mentors. The ten modules in its training system covers subjects ranging from the Entrepreneurial Mind-setting and Values Formation, to more practical tutoring on Enterprise Accounting and Financial Management, to Good Governance.
We presented AMEN at the handover ceremony dinner of the ABAC chairmanship at the meeting in Jakarta last week. It was a huge event as it was held simultaneously with the 95th ABAC meeting and the 21st Joint Business Council Meeting. Officials of the ASEAN, members of the diplomatic corps, the region’s big businessmen were there, and it was the perfect opportunity to present to them AMEN.
AMEN is the regional version of Go Negosyo’s Kapatid Mentor ME program, scaled up to be implemented in all ten ASEAN countries. We have implemented KMME since 2016, together with the DTI, and produced more than 12,000 graduates… and counting. For our ASEAN-wide implementation, AMEN’s ten training modules were translated into seven languages, namely Khmer, Indonesian, Lao, Bahasa Malay, Burmese, Thai and Viet.
AMEN aims to certify and train at least ten mentors from each ASEAN member-state, and mentor at least 30 MSMEs from each ASEAN member-state. AMEN was first piloted in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, producing 127 graduates from the pilot implementation.
Of the three M’s, access to mentoring is key to enabling our MSMEs to move up the chain of success, and that it is the responsibility of big business to help MSMEs move up the ladder. Access to markets is another big factor. Big business needs to embrace MSMEs in their value chain. When these small entrepreneurs have a good business plan – resulting from good mentoring and a clear access to markets – the third M, access to money or capital, will be much easier to obtain because there will be greater confidence from the financial institutions to supply funding for the business.
I think Kiya Masahiko, the Japanese Ambassador of Mission to the ASEAN, put it quite well when he told the ASEAN-BAC in his speech, “Growth is important, but equity and fairness and inclusivity, that is a priority.”
This is more than lip service. The government of Japan funded AMEN through two grants, both through the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund. For their commitment, we are grateful.
Truly, narrowing the gap is very important. Wealth has to be distributed fairly, and it can be done sustainably by embracing our MSMEs. As we scale them up, our businesses will also scale up because people will have more purchasing power. It is the essence of that popular aphorism, that a rising tide lifts all boats.
In the ASEAN, MSMEs contribute close to 90 percent to job generation and 45 percent to GDP, that’s a huge number. Upgrading and upskilling MSMEs can have a great impact on economies because these make up a majority of enterprises, especially in low- to middle-income countries. AMEN can have the potential to scale up millions of MSMEs in the ASEAN, and help generate more jobs for the region. With AMEN, we can help ASEAN MSMEs realize their potential to enhance and grow the region into a more united, cooperative and integrated economy.
I have been an adviser to three Philippine presidents now, and what sustains me in my work with MSMEs is that it is something that will, with hope, be carried on by others who will be passionate to the cause, especially by young entrepreneurs, who already have the technology and the skills to help build an inclusive economy. They are the ones who are building the platforms and bringing new ideas that could usher in an era of transformation with greater speed than what was seen before.
What a legacy it would be if we could create that ripple of prosperity across the region, simply by helping small businesses. I think it is a worthwhile pursuit, more meaningful than leaving this earth as the sole dominant force in industry which, we all know, is fleeting.