UN: Asia-Pacific governments commit to push forward social business in post-Covid recovery

Asia-Pacific leaders seek to learn from each other to develop their countries' social enterprise and impact investment activities at recent meeting of United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

Asia-Pacific countries have accepted the challenge set out by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) in July to lead the promotion of inclusive business, social enterprise and impact investment as the region recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a meeting this summer, ESCAP’s 62 member and associate member states renewed their commitment to knowledge-sharing between policymakers and to support the building of the evidence base in the region on this agenda, ESCAP chief of technology and innovation Jonathan Wong told Pioneers Post in a recent interview.

Discussions on the theme of “business innovation for inclusive and sustainable development” took place during the third online session convened by the technology and innovation committee of ESCAP on 20 August 2020.

“Governments really supported [our] work and indeed gave ESCAP the mandate, along with partners, to continue to support member states to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ objectives and really focus on building the evidence-based policies in this area,” said Wong. 

Underscoring that the role of social entrepreneurs has been further elevated during the pandemic, he said: “We’ve seen that Covid-19 has shown that societal and economic impacts are completely intertwined. With social entrepreneurship having a market-driven solution element coupled with a social imperative, Covid-19 has raised the social enterprise concept higher up the government agenda.”

Jonathan Wong UNESCAPWith social entrepreneurship having a market-driven solution element coupled with a social imperative, Covid-19 has raised the social enterprise concept higher up the government agenda – Jonathan Wong

“We often found policymakers really take inspiration from each other in many ways. Often, policymakers look at their peers and see what’s possible, learn from each of them, and then implement such things in their home countries,” he said.


A call for more support

Alongside their pledge to optimise collaboration within the region, governments requested continued support from the UN to develop national policy initiatives and capacities.

Member states with growing social enterprise sectors amplified the agenda in their individual country statements.

“As we press ahead in the Covid-19 period, we are seeking the support from ESCAP for raising awareness [among government officials and the business sector] as well as policy framework development that can stimulate further activities,” the government of Myanmar stated, admitting that the country remains behind in terms of social enterprise development in the region.

It expressed its desire to learn from the experience of policymakers from its neighbouring countries, especially Thailand and the Philippines. 

Social enterprises and inclusive businesses can have short-term “meaningful responses” to the challenges brought by the pandemic, it added.

The government of Vietnam, which sits as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) chair this year, recommended the development of regional guidelines and formalisation of a longer-term work commitment for inclusive business in the region.

Vietnam also asked ESCAP to help finance its local implementation of the inclusive business promotion action plan “to build best practice of effective policies”.

The government of Indonesia specifically requested support to develop social impact investment schemes and to establish its own National Advisory Board for Impact Investing (NAB), a platform that has been gaining traction globally for promoting impact investment.



“NAB will collaborate with public sectors, investors, asset managers, intermediaries, NGOs, and private sectors to solve social, economic, and environmental problems using financing support which focused on improving program efficiency and lasting impact creation,” it said.

• Read about South Korea's National Advisory Board on Impact Investing

The Philippine government, for its part, emphasised the need to address issues confronting local micro and small enterprises and medium and large enterprises, such as the lack of a lead agency to coordinate integration and collaboration between the two types of enterprise, and their ineligibility to access funding due to the lack of requirements, collateral and track record.

The committee meeting also discussed the need to accelerate digital transformation and develop policies that promote inclusive technology and innovation that are accessible and affordable for the entire region. It highlighted how digital inclusion and resilient digital networks have been the foundation for governments to effectively respond to the pandemic.


Celebrate social enterprise success stories

Tristan Ace British CouncilTristan Ace (pictured), who leads the British Council’s work in inclusive economic development in the Asia-Pacific, told Pioneers Post that governments in this time of a pandemic, particularly those which haven’t yet implemented business innovation policies, could support the development of their own social enterprises through simple and practical initiatives.

“It’s actually most beneficial, very straightforward and easy for governments to demonstrate support for enterprises through championing them, highlighting and building a profile of these organisations, things that don’t actually demand changing laws or allocating any government resources,” he said.

He added: “Governments can celebrate the success stories of these enterprises in their responses to the pandemic. That, for me, is a great signal to the market and to the wider society that governments are taking organisations and enterprises seriously.”

The British Council and ESCAP are gathering more evidence on the role of social entrepreneurship in the recovery and resilience of communities affected by the pandemic, through a Covid-19 social enterprise response survey that will be released and shared with national governments soon.


Policy development in Asia-Pacific

Despite the various issues challenging impact economies globally, the British Council and ESCAP are optimistic with the recent significant enterprise developments in the Asia-Pacific region, said Ace.

“Laws can take many, many years before they ever see the light of day. So, in that context, we should be very encouraged by the progress that has been made in recent years,” Ace said, pointing out that Thailand has the most comprehensive policy development in the region.

In 2019, a Social Enterprise Promotion Act was passed in Thailand which aims to define and support the development of social enterprise in the country. The law offers tax breaks for corporations building social enterprises and incentives for social investment.

In the same year, Malaysia launched its first social enterprise strategy, its National Entrepreneurship Policy 2030, which sets the direction for boosting the country’s social enterprise sector. It is set to develop its Social Entrepreneurship Blueprint 2021-2025 with the aim of its social enterprise sector to be “fully self-sustaining, equitable, and people-centric” by 2025.

Despite the Poverty Reduction through Social Entrepreneurship (PRESENT) bill still pending in the Philippine Congress, an inclusive business unit has been created under the country’s 2017-2019 Investment Priorities Plan. The unit is responsible for evaluating investment projects applying for registration with inclusive business models. 

British Council and ESCAP have been working together to drive the growth of social enterprise and impact investment across the Asia-Pacific region since 2017. 

One of the focuses of their partnership is on business innovation policy support through data, analysis and advice. In partnership with national governments, the two organisations have conducted social enterprise landscape studies in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Policy analyses have also been provided to governments, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Myanmar and Thailand.

The British Council and ESCAP’s social business innovation and policy agenda will start moving towards Central Asia and the Pacific in the coming years, Ace said.

Header photo: A worker at the Koperasi Nira Satria co-operative in Indonesia which produces organic coconut sugar.