World Economic Forum on ASEAN Closes with Pledges on Digital Growth, Inclusion
The World Economic Forum on ASEAN came to a close today, gathering a record number of participants (more than 1,100) and heads of state (8). Participants looked at how the ASEAN region can best deal with the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, creating economic growth that is sustainable, inclusive and creates enough jobs.
Participants agreed the World Economic Forum on ASEAN in the Vietnamese capital had been characterized by pertinent discussion on critical regional issues. “We have had deep, substantial and hopefully consequential discussions on ASEAN’s future,” noted Børge Brende, President; Member of the Managing Board, World Economic Forum.
Co-Chairs of the three-day meeting emphasized the quality of dialogue that took place, and an overarching sense of optimism about the opportunities ahead. “Overall I am feeling very optimistic that ASEAN is going to take the bull by the horns, so to speak,” observed Nazir Razak, Chairman, CIMB Group Holdings, Malaysia, “I think the World Economic Forum has made a difference to ASEAN. ASEAN does recognize the 4.0 challenge and I am optimistic about what the ASEAN secretariat will do now do now going forward.”
Referring to the theme of the event, ASEAN 4.0: Entrepreneurship and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Razak said he hopes the regional bloc could collaborate further to capitalize on the gains of rapid technological change and digital growth by achieving the free movement of talent, data, capital and education, across the borders of ASEAN’s 10 members.
Occurring at a time when the regional geopolitical dynamic is underscored by rising trade tensions between the United States and China, participants agreed that ASEAN nations are well placed to bolster the region from external shocks, particularly through ramping up intra-ASEAN trade.
“For all the talk of trade conflict,” observed Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner, McKinsey & Company, Hong Kong SAR, China, “I do still sense from the conversations I have had here, and also observing where we are, that the underlying fundamentals of this part of the world remain solid. And therefore while there may be turbulence in the near term, we should expect, and can believe in a very positive future for ASEAN and beyond.”
Envisioning a future defined by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Nguyen Manh Hung, Acting Minister of Information and Communications of Viet Nam, stressed the need for “smart governance” and the willingness of governments, businesses and societies to collectively adapt to rapid technological change.
“Technology can change very fast but the people, governments cannot change so fast and this will be our biggest challenge. So what do we need to do?” he asked. “We have to train people so they are adept at change, not only technological training, but soft skills too. I think the Fourth Industrial Revolution is more about a mindset revolution.”
Given disparate levels of development and the potential for rapid development to leave some sectors of society behind, Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen, Chief Executive Officer, Plan International, United Kingdom, reiterated the importance of equitable development and inclusion.
“There is no doubt that there is tremendous opportunity in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. What I would hope is that we can take some lessons from other revolutions because there were some very, very significant losers that got left out,” remarked Albrectsen, “We can learn from that and make sure that the social inclusion that is needed – and bringing everyone along – is a lot faster, and we need public policy to ensure we get that inclusion.”
One cause for great optimism, she elaborated, is ASEAN’s “phenomenal investment in education”, and one that should translate into greater gender equity in the region’s future workforce. “As education has become more and more inclusive, as girls are superseding boys in attaining high levels of education, the economies are still not taking full advantage of that really fantastic resource: well-educated young women in their workforce.”