ASEAN highlights micro enterprises to address poverty

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 28) — Despite a soaring economic trajectory, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is also looking to keep their feet on the ground — particularly through micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

Members of both the private and public sectors gathered on Friday to discuss how best to develop MSMEs during the ASEAN Prosperity for All Summit at City of Dreams, Manila.

Among the keynote speakers was Vice President Leni Robredo, who noted growing economy and resilience in the 2008 global crisis, but highlighted the need for MSMEs in this environment.

"Businessmen are trained to think big to survive and grow. If we are to make our political and economic systems create prosperity for all, do we now need to 'think small?'" Robredo said in her speech.

ASEAN is currently the sixth largest economy in the world, and is projected to even become the fourth largest economic bloc by 2030. With a population of roughly 650 million, the region is also the third largest labor force in the world.

Despite this growth, 25.2 percent of the population live below the poverty line according to ASEAN statistics.

"But the problem is that prosperity has not trickled down. While the number of Asian billionaires are growing, ASEAN is still home to many of the world's poor," Robredo said.

"Small businesses are not graduating into big ones on a scale that can move the needle enough to change our future," she added. "If we wait for growth to trickle down in this difficult environment, the rate by which poverty is growing will outpace us."

The summit also aimed to create a network of mentors for MSMEs among ASEAN members and allow leaders to share their plans for smaller enterprises.

Other keynote speakers included Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Leaders said it is in the best interest of ASEAN to promote MSMEs, even pointing to other world organizations as a cautionary tale.

"We are one of the most successful regional associations in the world. And while some have criticized us for moving too slowly, we have avoided the downsides of moving too fast," said Najib.

"The turmoil in the [European Union]... demonstrates the dangers of Europe-wide institutions not having sufficiently won the support and affection of member state population," he added, referring to Great Britain's controversial divorce from the EU.

ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC) Chairman Joey Concepcion also emphasized the importance of mentorship in business and not leaving anyone behind.

"If not all countries will benefit for the integration of ASEAN then the next 50 years, ASEAN will not last," said Concepcion. "If only few countries will benefit and the rest will struggle, nothing will happen."

Other prominent officials in the summit were former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, Sen. Miguel Zubiri, and Sen. Bam Aquino.

Among the other names present were Manny Pangilinan of PLDT, Tessie Sy-Coson of SM Investments, and George Barcelon of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Claire Jiao contributed to this report.