New Initiative to Help ASEAN Go Digital

The ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (ACCMSME) and The Asia Foundation have come together, to launch the Go Digital ASEAN initiative. Supported by a USD3.3 million grant from Google, the initiative is designed to equip micro and small enterprises as well as underemployed youth, particularly those in rural and isolated areas, with crucial digital skills and tools; expand economic opportunity across ASEAN Member States (AMS); and minimize the negative impact from the COVID-19 crisis.

The Go Digital ASEAN initiative focuses on closing the digital gap across ASEAN, in support of the vision set out by the ACCMSME’s Action Agenda on Digitalisation of ASEAN Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) through Capacity Building. Implemented by The Asia Foundation with support from−Google’s philanthropic arm, the initiative will train up to 200,000 people from rural regions and underserved communities—including entrepreneurs, underemployed youth, and women. Working with local partners in AMS, the USD3.3 milliongrant will broaden participation in the digital economy to include groups that have the most to gain from digital literacy skills and online safety awareness. Amidst the COVID-19 crisis, this initiative will also be a mechanism for helping MSMEs to learn about programs or assistance that can help them continue to operate during the COVID-19 crisis.

David D. Arnold, President of The Asia Foundation said, “We are pleased to activate this first-of-its-kind collaboration—pooling expertise and approaches from government, business, and NGO sectors—to help bridge the digital gap. In villages and secondary cities across the region, The Asia Foundation’s local country offices will lead a community network of trainers and volunteers to help integrate MSME owners and underemployed youth workers into the digital economy.

When the World Health Organisation announced the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic, countries across the world imposed lockdowns, community quarantines, and movement restrictions to contain the spread of the virus, resulting in disruptions to economic activities and severely impacting MSMEs. Initial studies have highlighted key challenges faced by MSMEs in the face of this global health crisis, which include depletion of operational cash flow, drop in demand for products and services, supply disruptions, reduction of opportunities to interact with customers, and issues with a changing business environment to offer alternative products and services. Even as the containment measures are slowly lifted, continued social distancing may push more businesses online. MSMEs must re-examine and adjust the way they do business. Digital technology could potentially address the myriad challenges and provide an opportunity for businesses to survive and sustain through the pandemic and beyond.

Through the Go Digital ASEAN initiative, participants will learn how to better utilise the internet and relevant digital tools to grow their businesses and reduce vulnerability against cyber threats. Training will be customised to local conditions and will cover modules such as digital marketing, business development, and online safety components to enable participants to access the most relevant tools and skills to help them improve their livelihoods in the digital economy. Information on relief programmes and measures provided by AMS will also help MSMEs continue to operate amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Learn more about the initiative here.