Excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to be invited to deliver opening remarks at Social Business Day 2022.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Professor Muhammad Yunus for his continued and long-standing leadership, commitment and action on this important agenda.
Business has been a source of innovation and economic dynamism. However, this has often been to the detriment of the environment and society, with CO2 emissions increasing in step with the Industrial Revolution and growing inequalities in income.
In addition, the pandemic has quickly turned into a story of the haves and the have nots. The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable. People at the base of the economic pyramid have suffered the most, unable to access and afford essential goods and services and unable to make a living.
The pandemic also revealed a fractured economy, one in dire need of innovation, which makes the theme of this event so important and timely.
Building a new economic framework must be a priority if we are to build back better from the pandemic, meet the ambitions of the Sustainable Development Goals and fulfill the promise to “leave no one behind.”
To do this, we need a shift from business as usual to social and inclusive business. Our work on this agenda has focused on supporting governments to create an environment to support, enable and incentivize businesses to focus on people and planet alongside profit.
At the national level, from the Thailand Social Enterprise Act to the Viet Nam 2022-2025 Program on Support for Private Enterprises in Sustainable Business, ESCAP has supported governments in promoting businesses that consider both profit and purpose.
And at the regional level – in partnership with the ASEAN Secretariat – the Economic Ministers of ASEAN member States adopted the Guidelines for Promoting Inclusive Businesses in ASEAN, making the bloc the first in the world to adopt such a framework.
In addition, an equitable post-pandemic economic framework must have women at its heart. Advancing women’s equality in the Asia-Pacific region could add as much as $4.5 trillion – a 12 per cent increase – to the region’s GDP annually by 2025. With the economic slump that countries now face, none can afford to continue to miss out on this largely untapped dividend.
Supporting women-led businesses must be a policy priority. Our work at ESCAP has focused on this through partnering with governments to integrate gender perspectives into policies such as with the Bangladesh Start-Up Framework, the Cambodia SME Policy and the Fiji Financial Inclusion Strategy.
Let me conclude by saying that ESCAP stands ready to work with you all. Only together can we enable the innovations in business needed to support, incentivize and enable enterprises to go beyond the economic imperative to include social and environmental objectives.
I wish you all a successful, productive and action-orientated event.