(The Philippines) – On May 29, the US-ASEAN Business Council held its first SME webinar event kicking off a series in response to the COVID-19 crisis. More than 200 owners and executives of Philippine Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) participated in the webinar session titled “Digital Payments for SMEs in COVID-19” focusing specifically on in the Philippines. The webinar was conducted in close collaboration with the Philippines Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and Philippine Trade and Training Centre (PTTC).
The webinar is an activity under the Council’s broader ASEAN SME Capacity Building Program. In 2020, the program will focus on using tools such as the ASEAN SME Academy to help SMEs cope with COVID19 by providing resources that empower skills and business transformation. The webinar was officially opened by Ambassador Michael W. Michalak, Senior Vice President, and Regional Managing Director of the US-ASEAN Business Council.
“In this time of COVID-19 more and more businesses are turning to the digital economy to engage in a no touch fashion to help in the fight against the virus,” said Amb. Michalak in his opening remarks. “The governments are shifting their agendas to the recovery period of this pandemic, the wellbeing of SMEs, the backbone of ASEAN economies, is front of mind for them. Through programs such as the SME Academy, the Council and its members hope to position ourselves as resources and partners to governments in recovery efforts. Many of our members also stand ready to support the development of ASEAN SMEs”.
As the COVID-19 crisis hits the Philippines, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects a decrease in the Philippines’ GDP for 2020 to 0.6% from 5.9% in 2019. In the Philippines, MSMEs have contributed to 35.7% of the total value added to the economy and employ 63.19% of the total labor force. As MSMEs are some of the most affected businesses during the COVID-19, it is vital to help them cope with disruption and in turn lower the risk of prolonged economic crisis. Therefore, it is important to help ASEAN SMEs enhance their digital skills allowing them to become more competitive in domestic markets and better integrated into regional and global value chains.
“After the lockdown period, the challenge now that will be faced by entrepreneur is the response of the market; if the service or product they are offering is still palatable to consumers,” noted by Director Clavesillas in his presentation. “Today’s grim situation requires the MSME sector to adopt alternative ways of doing business. The Philippine government along with partners, therefore, are work-horsing to help MSMEs cope with this disruption by introducing more innovative scheme to lower the risk from the economic and health crisis. MSMEs cannot strive for more of the same; shifting to or adding digital scheme to one’s business is never too late to embark on.”
The workshop demonstrated commitment on behalf of the U.S. private sector to supporting the Philippines Government in empowering SMEs and creating a more resilient small business environment. Visa, a Vice Chair of the Council’s Financial Services Committee and sponsor of the SME program, promoted the importance of digital payments and harnessing digital capabilities to grow business amid the pandemic.
“We’re extremely pleased to be part of this webinar session today. I think we can agree that this is an extremely challenging time for SMEs, and many of these small businesses are forced to deal with impacts to their business revenues, and the only way is to adapt and become more digital. So that’s why we are leveraging the power of our network to help this underserved segment gain access to digital payment platforms that are fast, convenient and secure,” said Mr. Dan Wolbert, Visa Country Manager for the Philippines & Guam.
In 2011, the US-ASEAN Business Council established a training program for ASEAN SMEs in response to a request by the ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) to support ASEAN SMEs leverage technology and the intra-global consumer and supply base. Today, more than 7,000 SMEs have benefitted from Council’s SME programs in all ten ASEAN Member States. In the Philippines alone, the Council has conducted seven workshops—six in Manila and one in Cebu.
In 2016, the Council launched the online ASEAN SME Academy, a self-help and self-paced online learning platform for SMEs, offering free courses and resources from the Council’s member companies. The Academy is co-administered with the DTI and PTTC on behalf of the Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (ACCMSME). You can read more about the academy and access it here www.asean-sme-academy.org.