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Digitalization of MSMEs needs broad support package

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Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Europe and Central Asia need an integrated package of financial and non-financial instruments to help them adapt to the  twin challenges of COVID-19 and accelerated digitalization, according to the panel for the recent GMIS Digital Series webinar, “Industrial Recovery in Europe and Central Asia: Accelerating Digital Transformation for MSMEs”

Taras Kachka, Deputy Minister for Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture – Trade Representative of Ukraine, stressed the need for “better balance” in mitigating the pandemic while preserving the economy, particularly the MSME sector. He  noted the need to improve skills, and the certification of products and services, and to increase transparency. “MSMEs are the key drivers of regional economic growth but the lockdown measures put in place in every country have impacted their ability to produce, trade and serve their communities as supply chains were disrupted,” lamented Kachka.

Naira Margaryan, Armenia’s Deputy Minister of Economy, noted the imperative of building capacity for women and youth, given the paucity of leadership positions they occupy. She said, “Although the crisis has been devastating for some, for other businesses it creates new employment and self-employment opportunities. In Armenia, we are seeing women embrace this as an opportunity to step up, so, to support their efforts, we in the government are working to provide better access for women to enter business networks and are supporting capacity and skill-building, particularly in the manufacturing sector.”

Milena Angelova, Vice-President of the EU’s European Economic and Social Committee, focused on the need for targeted investments to specific sectors, for digitalization of MSMEs, digital skills and financial support to MSMEs, particularly through enhanced partnerships. “The main challenge is to prevent any loss of industrial production but to do this, we need to map out the impact of the pandemic on individual sectors and countries to identify where support is needed the most. Until now, much of the business community’s response to the crisis has been on a local level. This approach will not deliver a sustainable recovery. To do so, we need to draw these efforts together, to form a network across Europe and Asia to build cohesion and a multiplier effect,” said Angelova.

Maja Tomanic-Vidovic, Director, Slovene Enterprise Fund, noted that since the outbreak of COVID-19, 75 per cent of MSMEs had lost employees, 70 per cent had falling revenues, while 40 per cent suffer from liquidity issues. In the long-run, she noted, MSEMs will have to adapt to the accelerated paradigm of digitalization. She warned, “We have to accept that nothing will be the same as before…companies that don’t accept this will have problems in the future.” Concluding, Jacek Cukrowski, Chief of UNIDO’s Regional Programme, Europe and Central Asia, noted that the MSME sector is the backbone of any national economy, and that innovation is “at the core of modern business”. He listed UNIDO’s interventions in this area, including tailored programmes for the digitalization of MSMEs, enhancing digital resilience and competitiveness, digital upskilling and training. Cukrowski stressed, “Ensuring [MSMEs’] resilience is key to creating a more inclusive and resilient, human-centered future and a thriving global economy.”

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World Bank Group Sanctions Two Chinese Engineering Companies for 18 months

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The World Bank Group today announced the 18-month sanctions of China National Electric Engineering Company Limited (“CNEEC”) and its wholly owned subsidiary, China Electric Design and Research Institute Company Limited (“CEDRI”), both international engineering companies, in connection with fraudulent practices as part of the Lusaka Transmission and Distribution Rehabilitation Project in Zambia.

CEDRI has been sanctioned with debarment with conditional release, which makes the company ineligible to participate in projects and operations financed by institutions of the World Bank Group. The debarment is part of a settlement agreement under which CEDRI admits responsibility for the underlying sanctionable practices and agrees to meet specified corporate compliance conditions as a condition for release from debarment.

CNEEC has been sanctioned with conditional non-debarment, which means that it remains eligible to participate in projects and operations financed by institutions of the World Bank Group as long as it complies with its obligations under the settlement agreement. Otherwise, the conditional non-debarment will convert to a sanction of debarment with conditional release, and the company then will become ineligible to participate in World Bank Group projects and operations until the conditions for release set out in the settlement agreement are met.  

The project was designed to increase the capacity and improve the reliability of the electricity transmission and distribution system in Lusaka, Zambia. According to the facts of the case, CEDRI engaged in fraudulent practices by failing to disclose a conflict of interest and by presenting false documents with CNEEC’s company name in order to meet the requirements of a contract under the project. CNEEC, as a controlling affiliate of CEDRI, failed to oversee CEDRI’s misconduct.

The settlement agreement provides for reduced periods of sanction in light of both companies’ cooperation. As a condition for release from sanction under the terms of the settlement agreement, the companies commit to developing an integrity compliance program consistent with the principles set out in the World Bank Group Integrity Compliance Guidelines. CNEEC and CEDRI also commit to continue to fully cooperate with the World Bank Group Integrity Vice Presidency. 

The debarment of CEDRI qualifies for cross-debarment by other multilateral development banks (MDBs) under the Agreement for Mutual Enforcement of Debarment Decisions that was signed on April 9, 2010.

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Post-Pandemic Growth Needs New Skills for New Jobs that Are Open to All

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The World Economic Forum’s first Jobs Reset Summit convened more than 1,000 leaders from government, business and civil society to shape a new agenda for growth, jobs, skills and equity.

It follows the Forum’s January 2020 launch of the Reskilling Revolution online platform to create better jobs, skills and education for 1 billion people by 2030. The platform hosts global, national and industry coalitions.

The Forum’s Closing the Skills Gap Accelerators are a global network of national efforts to improve skills, redeploy upskilled workers and promote inclusion. At last week’s summit, three new countries – Georgia, Greece and Turkey – joined Bahrain, Brazil, India, Oman, Pakistan, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates to close skills and employment gaps in their countries.

“Closing the skills and employment gap has never been so urgent and vital to our economy and society as we recover from the pandemic. The Accelerator in Greece will work with major private-sector companies and Regeneration as the local coordinator to build partnerships that would mobilize investment for job creation and reskill our workforce for the jobs of tomorrow,” said Adonis Georgiadis, Minister for Development and Investment, Greece.

Georgia has set up a new platform, Skills Georgia, under the Accelerator, a public-private agency run as a non-profit organization that will “give the opportunity for the new generation to become more innovative; more start-up, tech and innovation-oriented with their entrepreneurial thinking,” said Tamar Kitiashvili, Deputy Minister of Education, Science, Culture and Sport, Georgia.

Turkey is launching the Closing the Skills Gap Accelerator championed by three ministers – Industry and Technology; Education; and Family, Labour and Social Services – showcasing the cross-governmental collaboration required for rapid action on skills.

Leading policy-makers from Bahrain, Brazil and Pakistan provided updates on the efforts in their respective Accelerators to adapt to the pandemic and deliver skills to workers and out-of-work individuals. Brazil’s Deputy Minister of the Economy revealed that under Brazil’s Accelerator more than 8 million people will be trained to increase their future employability in the next two years. In Pakistan, the Minister for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resources highlighted a standardization and accreditation system in more than 10,000 training centres across Pakistan, created in close partnership with the private sector. Bahrain’s Minister of Youth showcased the efforts focused on young graduates to equip them with the skills of tomorrow.

The Reskilling Revolution platform also hosts the Skills Consortium of top online education and training providers. These companies and organizations, including Coursera, Udacity and EdX, shared their support of workers in the current context and the opportunities for further delivering on the promise of online learning and training through better accreditation and recognition by employers.

Business-led and intra-industry collaborations were also announced at the summit to create solutions for workers who can be rapidly upskilled and redeployed to a different role within their sector, leveraging both online and in-person training. For example, Crescent Petroleum shared its partnership with Edraak to provide online learning for youth in the Middle East and North Africa region, with over 240,000 people already registered.

A New Agenda for Economic Growth, Revival and Transformation

A community of leading chief economists from the public and private sectors supported the development of the Forum’s Dashboard for the New Economy. The proposed set of macroeconomic targets aims to steer the COVID-19 recovery beyond GDP growth alone and give governments the impetus to put the focus on people, planet, prosperity and institutions.

The Forum also launched a priority list of 20 of the most promising Markets of Tomorrow that are poised to generate sustainable and inclusive job creation and growth beyond today’s economic models. A network of Closing the Innovation Gap Accelerators will be taking forward investments in these new markets and innovation ecosystems.

A New Agenda for Work, Wages and Job Creation

The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report, released during the summit, highlighted the “double disruption” faced by workers in the face of the pandemic recession coupled with accelerated automation.

A coalition of more than 60 chief human resources officers partnered with the World Economic Forum and Mercer to create a new set of principles for the future of work through the Resetting the Future of Work Agenda.

As part of a network of Preparing for the Future of Work Accelerators across nine industries, the Consumer Industry Acceleratorannounced an initiative to create “reskilling and redeployment pathways” for thousands of employees. Leena Nair, Chief Human Resources Officer, Unilever, announced the collaboration with Walmart, Accenture and Skyhive. “It’s the first of its kind, non-competitive, collaborative partnership,” said Nair. The coalition is inviting companies from across industries to join the response to deal with the scale of the reskilling challenge.

A New Agenda for Equity, Inclusion and Social Justice

In addition, Jordan joined 10 other economies, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, Dominican Republic, Egypt and France, deploying the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerators to enhance opportunities for women in the workforce.

“The government of Jordan is committed to gender equality and women’s empowerment as an effective tool to combat poverty, hunger and diseases. Today’s launch of the Jordan Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator will help us incorporate gender as a cross-cutting theme in our economic recovery plans. It is also in line with our longstanding public-private collaboration efforts to create more equitable growth,” said Nasser Shraideh, Jordan’s Minister of Planning and International Cooperation.

The Future of Jobs Report highlighted how the impact of technology and the COVID recession on jobs has been worse for women, youth and lower-income workers. The newly launched Resetting the Future of Work Agenda highlights the win-win of diversity, equity and inclusion in this context, while the recent Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 4.0 Toolkithelps companies deploy the latest HR technologies to support this.

The Valuable 500 – committed to transforming disability inclusion through business leadership and opportunity, launched at the Forum’s Annual Meeting 2019 – announced an additional 100 members since January 2020. With 334 organizations worldwide, combined revenues of over $4.5 trillion and an employee base of 11.9 million, The Valuable 500, in partnership with the Forum, launched its Transformation Leadership Programme to build capability at leadership and C-suite level.

Notable Quotes from Leaders throughout the Summit

Environmental and social pressures have exposed the fault lines in the structure of global capitalism. Ray Dalio, Founder, Co-Chairman and Co-Chief Investment Officer of Bridgewater Associates, said: “Capitalism by its nature tends to create greater wealth gaps. There needs to be a coordinated effort to restructure how the machine works.”

Unilever’s Chief Executive Officer Alan Jope referred to COVID-19 causing a jobs crisis but urged action on two further crises, climate change and the nature of capitalism itself, “We must change the measures of success,” he said, moving beyond the preoccupation with measuring only GDP and profit as yardsticks for the recovery.

“We have a tech-savvy younger generation, and the challenge now is how do we equip them more”, said Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation of Egypt, and a Co-Chair of the Closing the Gender Gap Accelerator in Egypt.

Jonas Prising, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ManpowerGroup, described a two-speed recovery from COVID-19. “Businesses that are able to adapt are recovering quicker than those that cannot. The same is true for the labour market. People with the right skills will come back faster.”

For Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), “Coordination is missing in action,” he said. Yet, the only way to deal with issues of international trade, migration, climate change, employment and economic recovery from COVID-19 – even the search for a vaccine – is through multilateral cooperation.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and others called for the creation of a Global Social Protection Fund for those hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis. “About half of the world’s people have no social protection or any sense of security,” said Sharan Burrow, General-Secretary, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

Geraldine Matchett, Co-Chief Executive Officer and Chief Financial Officer of Royal DSM highlighted how technology can help to enable fairer access to jobs and that “the COVID crisis has shown us that it’s very possible to change the definition and format of work.” Royal DSM is a founding partner of the Forum’s Hardwiring Gender Parity in the Future of Work framework.

Additionally, the OECD and the Education Commission announced at the summit new studies that promote new metrics for soft skills and a new common agenda for education.

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Going Digital is Necessary for Small Businesses to Survive

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APEC member economies must work together to promote and encourage the transition of the region’s micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to the emerging digital economy, urged Malaysia’s Minister of Entrepreneur Development and Cooperatives, Dato Sri Dr. Haji Wan Junaidi Bin Tuanku Jaafar.

“Going digital is not an option, it has to be done. It is a necessity to survive,” he said in his opening remarks of the APEC 26th Small and Medium Enterprises Ministerial Meeting held virtually on Friday.

APEC ministers in charge of small and medium enterprise policy exchanged views to address the severe economic impact of the pandemic to MSMEs and detailed steps to build more resilient, inclusive and sustainable environment for the sector.

MSMEs play a significant role in the region’s economic growth, contributing around 40 to 60 percent to the growth domestic products of most APEC economies. As a response to the pandemic, APEC members have been providing support measures for the sector ranging from tax reliefs, wage subsidies, interest rates reduction, soft loans and refinancing, so that business owners and managers can sustain their operations and continue to contribute to the global economy.

“In the new normal, businesses must pivot their strategies and business models to adapt to the digital economy and incorporate innovation and technology in order to remain resilient,” he added. “Besides all the fiscal stimulus, it is equally imperative to support MSMEs to go digital while helping them to adjust and overcome the challenges.”

He cautioned members of the multi-faceted challenges and concerns of going digital, including data privacy, cybersecurity, digital fraud and the digital divide. He highlighted the importance of strengthening cooperation and collaboration within APEC member economies “during and beyond this pandemic.”

APEC has been consistent in acknowledging the significant contribution MSMEs give to the region’s economy and employment. In her remarks at the meeting, Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, Executive Director of the APEC Secretariat, highlighted that policy work undertaken by other APEC groups can contribute to helping MSMEs in the region.

“Support for MSMEs in APEC is cross-cutting and requires close partnership within our fora and the private sector,” she said. “We need to advance progress in structural reforms, trade facilitation and digital initiatives such as the single window implementation to make it easier, faster and cheaper to do business in the region and to ensure seamless flow of good and services within economies and across the borders.”

During the meeting, ministers endorsed a joint statement focusing on member economies’ commitment to support MSMEs in restarting and reviving their businesses through digitalization, innovation and technology.

Ministers also endorsed a new five-year vision to reinforce business ethics and integrity in health-related sectors called Vision 2025 launched earlier this month at the 2020 APEC Business Ethics for SMEs Virtual Forum under the world’s largest ethics pacts to strengthen ethical business practices in the medical device and biopharmaceutical sectors.

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