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Belt and Road 2013 – 2020: “the roads” of improvements. Lessons for China

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Today it became clear that the cooperation between Europe and China in the framework of the BRI can contribute both to balanced development of the partners and the risks of new challenges in the dialogue between the States-parties of the initiative. Thus, both sides of the dialog learned their lessons and mistakes and can implement new improvement in resolving the current problems and challenges in cooperation within BRI.

China is the founder and the main country of the Belt and Road Initiative. It is one of the most interested in implementing BRI country, but during period 20132020 it faced a number of challenges, which have to be resolved to fully enjoy the benefits and profits of the initiative.

Analyzing the possible challenges facing the mechanism of cooperation between China and countries of Europe, the article proposes a number of recommendations, made under the backdrop of many other conflicting realities with regard to harmonize the relation between countries-participant of the initiative, which can be implemented by Chinese side of the Initiative.

The PRC

To take into account the geopolitical situation in the CEE region and establish relations with other interested countries.

Analysis of China – CEE relations has shown that the basis of bilateral cooperation is not strong enough today. China and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe belong to different civilizations, they are geographically far from each other, and after the end of the Cold War, the former ideological unity between them disappeared.

Since three-quarters of the CEE countries have already become members of the EU, following the common European foreign and security policy, China needs to balance two areas – relations with the EU and diplomacy with each country separately. Deepening ties with CEE countries is necessary to promote the “One belt, One road” initiative, but the “triangle” of China – EU – Central and Eastern European relations should be taken into account when creating a cooperation mechanisms.

For example, the EU has a strong presence in the CEE region by promoting a set of economic rules. The US maintains a military presence there. Germany considers CEE as a region of its’ traditional influence. Russia also has important geopolitical interests there.

The EU expresses doubts about the 17 + 1 format and sees it as a manifestation of China’s “divide and rule”policy. The US, through the NATO security structures, firmly controls the political and military development of 17 States. Although the US has expressed a positive assessment of the 17 + 1 format, it is constantly increasing its’ influence on Poland, the Baltic States, and the Eastern Balkans.

Because of the Ukrainian crisis, the US-led NATO bloc strengthened its control over CEE. Germany sees CEE as its “backyard” and traditional sphere of influence. The German government openly doubts the mechanism of China’s cooperation with the 17 CEE States, believing that it leads to the undermining of EU norms, which is unfavorable for European unity.

The influence of Russia in the region should not be underestimatedas well. The Central Asian and Eurasian economic space is very important for Russia, which is leading the process of economic integration and has a deep traditional influence and real interests (many countries in Central and Eastern Europe are heavily dependent on Russian energy resources).

It is also worth noting that due to historical reasons (CIS countries used to be underthe pressure from the USSR) and the current Ukrainian crisis, the CEE countries have noticeably increased their sense of distrust towards Russia. On this background, the relations of comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Russia can also cause“psychological pressure” on the countries of Central and Eastern Europe to a certain extent. Therefore, China, in cooperation with the CEE countries, needs to find common ground between the interests of the Chinese side, the European, the Russian side and the CEE countries. It is very important to properly resolve the hidden problems and contradictions affecting the trilateral relations.

When China and CEE countries cooperate within the BRI, special attention should be paid to the existing mechanisms of cooperation within CEE, internal conflicts of CEE countries where, for historical reasons, national contradictions are huge, as well as to differences in the levels of development of CEE countries.

It is worth noting that political relations between China and the CEE countries remain“relatively slow” compared to economic relations. According to the researcher, this is due to the “superiority mentality” of some CEE countries towards China on issues of the political system, human rights, religion and other values. (In particular, Poland and the Czech Republic in 2003–2009 repeatedly criticized China on human rights issues and Tibet. In December 2008, during the Dalai Lama’s visit to Europe, Polish President Lech Kaczynski and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek met with him. As a result, this forced the Chinese government to keep its distance from the CEE countries in order to avoid political risks. This blocked China’s plans to increase the status of relations with the region in the overall structure of foreign policy.

Given the fact that 17 + 1 is an extension of China – Europe cooperation and the functions of the 17 + 1 format are limited, the agenda cannot be promoted indefinitely in all important areas. In this regards, to maintain the vitality of cooperation, it is necessary to increase the strategic height of cooperation. The UN, EU and OSCE platforms can be used to address the security issues facing the CEE region.

In China – CEE – EU relations, the principle of openness in order to take advantage of the opportunities to involve a third party in cooperation should be also adhered. In the 17 + 1 format, the mechanism for attracting observers should be widely opened, inviting countries, including the EU, international financial organizations and international organizations. The EU is an irremediable influence factor, through the 17 + 1 it is possible to promote mutual cooperation between China and the EU, while actively attracting important EU members such as Germany and France to become a third party to China – CEE cooperation.

In-depth analysis and harmonization of the legal framework for EUChina cooperation in the region.

Since the laws of the CEE countries are fully aligned with the EU in many aspects, the Chinese side should strengthen its knowledge and understanding of the relevant EU laws and regulations, which is a prerequisite for promoting the 17 + 1 cooperation. It is necessary to actively study the successful experience of the best Chinese enterprises in carrying out commercial activities in CEE, fully understand the hidden rules for investment in CEE countries and identify trade barriers.

An important role can be played by “outward-looking” Chinese enterprises. When investing abroad, they should follow international norms and market laws, pay attention to the international social responsibility of enterprises with Chinese capital. It is necessary to allow Chinese enterprises to thoroughly understand the local requirements of socio-economic development, diligently increase employment, emphasize openness and inclusiveness, the spirit of joint win-win cooperation, and eliminate doubts of the CEE countries about the feasibility of cooperation with China.

Europe should also be better informed about the goals, structure and significance of the BRI, both for the region and for individual countries.

The analysis showed that despite a lot of explanatory work from the Chinese side and the signing of relevant political documents, the European region lacks understanding that the BRI initiative reaches Europe: it is often mistakenly believed that it is intended only for China’s neighbors. In this regards, within the 17 + 1 mechanism, along with reaching a practical level of cooperation, problems have emerged that reduce the interest and expectations of European countries in the initiative, which is reflected in negative reviews of the initiative in the media and the lack of interest of countries in the implementation of infrastructure projects. In particular, the difference in economic opportunities and needs for cooperation among the 17 countries makes itself felt.

It is noted that on the background of China’s rapid rise and continuous increase in its international influence, assessments of the “One belt, One road” initiative and other aspects of China’s foreign strategy are affected by geopolitics or the “Cold War mentality”.

In this regards, the CEE countries’cooperation with China causes them to fear that their influence will be weaken and that China will use economic tools to “split” the unity of the EU. Due to this the EU is trying to minimize the impact of the PRC on the CEE region by tightening budget requirements, and as a result, small countries are afraid to take Chinese investment for infrastructure projects.

To address this challenge, the article recommends expanding the joint discussion of cooperation plans with CEE and EU countries. If specific economic plans are difficult to find, partners should offer the cooperation in other areas, in order to ensure equal participation of 17 countries in the construction of the BRI, supporting the balanced development of the existing mechanism of cooperation and not allowing these countries to lose enthusiasm in the absence of“big projects” (for example, together with Croatia, partners can train specialists in EU legislation, with Slovenia – share experience in environmental protection). Thus, the legal system, culture, education, science and technology are areas through which the BRI initiative can increase visibility for small and medium-sized CEE countries. On the Chinese side, it is necessary to transmit correct information to them, promote cooperation of research centers, organize international conferences, explain the ideals and practice of diplomacy of a large state with Chinese characteristics, and form a favorable public opinion.

Support for humanitarian cooperation should be provided through special funds.

Thus, the effective financial support mechanisms for the European (especially CEE) markets is needed. The governments of some of these countries cannot provide sovereign guarantees because they have exceeded the EU’s debt limit. For this reason, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe that have joined the European Union can not take preferential Chinese loans. In Europe, interest rates are low, and interest rates on Chinese commercial loans are higher, hence they are unattractive to CEE governments and businesses. To solve this problem, the creation of the 17 + 1 investment Bank and support of the creation of a regional multilateral international financial company of 17 + 1 should be discussed, as well as the experience of international financial organizations in the CEE region, adhered to a market orientation, and financial guarantees for bilateral cooperation should be provided.

To use the One belt, One Road as a framework for promoting practical cooperation between China and CEE

There is a need to link Chinese proposals with development projects that a particular CEE country is concerned about. (For example, Estonia’s plans to build a shale power plant in Jordan, which were slowed down by the fall in oil prices and the subsequent financial difficulties of the Estonian energy company. In 2016 The Chinese industrial and commercial Bank allocated money for this project, which was linked to the interests of China, since the construction contractor was the Guangdong heat and power engineering company).

European experts note that a promising direction is the construction of transport infrastructure, which, according to them, is relatively backward in CEE. In this regard, the study recommends to offer the CEE new comparative advantages of Chinese HSR (high-speed railway) and rolling stock for them and port mechanisms, along with the construction of airports. This will increase the level of industrialization in CEE countries, which is currently relatively low. Offering production cooperation in advanced industries, especially HSR, it will be possible to enter the European “outpost” through the Czech Republic and other countries with Chinese technologies. In addition, it is recommended that China can participate in the development of agricultural processing in CEE countries, where agriculture occupies an important place in the national economies. In this way, Chinese enterprises can help increase employment in CEE countries, which will improve the image of China in the region.

The strengthening of financial institutions and the alignment of the line of providing loans to CEE countries.

When the small nation of Montenegro approached the EUfor help paying off a nearly $1 billion loan to China’s Export – Import Bank (EXIM), borrowed to finance the construction of a large highway project, alarm bells were raised across Europe. The request presented the EU with a problem that members of the World Bank may soon find themselves grappling with – what to do about large loans for economically unviable projects already under construction as part of China’s BRI. The European Commission ultimately decided to reject Montenegro’s request, raising fundamental questions about the EU’s willingness to reckon with BRI’s expansion.

As BRI develops, the trade imbalance between China and CEE countries may grow noticeably. If imports from these countries do not increase, their debt to China will increase, this situation will not last long and will lead to a deterioration in the terms of trade and to friction. To avoid this, targeted incentives should be granted to products from CEE countries in order to expand their exports to China.

In addressing this challenge, China needsto coordinate its economic relations with the EU, taking into account that the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are more oriented towards the EU in economy, trade and politics. Experts believe that the emerging TTIP agreement, which will bring the newest market standards and trade rules, may cause a blow to interaction with CEE countries. It will have an impact on the rules that China wants to set through the promotion of the BRI initiative, on the ability of Chinese enterprises to enter Central and Eastern European countries with investment and trade.

The possibility of financial exhaustion should also be taken into account, since the development of trade and economic ties with CEE through the BRI will require significant financial support. In addition to support from international financial organizations, more funds will be required from the Chinese side. Now the global economy is at a low point, China is in a period of economic transition, and the demand for money has become even greater. When deploying the BRI projects, it is impossible to exclude the depletion of finances within the country, hence partners should be prepared for the possible negative impact on the economic transition.

To strengthen humanitarian exchanges with ordinary people in CEE in order to deepen their understanding of China.

The Chinese Government should be encouraged by its EU partners to become a participant in the OECD Arrangement on Guidelines for Officially Supported Export Credits. In particular, it is recommended that, in monitoring progress towards a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, the European Parliament seeks to ensure that China’s participation in the OECD framework is a key objective of the EU’s negotiating strategy.

An analysis of the public opinion of citizens of CEE countries showed that in many CEE countries, understanding of China is limited, and this is unfavorable for the development of cooperation. The study, in connection with the solution of this challenge, recommends opening more Confucius Institutes in CEE countries and supporting cultural dialogues within the BRI project.

Particular attention should be paid to the “greening” of China itself and BRI in particular. Thus, despite the narrative promoted by the Chinese government of a “Green Silk Road”, the environmental impact of many BRI-related projects continues to cause controversy. This includes effects on host country ecosystems and their biodiversity.

An example is the construction of a dam in the Batang Toru rainforest in Indonesia. Its construction has had devastating effects on biodiversity, leading it to be legally challenged by the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI). The World Bank, meanwhile, has refused to fund the project over environmental concerns. Yet, in March 2019, the court in North Sumatra decided the project would proceed.

Another example of environmental concerns related to BRI infrastructure project is Montenegro’s Bar-Boljare Motorway. The construction began in 2015 by the China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC), a subsidiary of the majority state owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC), and is funded by China’s EXIM Bank.

Environmental concerns are specifically related to the Smokovac–Mateševo section of this project, which cuts across the Tara River, through an area protected by a UNESCO Biosphere. The most visible consequence of the project is the need for rock excavation for a motorway tunnel, but other implications, such as water pollution and illegal landfills also emerged from an investigation by the Montenegrin NGO MANS.The European Parliament and European Commission have called on authorities to share more details about the project’s environmental impact with the public.

It is also advisable that host governments start implementing more transparent bidding processes for infrastructure projects, in order to reduce environmental damage and increase long-term net benefits. On the other hand, in order to assess the environmental sustainability of projects with more accuracy and transparency, banks involved in financing the BRI should rely on third party reports, rather than those produced internally.

In order to improve transparency, it would be useful for the Chinese government to create a public portfolio of BRI-related projects, which would make it easier to verify to what extent they are environmentally sustainable. China does not directly operate as a unified actor in BRI-related infrastructural projects, but different actors such as State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and banks contribute to the realisation and funding and these should be made to comply with environmental standards.

These implications are especially relevant on a global level as well. The COVID-19 pandemic should arouse awareness about the scale of the consequences that phenomena such as deforestation and habitat fragmentation have on our planet and lives. As underlined by a recent Stanford University study, deforestation and landscape fragmentation have been recognised as facilitating direct transmission of zoonotic infections, including the risk of pandemics.

To sum up, it is worth noting that althoughit is extremely difficult to implement these recommendations in practice, however, China started to implement them even before the official start of the initiative. Thus, their gradual implementation can in the near future eliminate the negative consequences of the problematic areas in the PRC – CEE – EU relations and reduce the risk of its inflaming.

Dr. Maria Smotrytska is a senior research sinologist and International Politics specialist of the Ukrainian Association of Sinologists. She is currently the Research Fellow at International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), Department for Strategic Studies on Asia. PhD in International politics, Central China Normal University (Wuhan, Hubei province, PR China) Contact information : officer[at]ifimes.org SmotrM_S[at]mail.ru

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2022: Rise of Economic Power of Small Medium Businesses across the World

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Why mirrors of the Wall: To fight obesity a life-sized mirror required, to uplift the national economy a simple calculator is a critical necessity. Only, right amounts in right columns, correctly totaled show a balanced picture. In the coming days, pandemic will become endemic; the same day, all over the world, nations will suddenly start announcing economic pandemic. Observe, lingering global economic chaos still masked hiding a troubled face.  As a proof, observe the absence of bold open economic strategies or real action plans.

Why lead, follow or get out of the way: Our hyper-digitized world has now openly exposed; meritocracy-centric and mediocrity-driven nations. In this global race, no nations are the same; but rules of engagement on productivity, performance and profitability and entrepreneurial behaviors are almost identical. If economic survival to save nations is critical, still why in most nations the tasks of economic development mandated to teams critically lacking the required entrepreneurial and job creator mindsets. Nations with mastery on national mobilization of entrepreneurialism will lead; others may follow or get out of the way.

Why the two wheels: What will it take for nations to immediately start upskilling their front line economic development teams on a fast track basis. How can they create real SME growth, teach the teams on real tactical battlefields to wrestle, and harness real entrepreneurialism. Otherwise, repeating already broken models under crypto-illusions speaks volume on core competency. A great future is unfolding for job seeker and job creator minds must come together as two wheels of the same cart on national economic development.

Why the wrong building: Study, why are ‘population-rich-nations’ growing in economic prosperity much faster than ‘knowledge rich nations’?  Why, if you bifurcate ‘developed nations’ and ‘emerging-nations’ the emerging nations are advancing much faster. Now, when you apply a basic calculator, the ‘SME of any nation’ in the world will save the national economies but not the ‘big-business of the nation’. Study more on Google, discover the reasons, and acquire your own knowledge on such new affairs. Most importantly, if these topics still not openly discussed in your surroundings you are already in the wrong building.

Why the triangulation: To triangulate, the mastery of ‘national mobilization of entrepreneurialism’ with national SME verticals and exportability will outline the blueprints to save national economies.  How will the rise of the small medium business economy not only create local grassroots prosperity but also make national citizenry happy and stable.

Why the needed adjustments: Understanding of local economic landscape; traditionally, despite being a small tax contributor, big business is allowed to stomp all over its own government, while the SME sector, the largest tax contributor of any nation, is crushed and neglected. Technology is changing this fast, SME of the world now have the tools once only available to large empires, global access reserved for large scale maneuvers now a new digitized world of micro-trade, micro-manufacturer and micro-exports will create a new tidal wave of global commerce.

Why the absence of calculator: What is stopping any political leadership to declare national mobilization of entrepreneurialism and identify IK to 1000K SME with USD$1 million to USD$10 million in annual turnover, on digital platforms of upskilling exporters and reskilling manufacturers and double or quadruple their growth in 1-2 years. Is it the absence of a calculator, domination of job seekers and non-entrepreneurial mindsets, or hidden fears of big business not allowing such massive uplift? The near future calls for digitized economies and upskilled citizenry, as basic perquisites for any functioning nation.

Why fears of the pie: Hence, the tremors in the global boardrooms and still little or no response on uplifting the tides of SME in various corresponding verticals around the world, for fears of upsetting the top leaders. Ask the big forbidden questions; why will super big players ever allow the emergence of many millions sleek, technologically advanced and global-age skilled SME to grow to only chip away their own power play and half of their pie? It may be true in some regions, but there are grassroots benefits in such advancements provided there are right mindsets and matching vision of the nation.

Why the two new forces: Hence, there exists the low-level mediocre SME economic development across the world, where lip service fills the gaps and academic studies create colorful charts and circles to point confusion and trade groups comply to remain in deep silence. The SME of the world will rise in economic power, across the world as a new world dawns. The power is already hidden in two unstoppable forces; first the technology and second the global connectivity of opinions and knowledge. Both combined now allows some 500 million SME to organize and billions displaced rejecting cubical slavery drawn into out the box entrepreneurialism. It is the easiest time across the world to dance on entrepreneurial platforms.

Why history repeats: On the course of history, no other experiment of human journey is as successful as that of Americans and how when some 100K entrepreneurs carved the image-supremacy of entrepreneurialism to last well over a century. During the same period in Europe and Asia followers of such out of the box thinkers were not only rejected by society, but also jailed as a liability to society. Nations must identify and create an ‘umbrella of entrepreneurialism’ to preserve and respect the drivers and proponents of such intellectualism and avoid such notions caught in fakery. Today Asia alone has created 500 million new entrepreneurs during the last decade. Ignoring this by any nation in the world  will simply sink them.

Why the alpha dreamers: The five billion connected alpha dreamers have learned new lessons during the last 500 days; they witnessed the handling of pandemic and are now ready to study the unfolding of global economic pandemic. They realize the serious limitations of old style administrations, the inequalities, the injustice and lack of skills to cope with futurism. Covidians, the survivors of the pandemic, now vote in some 100 national elections scheduled over the next 500 days. A new way of thinking is emerging. Every day the global news increasingly focused on self-inflicted disasters and absence of corrective new measures to advance for better grassroots prosperity.

Why the next elections: Any naivety on ignoring this post pandemic metamorphism will backfire during next national elections. The national public opinion has now turned into global opinion; the populace of one country supporting the populace of another country for being under influences of the populace in a third or fourth country. Last decade our local streets molded public opinion; today global streets are doing just that. Deeply study how five billion connected slowly are forming the largest mindshare ever assembled. How all this does translates to local/global issues and what level of expertise needed to tackle bigger issues.

Why the soft power assets: The biggest losses of the nations of today are not at all their accumulated debts but continuously having greater losses of missed opportunities on the global stage. The lack of inability to recognize the soft power of a nation today is way above just the notion of culture, politics and foreign policy; it is far more extended and about nation-building, upskilling citizenry and pursuing common good.

Why broken systems: When tax laws are universally broken,universally criticized but universally remain unchanged; when there is no single supreme power left as all deemed declared useless, therefore, this calls for a major change but not from the very top rather grows from the very bottom. When economic progress remains as number one priority, why is it that only job seekers drive such economic development programs while job creator mindsets are critically ignored? Bringing both mindsets closer as a mandated agenda will bring hidden magic to the goals.

Why the deep silence: Quick test on your local economic resilience: right now, what parts of such narratives are your local governments openly engaging and deploying?  What types and styles of small medium business mobilization are on the go?  What level of entrepreneurialism drives ever created under what agenda?  What is happening to upskilling and reskilling including women entrepreneurial drives? What level of authoritative analysis on the table to upskill current economic development teams?  If most of these issues are often not new funding dependent but mobilization hungry and execution starved, why are economic development teams so scared? Is your local economy prospering? Maybe you are already far ahead. Study on Google how Expothon is gaining global attention and tabling Cabinet Level workshops and virtual events on revival of the SME power as an immediately deployable strategy to save and uplift national economies. 

Why fears of facing clarity: Is this why economic development teams are so afraid?  Will such ideas alter government agencies and their mandates in the future? Is this how Meritocracy will drive out Bureaucracies? Is this where the new future of economic prosperity hidden? Is this how we will advance to catch up with lost time and opportunities?  Is this how nations will finally optimize already hidden talents in their national trade groups, chambers and governments to full capacity? Is this how we will eventually open new bold discussions on distribution of right intellectualism to fit the right needs of humankind?

Suddenly, how far has our world moved on; bandaged, stitched and altered in thinking, psyche damaged but still aware of common sense. Our understanding of humanity is perhaps now in search of common good. To liberate itself from strangle of old thinking, the SME economic development world urgently needs major adjustments to bring balance between job seeker mindsets with job creator mindsets. Start immediately with a quick test across the economic development departments and measure such imbalances. Study more on Google. The rest is easy.

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Can e-commerce help save the planet?

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If you have logged onto Google Flights recently, you might have noticed a small change in the page’s layout. Alongside the usual sortable categories, like price, duration, and departure time, there is a new field: CO2 emissions.

Launched in October 2021, the column gives would-be travellers an estimate of how much carbon dioxide they will be responsible for emitting.

“When you’re choosing among flights of similar cost or timing, you can also factor carbon emissions into your decision,” wrote Google’s Vice President of Travel Products, Richard Holden.

Google is part of a wave of digital companies, including Amazon, and Ant Financial, encouraging consumers to make more sustainable choices by offering eco-friendly filter options, outlining the environmental impact of products, and leveraging engagement strategies used in video games.

Experts say these digital nudges can help increase awareness about environmental threats and the uptake of solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.   

“Our consumption practices are putting tremendous pressure on the planet, driving climate change, stoking pollution and pushing species towards extinction,” says David Jensen, Digital Transformation Coordinator with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

“We need to make better decisions about the things we buy and trips we take,” he added. “These green digital nudges help consumers make better decisions as well as collectively drive businesses to adopt sustainable practices through consumer pressure.”

Global reach

At least 1.5 billion people consume products and services through e-commerce platforms, and global e-commerce sales reached US$26.7 trillion in 2019, according to a recent UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) report.

Meanwhile, 4.5 billion people are on social media and 2.5 billion play online games. These tallies mean digital platforms could influence green behaviors at a planetary scale, says Jensen.

One example is UNEP-led Playing for the Planet Alliance, which places green activations in games. UNEP’s Little Book of Green Nudges has also led to more than 130 universities piloting 40 different nudges to shift behaviour.

A 2020 study by Globescan involving many of the world’s largest retailers found that seven out of 10 consumers want to become more sustainable. However, only three out of 10 have been able to change their lifestyles.

E-commerce providers can help close this gap.

“The algorithms and filters that underpin e-commerce platforms must begin to nudge sustainable and net-zero products and services by default,” said Jensen. “Sustainable consumption should be a core part of the shopping experience empowering people to make choices that align with their values.”

Embedding sustainability in tech

Many groups are trying to leverage this opportunity to make the world a more sustainable place.

The Green Digital Finance Alliance (GDFA), launched by Ant Group and UNEP, aims to enhance financing for sustainable development through digital platforms and fintech applications. It launched the Every Action Counts Coalition, a global network of digital, financial, retail investment, e-commerce and consumer goods companies. The coalition aims to help 1 billion people make greener choices and take action for the planet by 2025 through online tools and platforms.

We will bring like-minded members together to experiment with new innovative business models that empower everyone to become a green digital champion,” says Marianne Haahr, GDFA Executive Director.

In one example, GDFA member Mastercard, in collaboration with the fintech company Doconomy, provides shoppers with a personalized carbon footprint tracker to inform their spending decisions.

In the UK, Mastercard is partnering with HELPFUL to offer incentives for purchasing products from a list of over 150 sustainable brands.

Mobile apps like Ant Forest, by Ant Group, are also using a combination of incentives and digital engagement models to urge 600 million people make sustainable choices. Users are rewarded for low-carbon decisions through green energy points they can use to plant real trees. So far, the Ant Forest app has resulted in 122 million trees being planted, reducing carbon emissions by over 6 million tons.

Three e-commerce titans are also aiming to support greener lifestyles. Amazon has adopted the Climate Pledge Friendly initiative to help at least 100 million people find climate-friendly products that carry at least one of 32 different environmental certifications.

SAP’s Ariba platform is the largest digital business-to-business network on the planet. It has also embraced the idea of “procuring with purpose,” offering a detailed look at corporate supply chains so potential partners can assess the social, economic and environmental impact of transactions.

“Digital transformation is an opportunity to rethink how our business models can contribute to sustainability and how we can achieve full environmental transparency and accountability across our entire value chain,” said SAP’s Chief Sustainability Officer Daniel Schmid.

UNEP’s Jensen says a crucial next step would be for mobile phone operating systems to adopt standards that would allow apps to share environment and carbon footprint information.

“This would enable people to seamlessly calculate their footprints across all applications to develop insights and change behaviours,” Jensen said. “Everyone needs access to an individual’ environmental dashboard’ to truly understand their impact and options for more sustainable living.”

Need for common standards

As platforms begin to encode sustainability into their algorithms and product recommendations, common standards are needed to ensure reliability and public trust, say experts. 

Indeed, many online retailers are claiming to do more for the environment than they actually are. A January analysis by the European Commission and European national consumer authorities found that in 42 per cent, sustainability claims were exaggerated or false.

To help change that, UNEP serves as the secretariat of the One Planet network, a global community of practitioners, policymakers and experts that encourages sustainable consumption and production.

In November, the One Planet network issued guidance material for e-commerce platforms that outlines how to better inform consumers and enable more sustainable consumption, based on 10 principles from UNEP and the International Trade Centre.

The European Union is also pioneering core standards for digital sustainability through digital product passports that contain relevant information on a product’s origin, composition, environmental and carbon performance.

“Digital product passports will be an essential tool to strengthen consumer protection and increase the level of trust and rigour to environmental performance claims,” says Jensen. “They are the next frontier on the pathway to planetary sustainability in the digital age.”

UNEP

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2022: Small Medium Business & Economic Development Errors

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Calling Michelangelo: would Michelangelo erect a skyscraper or can an architect liberate David from a rock of marble? When visibly damaged are the global economies, already drowning their citizenry, how can their economic development departments in hands of those who never ever created a single SME or ran a business, expect anything else from them other than lingering economic agonies?

The day pandemic ends; immediately, on the next day, the panic on the center stage would be the struggling economies across the world.  On the small medium business economic fronts, despite, already accepted globally, as the largest tax contributor to any nation. Visible worldwide, already abandoned and ignored without any specific solutions, there is something strategically wrong with upskilling exporters and reskilling manufacturers or the building growth of small medium business economies. The SME sectors in most nations are in serious trouble but are their economic development rightly balanced?   

Matching Mindsets: Across the world, hard working citizens across the world pursue their goals and some end up with a job seeker mindset and some job creator mindset; both are good. Here is a globally proven fact; job seekers help build enterprises but job creators are the ones who create that enterprise in the first place. Study in your neighborhoods anywhere across the world and discover the difference.

Visible on LinkedIn: Today, on the SME economic development fronts of the world, clearly visible on their LinkedIn profiles, the related Ministries, mandated government departments, trade-groups, chambers, trade associations and export promotion agencies are primarily led by job seeker mindsets and academic or bureaucratic mentality. Check all this on LinkedIn profiles of economic development teams anywhere across the world.

Will jumbo-pilots do heart transplant, after all, economic performance depends on matching right competency; Needed today, post pandemic economic recovery demands skilled warriors with mastery of national mobilization to decipher SME creation and scalability of diversified SME verticals on digital platforms of upskilling for global age exportability. This fact has hindered any serious progress on such fronts during the last decade. The absence of any significant progress on digitization, national mobilization of entrepreneurialism and upskilling of exportability are clear proofs of a tragically one-sided mindset.

Is it a cruise holiday, or what? Today, the estimated numbers of all frontline economic development team members across 200 nations are roughly enough to fill the world-largest-cruise-ship Symphony that holds 6200 guests. If 99.9% of them are job-seeker mindsets, how can the global economic development fraternity sleep tonight? As many billion people already rely on their performances, some two billion in a critical economic crisis, plus one billion starving and fighting deep poverty. If this is what is holding grassroots prosperity for the last decade, when will be the best time to push the red panic button? 

The Big Fallacy of “Access to Finance” Notion: The goals of banking and every major institution on over-fanaticized notions of intricate banking, taxation are of little or no value as SME of the world are not primarily looking for “Access to Capital” they are rather seeking answers and dialogue with entrepreneurial job creator mindsets. SME management and economic development is not about fancy PDF studies of recycled data and extra rubber stamps to convince that lip service is working. No, it is not working right across the world.

SME are also not looking for government loans. They do not require expensive programs offered on Tax relief, as they make no profit, they do not require free financial audits, as they already know what their financial problems are and they also do that require mechanical surveys created by bureaucracies asking the wrong questions. This is the state of SME recovery and economic development outputs and lingering of sufferings.

SME development teams across the world now require mandatory direct SME ownership experiences

The New Hypothesis 2022: The new hypothesis challenges any program on the small medium business development fronts unless in the right hands and right mindsets they are only damaging the national economy. Upon satisfactory research and study, create right equilibrium and bring job seeker and job creator mindsets to collaborate for desired results. As a start 50-50, balances are good targets, however, anything less than 10% active participation of the job creator mindset at any frontline mandated SME Ministry, department, agency or trade groups automatically raises red flags and is deemed ineffective and irrelevant. 

The accidental economists: The hypothesis, further challenges, around the world, economic institutes of sorts, already, focused on past, present and future of local and global economy. Although brilliant in their own rights and great job seekers, they too lack the entrepreneurial job creator mindsets and have no experience of creating enterprises at large. Brilliantly tabulating data creating colorful illustrative charts, but seriously void of specific solutions, justifiably as their profession rejects speculations, however, such bodies never ready to bring such disruptive issues in fear of creating conflicts amongst their own job seeker fraternities. The March of Displaced cometh, the cries of the replaced by automation get louder, the anger of talented misplaced by wrong mindsets becomes visible. Act accordingly

The trail of silence: Academia will neither, as they know well their own myopic job seeker mindset. In a world where facial recognition used to select desired groups, pronouns to right gatherings, social media to isolate voting, but on economic survival fronts where, either print currency or buy riot gears or both, a new norm; unforgiveable is the treatment of small medium business economies and mishmash support of growth. Last century, laborious and procedural skills were precious, this century surrounded by extreme automation; mindsets are now very precious.  

Global-age of national mobilization: Start with a constructive open-minded collaborative narrative, demonstrate open courage to allow entrepreneurial points of views heard and critically analyze ideas on mobilization of small mid size business economies. Applying the same new hypotheses across all high potential contributors to SME growth, like national trade groups, associations and chambers as their frontline economic developers must also balance with the job creator mindset otherwise they too become irrelevant. Such ideas are not just criticism rather survival strategies. Across the world, this is a new revolution to arm SME with the right skills to become masters of trade and exports, something abandoned by their economic policies. To further discuss or debate at Cabinet Level explore how Expothon is making footprints on new SME thinking and tabling new deployment strategies. Expothon is also planning a global series of virtual events to uplift SME economies in dozens of selected nations.

Two wheels of the same cart: Silence on such matters is not a good sign. Address candidly; allow both mindsets to debate on how and why as the future becomes workless and how and why small medium business sectors can become the driving engine of new economic progress. Job seekers and job creators are two wheels of the same cart; right assembly will take us far on this economic growth passage. Face the new global age with new confidence. Let the nation witness leadership on mobilization of entrepreneurialism and see a tide of SME growth rise. The rest is easy.

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