From Digital Transformation to Sustainable Development: The ASEAN Business Community's Vision for Southeast Asia

This year Indonesia chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry leads the associated ASEAN Business Advisory Council. We are delighted to present the following commissioned overview by Mr Arsjad Rasjid, Chairman of KADIN and ASEAN-BAC, outlining their 2023 program's theme of  'ASEAN Centrality: Innovating toward Greater Inclusivity' and highlighting its five priority issues and respective legacy projects - Geoffrey Gold, publisher. 

KADIN Chairman Mr Arsjad Rasjid addressing the ASEAN Business Advisory Council Chairmanship changeover ceremony in Jakarta on 30 January 2023

The ASEAN region is home to some of the fastest-growing economies in the world, with a combined GDP of over $3 trillion and a population of over 650 million people. However, the region faces significant challenges, including economic disparities and poverty. Against this backdrop, Indonesia's adoption of the theme 'ASEAN Matters: Epicentrum of Growth'' for its ASEAN chairmanship in 2023 represents a bold statement of intent, highlighting ASEAN's importance in driving economic development within and beyond the region. 

The ASEAN-Business Advisory Council's adoption of the theme "ASEAN Centrality: Innovating toward Greater Inclusivity'' builds on this idea, emphasising the importance of innovation and inclusivity in driving economic development. Taken together, these themes represent a powerful vision for Southeast Asia's future, one that is rooted in collaboration, cooperation, and innovation. ASEAN member states must work together to address geopolitical challenges and promote regional cooperation. 

At the ASEAN-BAC, we believe that digital transformation can bridge the digital divide and promote sustainable development and that the business community must embrace sustainability. Towards this end, the ASEAN-BAC has identified five priority issues critical to the region's development, consisting of Digital Transformation, Sustainable Development, Health Resilience, Food Security and Trade and Investment.

 "Becoming a dynamic and prosperous region that benefits all its people, an epicentrum of growth"

ASEAN centrality, which emphasises the importance of remaining neutral and inclusive, is the key to promoting peace and stability in the region. This is particularly important for businesses in the region, who rely on a stable business environment to operate effectively. Disruptions to trade and investment flows can have a significant impact on business operations and ultimately, on the economic growth and development of the region. By embracing ASEAN centrality, we can fully leverage the region's resources. 

The region has a combined population of over 600 million people, a growing middle class, and abundant natural resources. These factors provide a strong foundation for economic growth and development. However, to fully realise these opportunities, ASEAN member states must work together to address the geopolitical challenges that threaten to derail their collective progress. 

One key area where ASEAN can make a difference is in promoting regional integration and cooperation. By working together, ASEAN member states can create a more cohesive and interconnected region where businesses can thrive.

 ASEAN-BAC's Call to Action

For the ASEAN-BAC, innovation and inclusivity are vital for sustainable development that benefits all ASEAN citizens. In today’s uncertain global environment, being innovative is particularly important to stay competitive, adapt to changing circumstances, and continuously create positive impact. Inclusivity, on the other hand, ensures that these benefits reach all segments of society, including those who are most vulnerable to economic shocks. 

One key platform which helps overcome both is digital transformation. The pandemic saw digital technology play a crucial role in enabling businesses to continue operating during lockdowns and social distancing measures. However, many people in ASEAN still lack access to digital technology and infrastructure. 

Inclusive policies that prioritise digital inclusion can help bridge this digital divide and ensure that everyone can participate in the digital economy. ASEAN-BAC’s Innovating toward Greater Inclusivity theme recognizes the importance of public-private partnerships in driving innovation and inclusive growth. The private sector has the skills, expertise, and resources necessary to develop innovative solutions, while the public sector can provide the regulatory environment necessary for businesses to operate and flourish.

Our second core message is simple: The business community must embrace sustainability as a core element of business strategy. We must work together with governments, civil society, and other stakeholders to promote sustainable development and protect the environment. The benefits of sustainable business practices are clear. They promote long-term growth, reduce risk, and improve the bottom line. 

Sustainable businesses are more resilient, adaptable, and better positioned to seize opportunities in a rapidly changing environment. Thus, the ASEAN business community must support the sustainable development agenda, not only because it is ethical responsibility but also a business imperative which allows us to minimise risks, capitalise on opportunities, and contribute to the development of a more sustainable future.

ASEAN-BAC's Priorities for Regional Development

With the issue of digitalisation and sustainability in mind, I am pleased to announce our five priority issues and the respective legacy projects that we will be focusing on in the coming months.

Firstly, we will prioritise Digital Transformation. We believe that the responsible and ethical use of technology can transform the lives of ASEAN citizens, and we will be working tirelessly to promote digital literacy and skills across the region. Our initiatives will include the establishment of an ASEAN QR code, Marketplace Lending Platforms, and the launch of the Wiki Entrepreneur program. These programs aim to promote seamless trade and investment flows, equip entrepreneurs across ASEAN with digital skills and encourage private sector-led cooperation across Southeast Asia.

At ASEAN-BAC, we believe that Sustainable Development, the second ASEAN-BAC priority, is crucial for the future of ASEAN and that achieving this requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders. As part of this effort, we have introduced the ASEAN Net Zero Hub, a platform that will bring together experts and stakeholders to share knowledge and best practices on industrial decarbonization. In addition to the ASEAN Net Zero Hub, we are also establishing the ASEAN Carbon Center of Excellence, which will support the development of carbon markets and trading schemes in the region, incentivising businesses to reduce their emissions and contribute to a more sustainable future for ASEAN.

Thirdly, the ASEAN One-Shot Campaign, a legacy project under our Health Resilience priority, aims to establish a permanent regional vaccination program in ASEAN. The initiative is intended to enhance health resilience by strengthening the region’s capacity to respond to future pandemics and other health crises. Learning from the COVID-19 pandemic, we hope that the ASEAN One-Shot Campaign will provide a critical platform for the region to further develop and implement coordinated approaches to disease control and prevention, and to share information and best practices across borders for a healthier ASEAN.

Food Security, the fourth ASEAN-BAC priority, is another critical issue which requires a collaborative effort from governments, businesses, and communities. That is why ASEAN-BAC is committed to curating and designing an impactful food security program based on an inclusive closed-loop model for the agriculture sector. The private sector must play a role in promoting sustainable agriculture practices, investing in agribusiness, and creating innovative solutions to address food insecurity. Thus, at ASEAN-BAC, we will work to facilitate public-private partnerships and support the development of innovative financing models to drive investment in the agriculture sector. By working together, we can ensure that everyone in ASEAN has access to safe, nutritious, and affordable food.

Under our Trade and Investment priority, ASEAN-BAC is committed to developing the ASEAN Business Entity, which strengthens intra-ASEAN investment by offering benefits to businesses doing business in the region. The ASEAN Business Entity will provide a platform for businesses to operate across borders seamlessly, streamlining and reducing regulatory barriers to create a more favourable business environment and benefiting businesses of all sizes, from large multinational corporations to small and medium-sized enterprises. The initiative is intended to create an interconnected commercial environment, opening up new opportunities for growth and expansion and boosting intra-ASEAN trade and investment.


In conclusion, Indonesia's ASEAN chairmanship is an honest gesture to bring tangible impacts to the
region. We at ASEAN-BAC are in full support of this vision and have identified Digital Transformation, Sustainable Development, Health Resilience, Food Security and Trade and Investment as our priorities. 

Through the establishment of programs and initiatives such as the ASEAN QR code, ASEAN Net Zero Hub, Carbon Center of Excellence, ASEAN One-Shot Campaign, and the ASEAN Business Entity, we aim to create a cohesive and interconnected region driven by public-private partnerships which promote innovation and inclusive growth. 

Thus, with a coordinated effort from all stakeholders including the private sector, I am convinced that ASEAN can achieve its goal of becoming a dynamic and prosperous region that benefits all its people, an epicentrum of growth.


Mr M. Arsjad Rasjid P. M. is President Director of Indika Energy, Chairman of the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KADIN), and Chairman of ASEAN Business Advisory Council 2023.