Building back fairer? Social enterprises show the way

Building back fairer? Social enterprises show the way
A screenshot of participants to the two-day Third Social Enterprise Leveraging and Advocacy Conference 2020 (SEAL Asia Conference 2020). Image: ISEA

Social enterprises in Asia, policy leaders convene to drive actionable insights for economic recovery at The Third Social Enterprise Advocacy and Leveraging Asia Conference (SEAL Asia Conference 2020), hosted by The Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA) co-convened with UNESCAP

Manila – Amid a backdrop of COVID-19 that is rolling back development progress in the areas of poverty reduction, healthcare, women empowerment, and food security, social enterprises in Asia, senior policy and business leaders convened to answer critical questions on how the ASEAN economy can build back fairer through social enterprises as pathways at the Third Social Enterprise Advocacy and Leveraging (SEAL) Asia Conference 2020.

The conference was held virtually welcoming participants from all over the world. More than 200 social enterprises, senior policy and finance leaders, academics, and civil society organizations gathered to discuss ways to mobilize policy, finance, and technology to enable recovery for social enterprises, as well as to put the spotlight on best practices of social enterprises leading COVID-19 responses in health, local economy, and women empowerment in various countries across the Asian region.

The conference was hosted by the Institute of Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA)  co-convened with the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP).

Marie Lisa Dacanay, ISEA President, said: “This pandemic presents a pivotal opportunity to support social enterprises in their crucial role to build back a fairer economy. Investment flows towards social enterprises ensure that social benefits also flow to the communities they directly impact and give the economy a much-needed restart towards resilience and inclusive growth.”

UNESCAP Executive Secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana who keynoted the conference said that while governments are working with all stakeholders to overcome the unfolding health and socio-economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in Asia, it is heartening to see that social entrepreneurs have stepped up to respond to the crisis.

This pandemic presents a pivotal opportunity to support social enterprises in their crucial role to build back a fairer economy.

Marie Lisa Dacanay, president, Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia

“From providing educational technologies and e-health services for the most vulnerable to developing community tracing initiatives, the key role of social entrepreneurs in providing market-based solutions to social and environmental challenges is more critical than ever,” she said.

In a study conducted from April to May 2020 on Covid-19’s impact in the Philippines, ISEA identified that up to 55% of social enterprises in the country have been severely impacted by the pandemic while up to 41% have experienced some downturn. In a country that has about 164,000 social enterprises, this translates to up to 99, 200 having been severely impacted while around 67,240 are experiencing some downturn.

37 million people in the world have now slipped back to extreme poverty, reversing 25 years of progress in 25 weeks. We need to work towards more systemic and radical changes as we try to make progress in the sustainable development agenda.

Francois Bonnici, head, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

Among the sectors worst hit are women and men in agricultural value chains. The pandemic’s knock-on impacts of limited spending power among consumers and logistics challenges for moving agricultural produce from farm to markets are threatening food crises, unemployment, and deeper poverty, especially among agricultural communities.

Amidst this, Agriculture secretary William Dar assured conference participants that the country has enough food supply with farming and fishing activities continuing amid lockdowns and community quarantine. Responding to the challenge of dwindling purchasing power for food and other critical supplies, Dar said: “We need to elevate our game on producing sustainably so there will be enough food and that we keep prices very affordable,” taking the occasion to convey government’s engagement with and support towards social enterprises in the agricultural sector as key drivers for these objectives to be met.

The pandemic is also wreaking economic and social havoc to the rest of Asia and highlights fundamental flaws in the government, social, political, economic, and gender-related systems that produce and perpetuate poverty among other social injustices.

Lan Mercado, Regional Director for Oxfam in Asia, said: “This pandemic highlights a need to disrupt systems that are unequal and unjust and cause vulnerability,” highlighting  Oxfam’s work on starting a conversation on “new humanitarianism” with both the private business and the social enterprise sectors engaged not just to respond to but prepare for a crisis such as climate change.

Francois Bonnici, head, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, said the Foundation recognizes the important work being done by social entrepreneurs in Asia in achieving development targets.

“It’s clear that there is a convergence from many actors in this room. 37 million people in the world have now slipped back to extreme poverty, reversing 25 years of progress in 25 weeks. We need to work towards more systemic and radical changes as we try to make progress in the sustainable development agenda,” he said.

During the conference, ISEA launched a multi-stakeholder platform that provides social enterprises with guideposts for achieving women empowerment, livelihood, and food security in agricultural value chains (WE LIVE FOOD). The WE LIVE FOOD platform is supported by Oxfam and Swedish Embassy in Bangkok.

The platform resulted in a set of benchmarks inspired by best practices of social enterprises and inclusive businesses in agricultural sectors in select ASEAN countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Members of the platform include Bote Central in the Philippines, the originator of the Civet coffee and founder of The Philippine Coffee Alliance,  Thailand’s organic cashew producer Green Net Cooperative, and Indonesia’s Bina Swadaya Foundation, a pioneering institution in community empowerment through social entrepreneurship. The platform aims to integrate agricultural services such as providing farmers with training, digital mobilization, and market integration.

“The multi-stakeholder platform WE LIVE FOOD is a mechanism to help social enterprises and other stakeholders in the agricultural value chains like SMEs, Corporate Agribusinesses, and especially women and men small producers to build back better and fairer.”

“We have seen that agricultural value chains where women are already empowered are responding with greater resilience to this pandemic. We are hopeful this platform will promote much-needed guideposts for inclusive recovery planning and transformational partnership that puts women and men empowerment in agricultural value chains on top of policy and business agenda,” Dacanay said.



Notes to Editors: 


All media coverage on the event should include a mention of The Third Social Enterprise Advocacy and Leveraging Conference Asia (SEAL Asia Conference 2020) organised by ISEA in partnership with UNESCAP.


View full program here.


Full list of speakers:

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana
, Executive Secretary, UNESCAP  

William Dar, Secretary, Department of Agriculture (Philippines) 

Sita Sumrit, Head of Poverty Eradication and Gender Division and Assistant Director of the Human Development Directorate, ASEAN Secretariat  

Jong Tae Yoon, Chief Director, Korea Social Enterprise Promotion Agency 

Jonathan Wong, Chief, Technology and Innovation, UNESCAP 

Raijele Nicole, Regional Director in the Pacific, Oxfam 

Wen Tiejun, Professor and Executive Dean, Southwest University, China/ Thought Leader, New Rural Reconstruction Movement, China 

 Luis Dumlao, Dean, John Gokongwei School of Management, Ateneo de Manila University and ISEA Chairperson 

Ben Suzuki, Director, Japan Foundation Manila

 Marie Lisa Dacanay, Ph.D., founding President, ISEA and Social Innovation Thought Leader of the Year 2019 Awardee of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

Vie Reyes, CEO of Bote Central and Acting President, Philippine Coffee Alliance

Vitoon Panyakul,  Executive Director and Co-Founder, Earth Net Foundation/ Green Net Cooperative

Erin Sweeney, Manager, Sustainable Business and Investment Manager, Grow Asia  

Bishwa Nath Tiwari, Programme Specialist, UNDP Asia and the Pacific 

Chetna Sinha, Founder-Chairperson, Mann Deshi Bank & Mann Deshi Foundation, India 

Nasyith Majidi, Chairman, Yayasan Dompet Dhuafa, Indonesia (Health for All)  

Kanika Ahuja, Director, Conserve India (Decent Work for All in Sustainable Value Chains) 

Lanying Zhang, Director, Sources for Action Center (Rural Revitalization, Youth and Social

Howard Ling, Founder, Chappie Tech, Hong Kong (Technological Innovations for Sustainable Development)  

 Ken Ito, Regional Head (East Asia), Asia Venture Philanthropy Network, Japan 

 Rini SupriHartanti, Wakil Ketua III, Baznas, Indonesia 

Laina Greene, Co-Founder, Angels for Impact  

Savindra Ranathuga, UNDP 

Rosalyn Mesina, UN Women  

Kelvin Sergeant, ILO  

Shivani Kannabhiran, OECD

Lan Mercado, Oxfam

Francois Bonnici, Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship


For media inquiries and photos, please contact our official media partner:


Ping Manongdo 

Partnerships, Southeast Asia 

Eco-Business | Asia Pacific’s leading voice on sustainable development 

O: +65 8875 6062 (Whatsapp) 

The SDG Co, 2 Science Park Drive | 01-03, Ascent | Singapore 118222 


Catherine Tiongson

Programme and Development Cooperation Specialist



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