The SDG Centre Youth Perspective section highlights cool, insightful articles written by young people from the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum and the Global Leaders of the United Nations on many different aspects of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Hailing from Thailand, Myanmar and Singapore they offer a glimpse into what life is like for our next generation in these regions and possible solutions to help make sure nobody is left behind.

“ The youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow ” – Nelson Mandela

The debate on reducing inequality and boosting economic mobility is by no means a simple one. Key factors such as access to education, health and enhancing food security are important and necessary measures that need to be looked at. 

In this article we examine the idea that creating more open and transparent business environments that support entrepreneurship and small and medium-sized enterprises, so they can grow and create jobs and wealth, may be just as important in the fight for more inclusive growth in Asia and Latin America.

We live in a world where geographic distance should no longer matter. Digital interconnectivity, globalization and emerging technologies like Blockchain[1] are transforming the way emerging markets interact with each other and with developed markets. South-south cooperation has proven to be innovative and cooperative, going strong in 2016 and the year ahead.[2] Yet many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore still cite distance as an obstacle to expanding their business operations to other emerging markets, such as those in Latin America or Africa, listing these emerging markets as one of their last few choices for entering[3].

Emerging markets in Southeast Asia and Latin America are similar in terms of population – about 640 million in 2016, and GDP growth – ASEAN has a combined gross domestic product (GDP) of US$2.4 trillion in 2015, and ranks as the world’s seventh largest economy[4], while Latin America and the Carribean has a combined GDP of $5.148 Trillion in 2015[5].  They also face similar economic challenge, dealing with economic inequality, the demand for commodities, raw resources and skilled labour, as well as technology transfers. Their differences also lead to more opportunities for business; emerging markets in Asia need commodities for their factories, while Latin America has abundant natural resources.[6] The exploding population in Asia leads to higher demands for Latin America’s agricultural and meats products, evident in Brazil being one of  Singapore’s largest importers for poultry in 2015, amounting to $162.739,000.[7]

Never before has the opportunity to leapfrog stages of development been so salient; if China was the sleeping dragon in the 1980s, today, it is Southeast Asia and Latin America that will drive tomorrow’s global economic growth. The opportunities for double digit growth in connecting the two emerging markets is high – bilateral trade has grown 350 per cent over the past decade to reach US$15.5 billion in 2014. [8]  Increasingly, businesses in both Southeast Asia and Latin America leverage on each other’s capabilities; often facilitated by companies from more developed markets. For example,  Vietnam has actively exported high-tech products to other developing countries like Peru; backed by Korean industrial equipment manufacturer Doosan Vina. [9] These transitions mark a shift from uneven partnerships between enterprises in emerging regions and those in more developed markets. Emerging markets working amongst themselves can thus capture and resolve key pressure points where partnerships with larger, albeit more experienced, players may overlook because of their outlook – one tailored to their more developed contexts.

SMEs form the backbone of emerging markets and promise high growth potential through its underserved markets. They contribute up to 45% of total employment and 33% of national income (GDP) in emerging economies,[10] and are thus the fundamental link in the chain from microenterprises to multinational companies. Yet platforms that bridge the resource gap among SMEs – particularly in trade financing, export capabilities and access to technology – has been few and far between.  To promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth for the half of the world’s population that live in poverty, the change has to begin with SME collaboration. Strengthening their business potentials would then narrow the development gap in the regions of Southeast Asia and Latin America. However, SMEs remain entrenched in their local contexts and cannot independently create the conditions necessary for expanding global reach. It is therefore imperative to emphasize the synergies that can arise from collaboration between SMEs.

Goal 8 of the UNSDG: Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all, requires knowledge brokers and dialogue platforms that can connect emerging markets and facilitate their developmental process, thus contributing to sustainable and inclusive economic growth.  One example of such a platform is Asia-Latam Connection (ALC), a non-profit based in Singapore with representation in Mexico. For companies looking to better understand the SDGs and the opportunities available, Singapore will also be hosting the Responsible Business Forum from the 22nd to the 24th of November 2016 at Marina Bay Sands. Each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals will be examined in depth with case studies and perspectives from businesses, governments, UN agencies, investors and international experts.

ALC serves as a platform facilitating business knowledge exchanges between SMEs in emerging markets, enabling them to capitalize on their high-growth potentials. Such communication is crucial for coping with institutional voids such as changeable regulations, a lack of nationwide distributional reach and underdeveloped logistics connectivity, especially across similar industries. In the long-run, when SMEs are ready for larger-scale expansions, they also then benefit from the familiarity they have with relevant institutional contexts and business environments. Such initiatives include the Singapore Emerging Markets Conference in 2015 and the Inter-regional Transpacific Partnership Webinar in 2016.

Therefore, policymakers, businesses, financiers and other stakeholders should focus on developing cooperation through dialogue platforms in Goal 8 – the pursuit for sustainability, decent work, and equitable economic growth. They should also have a critical look into how South-south cooperation can be facilitated and strengthened through these platforms. As emerging markets will drive the global engine of economic growth for the next few decades, such focus on developing cooperative capabilities will lead to win-win situations for all involved.



[3] Singapore Business Federation Annual Survey, 2014-2015







[10] Bell, Simon. “Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Finance.” The World Bank. The World Bank, 1 Sept. 2015. Web. 26 Sept. 2016.