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Asean policymakers commit to investing more in people

Sep 09. 2019
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Asean ministers and senior officials on Monday discussed how to accelerate human capital development in the region by using policy investments and reforms.

Asean countries have succeeded in achieving high levels of economic growth and have substantially reduced poverty over the last 20 years. However, education, skills development, and health indicators are on average below expectations given Asean’s income levels, and there are wide disparities in life expectancy, job productivity, and education quality across the region. 

Further investment in its people, particularly children and young people, has remained a key challenge.

Organised by Thailand’s National Economic and Social Development Council (NESDC) and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with the World Bank and Unicef, the Asean High Level Meeting on Human Capital Development aims to promote sharing of successful policy frameworks among member states. The talks also aim to identify new approaches to human capital development and move toward a set of common, yet context-adapted, policy directions, said a release on Monday.

“Our region is committed to developing concrete actions to ensure that we have a future-ready and competitive workforce for the global digital economy,” said Thosaporn Srisumphand, the secretary general of NESDC in the release. “It is a priority for us to design effective public policies and government programmes that put people at the centre of development.”

The World Bank’s global Human Capital Project is an accelerated effort to assess the progress countries around the world, including those in Asean, have made in building human capital. It serves as the basis for strategic support to countries that want to invest more effectively in its people. According to the World Bank, children born in the Asean region today are expected to, on average, achieve about 59 per cent of their full productivity potential compared to children born in areas with high performing education and health systems.

“Prioritising human capital development means putting people at the centre of investments, policies, and programmes,” said Mara Warwick, the World Bank country director for Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. “By working towards these goals, Asean countries can directly address gaps and provide a more sustainable, equitable, and prosperous future for all its people.”

At the meeting, ministry officials for health and education discussed how closely linked policies and investments produce tangible improvements in human capital outcomes.

The issue of malnutrition was discussed during the meeting, as countries highlighted examples of progress and challenges around policy implementation. In Asean, an estimated 5 million children suffer from wasting and one in four children are stunted in growth because of chronic undernutrition. Ministers and officials shared experiences and challenges about programme design and successful implementation of initiatives to end all forms of malnutrition.

“It is important for all countries to take the Asean Leaders’ Declaration on Ending all Forms of Malnutrition to heart. The region is now facing a double burden of malnutrition. It is home to 63.7 million undernourished people and has the fastest growing prevalence of childhood obesity in the world, [and] both will negatively impact human capital and economic development,” said Unicef Regional Director, Karin Hulshof.

Representatives from planning and labour ministries spoke about concrete steps that will be needed to prepare next generations for the changing nature of jobs, and how the Asean region can seize opportunities created by a fast-growing digital era by preparing a future-ready workforce. Investments in reskilling and knowledge upgrading of today’s young people for the workplace of tomorrow are necessary, especially for countries where human capital development gaps remain wide.

At the meeting’s conclusion, participating Asean ministers and officials agreed to enhance integrated policy investments in the different sectors, including healthcare, quality education, lifelong learning and skills development, throughout the human life cycle.

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