A roundup of development news in this dynamic region
July - September 2017
AWENASEAN Women Gain Expanded Economic Policy Voice

Participants at the forum on August 31. Photo: ASEAN Secretariat
The ASEAN Women Entrepreneurs' Network (AWEN), begun more than three years ago with US Government support, is taking on a growing role in shaping economic policies so that women can benefit from and make an expanded contribution to regional growth.

AWEN's unique policy role was demonstrated at the forum on Mainstreaming ASEAN Women in Trade of Goods and Services Toward AEC 2025, held August 31 in Manila. Over 170 people from throughout ASEAN attended the forum, which examined barriers to women's participation in trade and investment, and how to overcome those barriers. 

Presentations at the forum showed that the full benefits of trade--the chief driver of the ASEAN regional economy--remain unrealized as long as gender inequalities limit women's participation in national, regional, and global markets. To address these inequalities, economic policies must change. But incorporating gender awareness into economic policy is difficult because of ASEAN's traditional view of gender as being a social rather than an economic issue. AWEN is working within ASEAN to break through that institutional barrier.

AWEN was formed in April 2014 with support from USAID's ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Investment (US-ACTI), a project implemented by Nathan Associates. Dozens of regional women's organizations make up the membership of AWEN, which is addressing the barriers to women's economic participation and creating opportunities for networking, training, and access to finance.
Though part of ASEAN's Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), AWEN has gained a formal role in the ASEAN Economic Community through the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC), the regional body tasked with bringing the views of the private sector on economic policy to the attention of ASEAN committees and leaders. 

In addition, the ASEAN Economic Ministers recently tasked AWEN and the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, a policy group that can have a significant impact on opportunities for women who own small businesses, to coordinate on advancing women's economic empowerment.

Leveraging its increasing influence, AWEN organized the Manila forum as part of the ASEAN Women's Business Conference and developed an Action Agenda on Mainstreaming Women's Economic Empowerment in ASEAN that the Economic Ministers are submitting to ASEAN leaders for adoption at their November Summit. This would be the first time that the leaders directly address women's economic empowerment. 

US-ACTI will support AWEN as it further refines the recommendations, which revolve around increased dialogue among policymakers and women entrepreneurs, an improved enabling environment for women-owned businesses, greater investment in human capital development for women and girls, particularly in STEM, and greater policy coordination across ASEAN's social and economic Communities.

Contact: Tim Buehrer at
robotsBurma Robots: More than Fun and Games

A rapidly expanding ICT sector will create many career opportunities for Burma (Myanmar) youth. USAID is helping them gain enthusiasm for the sector through hands-on experience. This includes 
David Madden, founder of Phandeeyar: Myanmar Innovation Lab, tweets congratulations to the Burma (Myanmar) robotics team. 
designing, programming, and building robots, then matching skills with those of peers from around the world.

Assisted by a USAID grant, a team of seven students from Burma recently took part in the FIRST Global Robotics Challenge, a 3-day competition held July 16-18 in Washington, DC. The team qualified by creating a robot that could maneuver to collect and sort balls by color. 

But the games, an ICT Olympics, required more than technical savvy and innovation. The team had to demonstrate its ability and willingness to communicate, cooperate, and work together to apply technology as a tool for positive change in the world. For this latter challenge, "alliances" of three randomly selected country teams were required to cooperate as global societies to solve a water crisis by transforming a polluted river into a clean water source.

Team Burma placed 6th out of 163 teams in the overall competition. 

The grant was issued through the USAID Private Sector Development Activity (PSDA), a project administered by Nathan Associates. PSDA awards the small grants to nongovernmental organizations and associations to build capacity and to stimulate inclusive policy dialogue. Since its inception in 2015, the project has awarded 19 grants to Burma organizations.

Contact: Steve Parker at
SME-academySME Facilitators Open Door to SME Knowledge

SME facilitators at a training session on the ASEAN SME Academy. Photo: USAID Indonesia
Growing numbers of facilitators throughout ASEAN are making access to business skills and information even easier for the region's small and medium enterprises.

These facilitators have the enthusiasm, knowledge, and leadership skills to guide entrepreneurs through the ASEAN SME Academy, an online resource launched in 2016 as a collaboration between ASEAN and the US-ASEAN Business Council, with support from USAID ASEAN Connectivity through Trade and Investment (US-ACTI).

The Academy offers a range of materials, mostly developed by leading US companies and law firms doing business in the region, that are designed to help business operators hone their skills, build their networks, and scope out opportunities. Offerings include startup fundamentals like setting prices, selling on line, and calculating profit and loss, and more advanced material to help entrepreneurs who seek to enlarge their businesses or start exporting--they can learn, for example, "incoterms," the terminology of international trade.

With so much information available on so many levels of need and complexity, it was important to help guide new users in accessing the Academy. So, US-ACTI, implemented by Nathan Associates, began identifying and training facilitators in each member state. These business enablers, who conduct their own training at sites throughout the region, come from associations, educational institutions, government agencies, and other groups supporting SME development as critical to inclusive economic growth in Southeast Asia.

Through October, 190 facilitators have been trained in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam. Training is planned for Burma facilitators in 2018.

Contact: Tim Buehrer at
APEC-dashboard2017 Dashboard Data Gauges Women's Empowerment in APEC 

APEC's Women and the Economy Dashboard, which tracks, measures, and communicates progress in women's economic participation across APEC's 21 member economies, reached a milestone in September with the 2017 release.

The 2017 Dashboard contains the first biannual data update since APEC's Policy Support Unit (PSU) entered baseline information two years ago. The new data show both progress and backsliding in women's engagement in APEC economies since 2015. For example, the number of member economies where women may work in mining has increased, but the number of laws that prohibit sexual discrimination in hiring has declined. In addition, although women remain far behind men at the highest levels of political decision-making throughout the region, their representation as elected officials is gradually increasing in most APEC economies.

The Dashboard is built on a framework of more than 75 economic and social indicators maintained chiefly by international sources. USAID's US-APEC Technical Assistance to Advance Regional Integration (US-ATAARI) project, implemented by Nathan Associates, developed the framework, which APEC adopted in 2014. The data serves as a guide and an incentive to policymakers seeking to advance women's economic empowerment. 

Some Dashboard indicators are outcome-oriented (1-3). Others measure general conditions of women in APEC economies that enable or impede women's participation in the economy (4-9).

Even the baseline data motivated sector-specific change. The 2015 Dashboard revealed significant gaps across APEC in the education and career advancement of women in STEM fields. That data prompted development of APEC Women in STEM: A Framework for Dialogue, Learning, and Action, a framework for strengthening conditions for women in STEM. 

The Dashboard grew out of discussions at the 2011 APEC Women and the Economy Summit. Participants identified the need to measure women's economic advancement using data that can be compared across APEC members. Nathan's US-ATAARI work to develop and help institutionalize the use of relevant, clear, and concrete data in gender planning and programming is fulfilling that need.

Contact: Ann Katsiak at
Lao-ISOLao PDR Enhances ISO Membership

Lao PDR took an important step this year toward increasing the international competitiveness of its businesses. 

With assistance from the USAID-funded LUNA II project, implemented by Nathan Associates, Lao PDR's Department of Standardization and Metrology (DSM) became a correspondent member of the ISO, an independent nongovernmental organization based in Geneva. A company following ISO standards for production of goods or services increases its ability to sell at home and abroad. 

Close to 22,000 international standards exist, according to the website of the ISO, also known as the  Organization for International Standards. These standards, purchased in document form, "provide requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose," ISO says.

Lao PDR had been a subscriber member of ISO.  Subscriber membership meant companies within Lao PDR had to buy standards directly from another member of ISO. Correspondent membership means Lao companies can purchase standards at a reduced, locally set price. 

LUNA II advised the Department of Standardization and Regulation on the potential economic benefits of correspondent membership, helping identify the number of companies that could obtain ISO standards. LUNA II continues to work with the DSM and the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry to encourage businesses to adopt standards available from the ISO.

Contact: Dan Fitzpatrick at
APEC-PNGPapua New Guinea Takes Policy Lead as APEC Host 

From left: Apeame Moore, PNG APEC 2018 Secretariat from the PNG government; Sarah Gleave, from the APEC Secretariat in Singapore; Steven Collin, PNG APEC 2018 Secretariat from the PNG government; and an unidentified workshop participant from the PNG government mime the acronym "APEC" at a training held this summer. Photo: USAID
As APEC host for 2018, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has the opportunity to enact key domestic reforms while setting a 2018 policy agenda for all APEC economies. Finding goals that meet domestic and APEC regional challenges requires close coordination between PNG and the rest of APEC as well as thoughtful intragovernmental coordination.

The US-APEC Technical Assistance to Advance Regional Integration (US-ATAARI) project, implemented by Nathan Associates, facilitates such coordination in pursuit of policy changes or reforms achievable during the host year. This has been accomplished through a number of capacity building workshops over the past two years. These were followed recently by three days of road-mapping PNG's planned deliverables for the year. 

A central part of PNG's host year effort involves the project gaining the trust of stakeholders such as the PNG departments of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Transport and Treasury, and the Investment Promotion Authority, the Customs Service and the Mineral Resources Authority. The US-ATAARI team meets with the PNG APEC leadership team and its government partners regularly and has developed a working relationship that will continue through the host year. 

Sustainability is a key area of interest for PNG because the economy depends heavily on farm and forest products, fisheries, and minerals. So is gender equality, and Nathan has laid the groundwork policy examination through a report published in 2013, Women's Economic Participation in Papua New Guinea: Achieving APEC Priorities for Gender Equality.

Working with a host economy can't begin too early. US-ATAARI has also been working with Chile to prepare for its host year in 2019.

Contact: Ann Katsiak at
WiTForum Tackles APEC Gender Gap in Transportation

This helmet safely accommodates the tang cau bun, a hairstyle worn by married women in parts of Vietnam. Photo: National Traffic Safety Committee, Vietnam
APEC economies and companies can both work to incorporate data-driven approaches that increase women's participation in the transportation sector. Just how the public and private sectors achieve that goal became the focus of discussion that was part of the 2017 APEC Women in Transportation (WiT) Forum: Gauging Progress and Moving Forward.

More than 100 gender officials and transportation specialists gathered for the forum, which took place September 27 in Hue, Vietnam. Nathan Associates, as implementer of the US-ATAARI project, organized the event as APEC seeks ways to close the gender gap between men and women's workforce participation.

The gap is particularly wide for transportation: women account for less than 25 percent of transportation-related employees across APEC. Also, women are less likely to be involved in the design of transportation systems so that they meet women's distinct transport needs. Women, for instance, take more frequent trips than men, but travel shorter distances. 

Participants learned what APEC economies are doing to promote women's participation in transportation. AirAsia, UPS, and other private companies discussed their experiences, while Women in Trucking, a US-based association, discussed how companies can better attract women employees. The forum also highlighted local innovative interventions to increase the safety of women as passengers, like in the Lao Cai province of Vietnam where the community has built special motorbike helmets that leave room for women's traditional hair buns but still fit safely and snugly.

The outcomes from the forum will be incorporated into the update of the APEC Women in Transportation Compendium of Best Practices, to be finalized before year-end.

Contact: Ann Katsiak at