MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte called for entrepreneurs to become the beacons for change and innovation within Southeast Asia, as industry giants and the region's finest innovators converged in Manila on Wednesday (Sep 6) for the ASEAN Business Awards.
The annual event focuses on entrepreneurship over a variety of industries and the companies and individuals succeeding in encouraging growth and prosperity across Southeast Asia.
From fisheries and agri-food, to healthcare and retail, the region’s most innovative, passionate and successful enterprises were put under the spotlight, as industry and political heavyweights looked on.
President Duterte, who made the keynote address to the 900-strong delegation, said the award winners should serve as examples to the whole region and were proof that small and medium enterprises were key drivers towards employment opportunities and resilient economies.
“I call for entrepreneurs in the region to become beacons of innovation and change towards poverty eradication and economic development, within your respective countries,” he said.
The president’s message was echoed by ASEAN Business Council Advisory chair Joey Concepcion, who called on lenders to embrace small businesses with big ideas.
“All my life I’ve looked up to entrepreneurs who succeeded and inspired myself and hundreds of you in this audience,” he said.
“It is time, not only to lend to large corporations, it is time to lend to our struggling entrepreneurs, many of whom do not have the right collateral or enough collateral to borrow money.”
There were 47 awardees in total, in what was described as a virtual Forbes list of Asian business leaders.
Legacy awards were handed to giants of the business world, including Wee Cho Yaw of Singapore’s United Overseas Bank, Malaysia’s Goh Peng Ooi of banking solutions provider Silverlake Axis and John Gokongwei, the chairman of JG Summit, one of the largest and most diversified Filipino conglomerates.
The rising Young Entrepreneur of the Year was awarded to the Philippines’ Dennis Uy of Udenna Corporation. The 43-year-old heads a rising empire of diverse business interests from hospitality to oil.
The Women Entrepreneur award went to Sirina Sisombat-Hervy, the managing director of Sinouk Coffee in Laos. The company has focused on whole value chains from plantations to roasting and retail outlets, with a key interest in providing livelihoods to local women.
“In Laos particularly, women play a key role in different sectors, in coffee, in the fashion industry and also in community activities helping families and women to develop themselves,” she said.
Tourism award winner Tony Fernandes, the group chief executive officer of AirAsia, said he was thrilled to be recognised by his ASEAN peers, and emphasised how low-cost flying also helped enable small business.
“Today was a lot about SMEs, and a lot them came up to me and said: ‘Our business has expanded thanks to AirAsia because we’re able to travel more and take our products to different parts of ASEAN’,” he said.