Third SEAL Asia Conference


The COVID-19 pandemic occurred when ISEA was all set to hold its Third Social Enterprise Advocacy and Leveraging (SEAL Asia) Conference with the theme “Social Entrepreneurship and Cross-Sectoral Collaboration: Towards Accelerating the Sustainable Development Goals.” ISEA was poised to co-convene this conference with UNESCAP on March 16-18, 2020 in Bangkok, Thailand.  

As a regional network promoting social entrepreneurship for sustainable development, the Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA) holds the SEAL Conference every two to three years to define an agenda of the sector as a relevant stakeholder in resolving key development issues and concerns in the region and beyond.   The first Social Enterprise Advocacy and Leveraging (SEAL) Conference and First ISEA Regional Assembly was held in 2014 in Manila, Philippines with the theme Transforming Economies through Social Entrepreneurship: Towards a Post-2015 Agenda. The Second SEAL Conference and Second ISEA Regional Assembly was held in Bali, Indonesia in 2017 and had as theme Social Enterprise: Addressing Inequality for a Just Economy. 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCAP released a report titled, ‘Asia and the Pacific SDG Progress Report 2019,’ which assessed the region’s progress towards the 17 SDGs. The report shared that Asia and the Pacific will not achieve any of the 17 SDGs by 2030 if the region remains on its current trajectory. It also shared that for more than half of the goals, progress was either heading in the wrong direction or had stagnated. In fact, the region’s progress was deteriorating on SDG 6 (clean water and sanitation); SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production). 

Based on the Social Progress Index assessing the SDGs by Social Progress Imperative, a disturbing conclusion made at the global level was ‘at the current rate, we will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals until 2094.’ However, social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs have been making significant impact as documented by the Schwab Foundation 2020 Impact Report ‘Two Decades of Impact’ and have been seen as potential game-changers in collaborative platforms to accelerate the SDGs. 

The SEAL Conference was intended to develop and launch Social Entrepreneurship Platforms to Accelerate the SDGs (SE-SDG Acceleration Platforms) around the themes of Sustainable Livelihoods and Women’s Economic Empowerment promoting a set of Benchmarks for Transformational Partnerships and Women’s Economic Empowerment in Agricultural Value Chains (led by ISEA in partnership with Center for Social Innovation Promotion in Vietnam and Trubus Bina Swadaya with Yayasan Dompet Dhuafa in Indonesia) ; Health for All (led by Yayasan Dompet Dhuafa); Education and Decent Work (led by Gandang Kalikasan/Human Nature and the Asia-Pacific Bureau for Adult Education);  Sustainable Consumption and Production and Circular Economy (led by World Fair Trade Organization-Asia) and Rural Revitalization, Youth and Social Entrepreneurship (led by Rural Reconstruction China and the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement).   

On February 19, 2020, ISEA’s Regional Council had an emergency meeting and decided to move the Conference to September 2020.  In a succeeding virtual consultation in May – June 2020, a unanimous decision was made to initiate a COVID-19 Social Enterprise Response and Visioning Effort (SERVE) Webinar Series leading up to a virtual SEAL Conference on September 16-17, 2020.  The Webinar Series had two objectives:   to share, network and collaborate towards a responsive recovery strategy for the social enterprise sector amid COVID-19 and to reconfigure the Social Entrepreneurship SDG Acceleration Platforms in a drastically changed context of a health and economic crisis hitting everyone including social enterprise stakeholders. 

ISEA’s COVID-19 SERVE Webinar Series from May 26 to August 4, 2020 brought to the fore the devastating impact of COVID-19 on social enterprises and the marginalized sectors they serve.  This was exemplified by crafts communities, small  producers and micro-entrepreneurs losing their markets or experiencing major disruptions in their supply chains; the stopping of operations of conference and cultural centers as well as hotels, restaurants, indigenous communities and villages engaged in sustainable tourism; and the logistical nightmares faced by social enterprises that had established seed to table systems directly linking farmers and fishers with urban consumers of organic produce and healthy food.  In a survey conducted by ISEA among a sample of social enterprises in the Philippines, which was estimated at 164,000 before the pandemic, 96% were severely to moderately affected by the pandemic, with only 4% sustaining their operations, mainly those engaged in essential services as well as agricultural and food production catering to local markets and becoming suppliers of rice for the relief packages of local government units.   

The COVID-19 SERVE Webinar Series likewise showcased inspirational social enterprise responses to the pandemic in ways that promoted the values of social equity, solidarity and sustainability in leaving no one behind to protect and cater to the unmet needs of the marginalized and most vulnerable sectors and communities.  Amidst the pandemic, these social entrepreneurship responses demonstrated social innovation and creatively utilized ICT and social media to provide access to health and sanitation products and services, masks and personal protective gears, fresh and healthy food, agricultural services and livelihood, information, education and other basic needs.  They effectively mobilized stakeholders and community assets, networks and cadres to bridge the digital divide, reaching the farthest and most vulnerable, and disrupting markets for the common good. 

Inspired by the heartwarming initiatives featured in the COVID-19 SERVE Webinar Series spanning at least 10 countries in Asia, the Third SEAL Conference shall be a major regional initiative that would harness social entrepreneurship and social innovation as a pathway to ensure the recovery of the social enterprise sector in Asia as partners in leaving no one behind towards building back better.  It shall directly contribute to the deliberations of the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development 2021 and the High Level Political Forum 2021 that would carry as theme:  ‘Sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, that promotes the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development: Building an inclusive and effective path for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda in the context of the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development.  

As such, the theme of the SEAL Conference shall be ‘Social Entrepreneurship and Cross Sectoral Collaboration:  Ensuring the Recovery of Social Enterprises towards Leaving No One Behind in Building Back Better and Achieving Sustainable Development’.  The platforms that are being reconfigured shall directly contribute to the 9 Sustainable Development Goals linked to pandemic recovery, namely no poverty, zero hunger, decent work and inclusive growth, health and well-being, reduced inequality including gender equality, responsible consumption and production, climate action, peace justice and strong institutions and partnership for the goals (Goals 1, 2, 3, 8, 10, 12, 13, 16 and 17)