Fourth SEAL Asia Conference
The Institute for Social Entrepreneurship in Asia (ISEA), a regional network promoting social entrepreneurship for sustainable development, holds the Social Enterprise Advocacy and Leveraging (SEAL) Conference and Regional Assembly every two to three years. This is to define an agenda and contribution of the social enterprise sector in resolving key development issues and concerns in the region and beyond. The First SEAL Conference and 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 ISEA Regional Assembly was held in Bali, Indonesia in 2017 and had the theme Social Enterprise: Addressing Inequality for a Just Economy.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about drastic changes to the 3rd SEAL Conference. From a planned face-to-face conference co-convened by UNESCAP as a pre-event to the Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development in Bangkok, Thailand in March 2020, it was held virtually via zoom conference in September 2020. Responding to the devastating impact of the global health crisis, the theme of the conference was refocused from the accelerating the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to ensuring the recovery and repositioning of the social enterprise sector towards leaving no one behind. Thus, the 3rd SEAL Conference had the theme, “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 poor and marginalized were hit the hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the World Bank, 97 million people globally were driven to extreme poverty by the pandemic in 2020. This was in addition to the 689 million people that were already in extreme poverty in 2019. Multidimensional poverty also worsened in 2020, reaching 1.3 billion, across 107 developing countries, representing about 22% of the world’s population. As partners of the poor and marginalized, the social enterprise sector was also hit hard by the pandemic, as shown by the results of the action research that were conducted by ISEA and its members.
Prior to the Third SEAL Conference, ISEA engaged the social enterprise sector to share, network and collaborate towards defining a responsive recovery strategy for the social enterprise sector amid COVID-19. A Webinar Series on COVID-19 Social Enterprise Response and Visioning Effort (SERVE) was conducted from May- August 2020. This culminated in evolving the following Social Entrepreneurship Platforms for inclusive recovery and building back fairer towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that ISEA and partners launched or presented at the 3rd SEAL Conference:
- Women’s Empowerment, Livelihoods and Food in Agricultural Value Chains
- Decent Work for All in Sustainable Value Chains
- Rural Revitalization, Youth and Social Entrepreneurship
- Technological Innovations for Sustainable Development
- Health for All
Building on its previous efforts in developing a set of Benchmarks for Transformational Partnerships and Women’s Economic Empowerment in Agricultural Value Chains (Transformational AVC Benchmarks) with the support of Oxfam and the Swedish Embassy in Bangkok, ISEA and its partners launched the Women’s Empowerment, Livelihoods and Food in Agricultural Value Chains (WE LIVE FOOD) Platform during the 3rd SEAL Conference with Center for Social Initiatives Promotion (Vietnam) and Bina Swadaya (Indonesia) as Co-conveners. Since then, the WE LIVE FOOD Platform has promoted the adoption of the Benchmarks by social enterprises, SMEs and corporate agribusinesses. It has also developed a set of Transformational AVC Guidelines that the Platform has presented to ASEAN and ASEAN Member States towards enabling the practice of the Benchmarks.
The four other platforms that were first presented at the 3rd SEAL Conference have also progressed at different paces. Responding to the challenge of aging farmers and reconsidering rural development as a critical element in achieving sustainable development, the Rural Revitalization, Youth and Social Entrepreneurship Platform was launched in July 2022 with the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement, Rural Reconstruction Nepal and Sources for Action China as Co-Conveners. With its focus on bridging the digital divide, the Technological Innovations for Sustainable Development Platform co- convened by the Association of Progressive Communications embarked on learning events to promote and mainstream community networks and community-based connectivity initiatives. The Decent Work for All in Sustainable Value Chains, co-convened by the World Fair Trade Organization-Asia and the Asia-South Pacific Bureau for Basic and Adult Education has focused on promoting Centers of Excellence to assist the recovery and repositioning of fair trade organizations in the crafts subsector that have been badly hit by the pandemic. The Health for All platform, co-convened by Dompet Dhuafa Foundation (Indonesia) and Dhan Foundation/SUHAM (India) has promoted learning exchanges on community-based health and wellness models focusing on building resilient and sustainable communities.
As nations and communities start to recover and transition towards what has been characterized as “the new normal”, the social enterprise sector in Asia-Pacific needs to ensure that the transformational agenda initiated by ISEA and its partners in 2020 is sustained and mainstreamed towards:
- Ensuring the recovery of the social enterprise sector and the poor that they serve;
- Optimizing opportunities for inclusive recovery and building back fairer; and,
- Repositioning the social enterprise sector to fulfill its role as accelerators of the SDGs.
In this context, a major initiative for social enterprise recovery and innovation is being co-created by ISEA in partnership with Catalyst 2030 in Asia-Pacific. The initiative is called Catalyzing Recovery of Social and Community Enterprises for Transformation (CRESCENT). It aims to set-up a program and fund to assist social enterprises and their marginalized stakeholders to recover, pivot and innovate towards building back fairer and to expand their coverage or create new ones in response to the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath.
In May 2022, ISEA and the Asia Pacific Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism (APR-CEM)- Social and Community Enterprise Constituency, hosted an online session during the Catalyzing Change Week 2022 (CCW2022) organized by Catalyst 2030. While CRESCENT was welcomed as a global initiative by Catalyst 2030 stakeholders, an Asia-Pacific CRESCENT initiative was seen as an important pilot to demonstrate proof-of-concept at the regional level even as a CRESCENT Learning and Coordinating Group was proposed at the global level. Since then, ISEA has taken a lead role in mobilizing its members and interested stakeholders of Catalyst 2030 and the Asia-Pacific Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism- Social and Community Enterprise Constituency, to actively undertake a program development, partnership building and resource mobilization phase for CRESCENT. Building on the gains of the five Platforms initiated in 2020, the ISEA Regional Council decided on the creation of a CRESCENT Asia-Pacific Working Group to lead this process. With the support of Catalyst 2030, a CRESCENT Asia-Pacific Working Group is now working with the co- conveners and stakeholders of the five platforms to co-create an Asia-Pacific CRESCENT Core Program.
At the same time, the Asia-Pacific community of nations shall be holding the 10th Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD) 2023, with the theme of “Accelerating the recovery from COVID- 19 and the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at all levels”. The APFSD also identified 3 SDGs as focus of its review for 2023: SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, Infrastructure), SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), and SDG 17 (Partnerships for the Goals). The 10th APFSD will be held also in Bangkok, Thailand from March 27-30, 2023.
It is in this context that ISEA is organizing the Fourth Social Enterprise Advocacy and Leveraging (SEAL) Conference and ISEA Regional Assembly as a pre-event to APFSD 2023.