DIGITAL CHAMPIONS WORKSHOP MAY 15 2017 - Asian Trade Centre foundation

The Digital Champions Programme launched its first Pilot Workshop in Singapore on 15 May 2017 was dedicated to foster a better understanding between micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) and government officials in the digital age.

16 participants from across Asia came together to represent their flourishing MSMEs, representing several industries such as food products, IT & telecommunications services, fashion & beauty, online retailing, B2B marketing, furniture, or and social enterprise. They hailed from New Zealand, India, The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore.


The morning sessions were dedicated to panels presented by experts Deborah Elms of the Asian Trade Centre Foundation, Jeff Paine of the Asian Internet Coalition and Steve Okun from the American Chamber of Commerce. These discussions equipped MSME owners and representatives with the tools to better communicate their challenges to government officials.

Jeff Paine (top left), Managing Director, PS-Engage and Managing Director of the Asian Internet Coalition hosted a panel on 'Understanding key challenges in digital trade and e-commerce.' Steve Okun (bottom left) from the American Chamber of Commerce delivered a panel on 'Tips and Tricks for better Communication' between MSMEs and governments. Pia Gladys Alegre Perey (right) , owner of her name-brand fashion label in the Phillipines, engages in the workshop.

The afternoon sessions allowed the participants a visit at Google's Singapore headquarters, and included a roundtable discussion with the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI). In the conversation with government officials at MTI, participants practiced what they had learnt in the morning with government officials.

The Asian Trade Centre Foundation provides integrated support for government officials to strengthen their capabilities to plan, develop and implement effective trade policy programmes.

Key challenges facing MSMEs:

  • Support Information Flows: Developing policies to enable data and information to flow across borders is critical to e-Commerce growth. Our participants mentioned that 'There are no online platforms or portals where companies can get access to market information, standards rules and regulatory information.'
  • Facilitate Flow of Goods: Small firms are especially damaged by high costs caused by inefficient movement of goods across borders. It is difficult for small companies to find the right partners in overseas markets when there are regulations that require physical presence of the foreign companies in order to enter the local markets. Snoe Beauty Products articulated their relevant experience in this situation 'Shipping from the Philippines is very high. For example, one Beauty Bar only costs USD 6.00. But shipping to other countries will cost us another USD20-30. Exporting from The Philippines is difficult because of these logistical barriers.'
  • Facilitation of Services: All of our participants agreed their businesses must get involved further with trade policy in order to flourish as their market grows. This would include cooperating and communicating with policymakers to encourage supporting development in logistical services that carry their products.
  • Financing and Payments: Smaller firms also need swift and accurate methods of receiving payments. Delays in processing, or an ability to collect can mean bankruptcy for MSMEs in short order.
  • Learn more about the challenges that regional MSMEs face here
  • Many of our participants identified logistical costs as a hindrance to advancing their business
  • Many businesses noted specific examples of their problems with getting their goods and services out of their origin and into the hands of the customer.
  • An example in the Philippines is where the process of applying for certificate could take up to 30-60 days which can disrupt the delivery of orders: 'The clients already made orders but the company couldn’t deliver their products because they couldn’t get the certificate on time.'
  • Customs procedures, 'especially paperwork' should be more transparent to reduce uncertainties for firms - businesses find it difficult to operate when customs declarations for getting their services out of origin and to the customer is not clear.
  • Free flow of data should be ensured. 'If there are barriers to the exchange of data between India and Australia is not permitted, some business models will not work.' Digital barriers to trade disrupt access to information for buyers and sellers on both ends.
The ATC Team at Google with participant and Associate Vice-President, Himanshu Garg (far left) from - the online curated market place for fine jewellery is a leading e-commerce player in this market segment.

Himanshu Garg, AVP of WearYourShine stressed the importance of private and public sector communication:

'To create a change at a nation-wide scale, you have to find the right associations/organisations and open a two-way communication with the government.'
In this world, small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) stand to benefit from opportunities that were never available in the past.
If better policies are in place to support e-commerce for small companies, they will have more opportunities overall.

Key lessons for the participants:

  • Learning how large scale trade policies like Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP 11) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will affect and advance MSMEs growth was crucial for long and short term business planning.

Outcomes of the workshop:

  • Steve Okun from the American Chamber of Commerce walked the MSMEs through effective lobbying for policy change: MSMEs must know the process by which change takes place. Be educated on the politics behind the issue, acquire partners and group together for effective lobbying as MSMEs. Align your issue with public interest and condense it into an elevator pitch - have the data or anecdote ready to summarise the problem when talking to government officials.
  • Participants were introduced to Free Google Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Tools such as Test My Site and Google Trends, useful for small enterprises that need to analyze their traffic for web-based services.
Marben Jan Picar Co Founder of Swito Corporation from the Phillipines recognizes the need for cooperation at the small business level:
'In order for MSMEs to be heard by governments, MSMEs must communicate with each other to make their voices heard collectively'
Small business owner of Olivia, Jerry Ho from New Zealand said that the workshop helps his business prepare for the implications of trade policies:
'TPP is coming in place at the end of 2018 and that is great for MSMEs. Government officials have interest in MSME growth. Large organisations want to reach out MSMEs and help with their issues.'
Nikki from the Phillipines, the E-commerce Operations and Marketing Manager of Snoe Beauty Products Inc. highlights her takeaways from the Digital Champions Workshop:
'Following this workshop, we will implement the must-do's of policy lobbying, and explain that our concerns will benefit not only MSMEs, but also the country at large. Since we sell beauty products, we can show them that our product category has the potential to expand into more ASEAN countries.'


The Asian Trade Centre Foundation (ATCF) is committed to the spreading of knowledge on the benefits of international trade participation. The Foundation provides capacity building and conducts research on trade, trade agreements and international economic integration as pathways for Asian economic development.

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