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Empowering MSMEs in ASEAN: Sustainable Transformation for SDG Progress

    Bambuhay's products: Bamboo Straw and Toothbrush (
    Bambuhay’s products: Bamboo Straw and Toothbrush (

    ASEAN – In the heart of Southeast Asia’s dynamic and diverse landscape lies a driving force that fuels economies, creates livelihoods, and fosters innovation. Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises, collectively known as MSMEs, are one of the important sectors leading the region’s economic growth. Across the eleven nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), MSMEs form the lifeblood of local economies, making significant contributions to sustainable growth, employment opportunities, and entrepreneurship. 

    According to ASEAN FOR BUSINESS Monthly Bulletin, MSMEs in ASEAN contribute to 85% of employment and 44.5% of GDP in the region. MSMEs are increasingly being encouraged not just to boost the economy but also to develop businesses that prioritize sustainability and eco-friendliness. 

    Mark Sultan Gersava, hailing from the Philippines, exemplifies this sustainable business approach. Gersava gained notable recognition during MSME Day on June 27, as featured in the June 2023 edition of the ASEAN FOR BUSINESS Monthly Bulletin. His inspiring journey in establishing a business with a strong commitment to addressing climate change and empowering local communities serves as an example of successful MSMEs within the ASEAN region.

    Born in Mindanao, Gersava is the visionary behind Bambuhay — a company dedicated to crafting environmentally friendly bamboo straws and toothbrushes as sustainable alternatives to plastic-based counterparts. According to the ASEAN Circular Economy Stakeholder Platform, this enterprise has not only positively impacted 13,910 farmers, but has also helped 68 families break free from the cycle of poverty. Furthermore, under Gersava’s leadership, Bambuhay has made remarkable strides in reducing approximately 1,100 tons of plastic waste while concurrently planting around 40,000 trees and bamboo, contributing significantly to environmental conservation efforts.

    Bambuhay's Founder, Mark Sultan Gersava
    Bambuhay’s Founder, Mark Sultan Gersava (

    Bambuhay’s journey stands as a remarkable illustration of how MSMEs can actively contribute to reshaping ASEAN towards a circular economy, thereby paving the way for a sustainable future in the region. The offerings from Bambuhay have garnered enthusiastic support from consumers and received recognition from multinational corporations, leading to their selection as bamboo straw suppliers for two prominent F&B markets in the Philippines. Collaborating with local businesses through strategic partnerships, Bambuhay exemplifies how MSMEs facilitate access to a diverse array of products for their clientele while simultaneously serving the needs of local communities.

    Recognizing the crucial role of MSMEs within the economic landscape, ASEAN has embarked on collaborative endeavors to empower these enterprises. In 2021, a significant milestone was achieved by adopting the Framework for Circular Economy for the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC). This framework introduced a structured pathway to nurturing a supportive ecosystem for circular business models, representing a pivotal initiative for MSMEs. 

    Furthermore, ASEAN actively promotes policy dialogues facilitating alignment between governments and the private sector. Through the flagship platform ASEAN Access, ASEAN encourages partnerships among businesses, innovators, and investors, fostering sustainability beyond borders. These collective actions reflect ASEAN’s steadfast commitment to unlocking the vast potential of MSMEs, steering the region toward a sustainable and prosperous future.

    Batik outlet owned by micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) at the 2023 Inacraft in Jakarta, Saturday, March 4, 2023. (source: ANTARA/HO-BNI/rst)
    Batik outlet owned by micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) at the 2023 Inacraft in Jakarta, Saturday, March 4, 2023. (ANTARA/HO-BNI/rst –

    The importance of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in ASEAN goes beyond economic growth; it seamlessly aligns with the broader global agenda of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) outlined by the United Nations. These goals encompass a range of critical objectives, from poverty eradication to environmental sustainability. 

    MSMEs, with their agility and local focus, emerge as pivotal actors in advancing various SDGs. One of the most striking areas where they exert substantial influence is SDG 8, revolving around Decent Work and Economic Growth. By providing employment opportunities and stimulating local economies, MSMEs are not merely instrumental, but irreplaceable in achieving this goal. 

    Moreover, MSMEs often promote sustainability, significantly contributing to SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production). Enterprises such as Bambuhay, with their eco-friendly products, epitomize this commitment to responsible consumption, nurturing a culture of sustainability. 

    In addition, MSMEs in ASEAN play a vital role in promoting gender equality, another critical SDG (SDG 5). Numerous women actively participate in MSMEs, with these enterprises frequently offering women opportunities for entrepreneurship, thereby contributing to their communities and advancing gender equity.

    As we continue to witness their transformative impact, it’s clear that MSMEs are driving the region toward a sustainable and prosperous tomorrow. MSMEs have become one of the dynamic engines powering local economies, fostering innovation, and embracing sustainability. As Mark Sultan Gersava through Bambuhay exemplifies, MSMEs contribute not only to economic growth but also to the broader global goals of sustainability and inclusivity, encapsulated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In their resilience and innovation, MSMEs continue to chart a course toward a brighter, more sustainable future for Southeast Asia and beyond.

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