By: Syafiq Khalid

As the completion of the Asean Economic Community draws closer the end of this year, the corporate world in the 10-nation association is looking forward  to the economic benefits that they believe will accrue to the pact. Asean‘s citizens themselves don’t seem to be interested despite the hype.

The goal of the Asean Economic Community is wide-ranging — regional economic integration including a single market and production base, a highly competitive economic region, economic development and integration into the world’s economy as well.  Areas of cooperation include human resources development, recognition of common professional qualifications, closer consultation on macro and financial policies, trade financing measures and a raft of other provisions.

Nonetheless, a 2010 survey conducted by the Asean secretariat indicated that of the 2,228 members of the public surveyed, 76 percent lack a basic understanding about the Asean community itself although 70 percent of 261 business owners surveyed responded that they at least know what the association is about. 

It is crucial for the secretariat to identify means to reduce the gap between the two in order to increase the overall level of awareness. Three areas need to be addressed; increasing awareness, which could lead to an increase in the participation rate and consequently, and, one assumes, controversial to the association’s leaders, alteration of its long-time non-interference policy. Establishing awareness of a people-oriented organization’s existence is imperative. A community which exists in form but not in the eyes and mind of the people is inherently destined to fail.

In cultivating such thought, the secretariat should be equipped with the necessary resources and focus on promoting AEC internally. An outreach program would be possible, particularly in areas where conventional methods of communication are lacking. The secretariat should also consider collaborating with ambitious local corporations that are seeking to become regional players, such as the Malaysia-based CIMB Group, which has made it clear that their aim is to be the leading Asean company.

Mutually beneficial programs and sponsorships could arise between Asean and its chosen collaborators. The secretariat should also contemplate proposing an initiative in which the AEC is introduced as part of school curriculum, or as an after-school activity. Such programs would provide an avenue where the youth can be exposed to, and educated at an early age. In any of the above cases, the objective at this stage is to build awareness and build visibility.

It is commonly agreed that through increased levels of awareness, individuals would then develop the propensity to participate in a particular cause.  Through the proliferation of such awareness initiatives, if implemented astutely manner, citizens would be inclined to participate in any regional decision making processes.