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Working Together

by Reyana Nacerodien

At a time of scarce resources, there are many benefits of shared services or agreements with neighbouring jurisdictions. Regional collaborations have paved the way for mutual economic growth and create solutions to borderless challenges, even more so, today.

In business, buzzwords, pep talks, development plans and innovation brainstorming encourage businesses and employees to think outside the box. Broadening the business’ horizons to beyond the parameters of ‘the box’ has opened up new, viable avenues to pursue. Companies have realised the potential for mutual benefit by engaging associates, partners and, even, competitors. From a helicopter view, with geographic parameters in mind, regional markets have come to the same realisation and are already reaping the rewards from collective action.

In the broader market, businesses have long made use of the idea of ‘co-opetition’ by collaborating on innovation and cost-savings initiatives. While your Samsung Galaxy smartphone is a direct competitor to a colleague’s Apple iPhone, Samsung continues to be one of Apple’s main suppliers, supplying all-important screens. The idea is to capitalise on similarities and partner to address challenges. Parallels between business and geographic regions exist in collaborative efforts.

Ask any regional or national leader what remains top of their agenda and a commonly themed list is conveyed. Economic growth, climate change, housing, investment and education are common concerns. The co-evolution of technological, socio-cultural and economic developments has brought about an interconnectedness that crosses physical borders, and almost necessitates like-minded, interconnected solutions. All that’s required to meet the needs on the local agenda cannot be found neatly bundled in one location.

Changes in the landscape and the needs of the populous are driving a rethink of traditional boundaries. Local, social and business communities have similar concerns for the future. In a hyper-connected world, businesses have addressed limitations and established mutually beneficial relationships. Given how interlinked cities and suburbs are, a strong case for mutuality in tackling the major issues of our time emerges. Regional limitations are clear.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
There are area leaders who have for some time been working hard to change traditional self-interest to shared regional aspirations. Action for mutual benefit has already been proven by established union collectives.

ASEAN has created a proverbial conglomerate of its member countries – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – achieving social and economic benefits. Their directive is clear: be a pivotal part of the regional architecture of East Asia and a catalyst for the progress across the macro region. The union has three branches representing three focus areas: the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC); the ASEAN Political-Security Community; and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. The AEC has made notable strides with distinct socio-cultural, political and, more specifically, financial impact through this regional organisation.

In 2015 the union produced and implemented the AEC Blueprint alighting the regional economy through:

  • the elimination of specific tariffs, thereby facilitating trade;
  • the liberalisation and facilitation of investment;
  • enhanced capital market regulatory frameworks and platforms;
  • facilitating skilled labour mobility;
  • promoting the development of regional frameworks in competition policy, consumer protection and intellectual property rights; and
  • promoting connectivity

Collaboration remains central to all activity on common interest areas and mutual assistance dominates. Though not without inter- and intra-regional challenges, ASEAN’s future focus recognises the value of regional economic integration and its dynamic, ongoing process as economies and communities evolve. Work is already underway for the AEC Blueprint 2025 to further catalyse economic integration. ASEAN has contributed fostered regional norms and an environment of regional stability in which shared challenges can be addressed effectively.

European Union (EU)
Following the June 2016 referendum finding in favour of the UK’s exit from the EU, discussions about the commonly known Brexit continue to this day. Collective economic freedoms enjoyed as part of the EU warrant lengthy negotiations to address the regionalism to be instituted and the resultant impact. Exit from the largest international single market in the world cannot be taken lightly – its benefits cannot be denied.

Long before its official establishment, since the 1950s, European industries have worked to create one entity serving all Europeans instead of bordered nations serving small sectors of the population. Such collective action has:

  • generated collective economic influence;
  • ensured regional and, indeed, continental harmony and international security;
  • fuelled modernisation;
  • spurred job creation;
  • promoted environmental regulation which has led to improved environments;
  • allowed travel free-flow

The length of exit negotiations is testament to the advantages of the collective union outweighing disadvantages both at a macro, strategic level and on the ground. The European Social Fund (ESF), programme for example, supports community-related initiatives to, among others, address youth unemployment and similar societal challenges. Despite being a wealthy country, Sweden demonstrates the benefits of the ESF.

The common reality of centralisation and urbanisation has given rise to high unemployment primarily with youth, and lower growth in the North Middle region of the country. In response, the development of new skills and an education system that fosters a knowledge society is underway supported by mechanisms like the Fund. Such co-investment in shared regional priorities has demonstrated its transformative potential. Similarly, the promotion of a union-wide strategic directive marked by smart, sustainable and inclusive growth marshals the collective’s action and facilitates economic, social and territorial benefit.

The union was borne out of the needs for a single European entity to end war between European countries. Today, the union’s influence in maintaining the so-called four freedoms – the movement of goods, services, people and money – ensures immense bargaining power and mutual benefit.

Arab League
Unionising Arab-speaking African and Asian countries, the 22 member states (along with Palestine) of the Arab League hold to a collective mandate of trade promotion, economic growth and political stability. The Arab League has struggled to overcome realities of disunity among its members throughout its history. Though these and other criticisms of the league exist, example accords for joint defence, economic cooperation and free trade, help member countries coordinate programs to facilitate cooperation and limit conflict.

A council comprised of representatives from the member states works together to settle disputes peacefully. Notably, documented agreements in the league’s charter prohibits a resolution by force of conflicts between members, and member states are called to account by the league’s council for aggression or threat towards their fellows.

Though the union appears more fledgling in its progress given conflict in a number of its regions, the realisation of participatory talks involving these regions is in itself a feat. The forum for debate has been created along with the opportunity for cohesive decision making.

Final Words
Many such unions were established on the back of WW2 given the pressing conflict resolution and recovery needed at the time. As the global reality evolves and changes, so too, do the needs of global and, indeed, regional citizens and their civil representatives. In an era of scarce resources, many jurisdictions would benefit from entering into shared services or agreements with neighbouring jurisdictions to jointly provide for mutual needs rather than do so independently.

Business leaders have understood the benefit of, and capitalised on, the breaking down of silos and similar boundaries. If local leaders are to live up to the lofty expectations now set for them and create a truly prosperous, inclusive society, they should strive not to be independent entities, but truly regional partners. Contemporary regional planning increasingly emphasises forming cooperative relationships among local governments and stakeholders to collaborate on complex challenges unconstrained by political, economic and geographical boundaries.

After all, geography is just geography.

WIEF-SEACO Foundation Roundtable focuses on the topic of Regional Collaboration: Transforming Economies and will be held in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 29 October 2019. To register as a participant, visit this link.

Read a few of the event speakers’ interviews here, here and here.

15 Oct 2019
Last modified: 15 Oct 2019
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