SEADS 2022: Sustainable Solutions for Southeast Asia's Recovery  

To overcome threats to Southeast Asia's recovery from the pandemic, ADB recommends improving productivity and competitiveness by investing in greeen infrastructure development, education, training,  health systems, social assistance, and technology. Photo: ADB

Key Takeaways

  •  SEADS 2022 highlighted the need for structural reforms, people-centered solutions, and collective action to toward a model of prosperity that benefits all.
  •  The pandemic has had devastating impacts on tourism in Southeast Asia, but it can become a catalyst to reshape the sector in sustainable and inclusive ways.
  •   With cities on the frontlines of managing crises and development challenges, local governments need to harness digital solutions and explore financing instruments for infrastructure investments and bolster systemic resilience.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) held its third Southeast Asia Development Symposium (SEADS) on 16–17 March 2022. SEADS 2022, “Sustainable Solutions for Southeast Asia’s Recovery”, brought together more than 8,000 high-level government officials, private sector representatives, and other stakeholders from more than 100 countries.

The two-day virtual event’s panel sessions exchanged solutions and policy approaches that can help countries revive their economies and boost sustainable development.

“Many uncertainties remain, including the outbreak of conflicts that are causing great suffering and further setbacks to social and economic progress. But I firmly believe that our cooperation and creativity will allow us to emerge stronger than ever.”

Masatsugu Asakawa
President, ADB

Building back better

Southeast Asia is poised to continue its rebound from the pandemic, but the severe repercussions of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis have worsened poverty and inequality in the region, according to a report launched by ADB on the first day of SEADS 2022. Southeast Asia’s projected growth rate at 5.1% is fueling optimism about its economic prospects, but tighter interest rates, widespread unemployment, emerging variants, weak investments, inflationary pressures, narrowing fiscal space, and climate threats could undermine the region’s recovery.

To overcome these challenges, the report recommended countries to improve productivity and competitiveness by investing more in green infrastructure development, education, training, health systems, social assistance, and technology, as well as easing barriers to transport and trade. It also notes that governments should maintain fiscal prudence for debt sustainability and enhance their tax revenues.

“Clear and focused efforts in these areas will ensure a more modern workforce, a safer and healthier population, greater protection for the most vulnerable, and stronger and more competitive businesses that are green and inclusive," said ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa in his opening keynote speech. “Many uncertainties remain, including the outbreak of conflicts that are causing great suffering and further setbacks to social and economic progress. But I firmly believe that our cooperation and creativity will allow us to emerge stronger than ever.”

Other keynote speakers of SEADS 2022’s opening plenary included Singapore Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Second Minister for Finance, and Second Minister for National Development Indranee Thurai Rajah, Google Chief Sustainability Officer Kate Brandt, and Grab Cofounder Hooi Ling Tan, who echoed the importance of collective action and innovation to forge pathways for inclusivity and sustainability in a post-pandemic world.

In the plenary panel, “Building Back Better through Inclusive Solutions,” ADB Vice-President Ahmed M. Saeed, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno, and experts from CARE International and Mastercard emphasized the need for people-centered solutions and cross-sectoral partnerships toward a model of prosperity that benefits all.

“Millions of jobs have been lost, with international tourist arrivals plummeting over 80% from the peak in 2019”

F. Cleo Kawawaki
Head, Office of Public–Private Partnership, ADB

Revitalizing tourism and ensuring cities’ sustainable future

While Southeast Asia has reopened its borders for international travel, its tourism industry is still reeling from the impacts of the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis hastransformed many cities in the region into pandemic hotspots. “Millions of jobs have been lost, with international tourist arrivals plummeting over 80% from the peak in 2019,” said ADB Head of Office of Public–Private Partnership F. Cleo Kawawaki in her welcome remarks on the second day of SEADS 2022.

Given the significant contribution of tourism and cities to Southeast Asia’s economy, #SEADS2022 highlighted the imperative for a transformative reform agenda to drive growth. In their keynote addresses, Philippine Secretary of Tourism Bernadette Romulo-Puyat, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike, and Microsoft Asia Pacific President Andrea Della Mattea spoke about leveraging technologies to foster inclusion and green practices in tourism, cities, and communities. United Nations Human Settlements Programme Executive Director Maimunah Mohd Sharif called for translating policies into practice for the transformation and resilience of cities to support sustainable development.

In the session “Driving an Inclusive Tourism Recovery in Southeast Asia,” panelists discussed the revitalization of tourism to benefit local communities and promote environmental sustainability. “The Future of Sustainable Cities” explored digital innovations and financing solutions to support the infrastructure needs of local governments, which are on the frontlines of development.

SEADS 2022 unveiled the Southeast Asia Sustainable Tourism Hub, which aims to help clients develop and finance innovative tourism projects, build destination management capacity, and provide knowledge solutions.

The event closed with deep-dive workshops, as well as an invitation-only Southeast Asia Policy Roundtable, allowing senior government officials and ADB to discuss measures that can sustain recovery and contain the effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This was first posted on the ADB website.


Last Updated: 11 April 2022