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The 59th Governing Body Meeting (GBM) of the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) was held 10–12 April 2017 in Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran, against the backdrop of an ongoing global digital transformation. The first GBM to be convened under Secretary-General Dr. Santhi Kanoktanaporn was attended by the APO Directors, Alternate Directors, and Advisers from 19 member countries. The three-day annual meeting also witnessed the launch of two key strategic APO initiatives: the eAPO mobile e-learning platform and Strategic Future Platform.
At the opening session, Guest of Honor HE Jamshid Ansari, Vice President and Head of Administrative and Recruitment Organization of IR Iran, noted that the National Iranian Productivity Organization (NIPO) had been the major driver of the country’s productivity movement focusing on the seven areas of Green Productivity, administrative systems, energy productivity, water productivity, education systems, planning and budgeting, and competitiveness and innovation in line with sustainable development.
The Vice President stated that the promotion of productivity enhancement was embedded in several national policies, including those for economic resilience; administrative and management systems; economic, cultural, and social development; and the National Comprehensive Master Plan of Productivity. He mentioned that IR Iran had identified productivity enhancement as a fundamental strategy to address its economic challenges. “The government has decided that improvement of total factor productivity should contribute at least 2.8% of the average 8% annual economic growth during the five-year national plan beginning in 2017,” he reported.
Welcoming the dignitaries, APO Director for IR Iran Dr. Roya Tabatabaei Yazdi said that the country had benefited from APO programs more than ever in the past few years. She also indicated that IR Iran would like to extend its bilateral and multilateral cooperation with other member countries in 2017 and coming years and hoped that NIPO could be recognized as a new center of excellence (COE) on education or sanitation as a branch of public-sector productivity.
Outgoing APO Chair Dr. Elba S. Cruz of the Philippines thanked IR Iran for hosting the GBM in Tehran. She said that the Asia-Pacific had shown great resilience in growth in recent years and hoped that all APO member economies would sustain that growth in 2017. Dr. Cruz believed that in order to grow stronger and more competitive, sustainable productivity growth would continue to be a top priority for all. She pledged that to achieve the targets of the Roadmap to Achieve Vision 2020, the APO would continue to make efforts to improve the productivity and competitiveness of its members.
Launch of the eAPO platform
HE Ansari officially launched the new mobile learning platform called the eAPO in the presence of Secretary-General Dr. Kanoktanaporn, APO Director Dr. Yazdi, and outgoing Chair Dr. Cruz. The eAPO is an updated version of the self-e-learning platform. With new features, enhancements, and more contemporary design, the eAPO was developed to train productivity professionals to reach the goals of the APO Roadmap to Achieve Vision 2020.
A video demonstrating the features of the eAPO was shown to delegates and guests. Users can access the portal through multiple devices including smart phones, tablets, or computers from the APO homepage. Once users register, they can track their progress and results via the dashboard and communicate with other trainees and experts. After passing examinations, users can easily download certificates. Webinar-type training modules will be launched soon.
Election of APO Chair and Vice Chairs
Outgoing APO Chair Dr. Cruz presided over the election of the new Chair and Vice Chairs for 2017 to 2018. APO Director for Singapore Chew Mok Lee was elected as Chair, APO Director for Sri Lanka Javigodage Jayadewa Rathnasiri as First Vice Chair, and APO Director for Thailand Dr. Somchai Harnhirun as Second Vice Chair. Chairs have served on a rotational basis in the alphabetical order of member country names since 2002.
Address by the Secretary-General
Secretary-General Kanoktanaporn welcomed APO Directors, Advisers, and Observers to the GBM and thanked the Government of IR Iran for hosting it. He emphasized that, in a time of enormous political and economic uncertainties, the APO needed to embrace change and transcend the expectations of member countries by leveraging a digital transformation. He pointed out that digitization and advanced technologies, such as advanced automation, robotics, the Internet of Things, and unmanned services, would have a significant impact on the manufacturing, agriculture, and service sectors in the near future. In a world dominated by advanced technologies such as deep learning and artificial intelligence, the APO, as an international organization building the capacities of member countries, needed to focus on strategic opportunities and threats driven by technologies and help member countries to address issues of future jobs and continuous productivity growth.
The Secretary-General referred to the consensus reached at the 2016 Workshop Meeting of Heads of NPOs (WSM) that the APO should focus on developing inclusive, innovation, future-oriented smart initiatives aligned with member countries’ national development plans. Therefore the Secretariat had undergone internal strategic planning exercises, revisited member countries’ national development plans, identified trends shaping the world, and focused on strategic areas that could contribute to the APO Roadmap to Achieve Vision 2020. He stated that the Secretariat would repeat such exercises every year to remain up to date and responsive to the needs of member countries and the changing environment.
Based on the results of those exercises, Secretary-General Kanoktanaporn said that sustainable productivity would be the way forward. He thanked the Governing Body for approving the APO Sustainable Productivity Summit, which would be a signature event held biannually to promote and reinforce the message of sustainable productivity. Through this event, the APO aimed to expose high-level policymakers in member countries to new trends so that appropriate action agendas could be developed jointly.
The Secretary-General announced a number of initiatives that could strengthen the capacities of individuals and NPOs, including the eAPO, co-creating training contents with member countries, and professional certification programs to develop the skills and capacities of practitioners in the fields of productivity management, strategic foresight, and advanced strategic planning. To ensure the effectiveness of these initiatives and projects, the Secretary-General also urged NPOs to work with the Secretariat in follow-up activities after project implementation.
Secretary-General Kanoktanaporn expressed sincere gratitude to the Governments of the Republic of China, Japan, and Republic of Korea for providing cash grants that had enabled the APO to implement additional projects, especially the generous grants from the Government of Japan that had increased the operating budget for the next three years by some 25% annually. He had previously reported that the APO’s cash position in 2016 had improved by about USD12 million compared with 2015, mainly due to the special cash grant of JPY1 billion from the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
APO Strategic Future Platform
Emphasizing that the Strategic Future Platform of the APO would help build valuable foresight planning capability in member countries and NPOs in particular, the Secretary-General said that some had already expressed interest in using it.
He stated that the challenges faced by member countries in sustaining productivity growth in an uncertain global environment were very real and might also be very different depending on their context. The Secretariat would study the country papers, utilize the new Strategic Future Platform to understand the driving forces behind emerging trends, and discuss them with Liaison Officers and Planning Directors at the next Strategic Planning Workshop in Tokyo before presenting them at the WSM in Seoul. After the WSM, the Secretariat would further revise the APO Budget for 2018 by modifying current projects and introducing new programs to address future needs in the context of each member country.
The APO Secretariat gave a presentation on “Sustainable Productivity: the New Frontier of Productivity,” explaining that rapid changes occurring around the world in various spheres were mostly driven by disruptive technologies. It was important to understand them to prepare for the future. The Secretariat described the five basic steps for survival in a rapidly changing situation: be trend literate; act in a timely manner; leverage tools for advance notice; manage and combine trends to create value; and shape the future by acting on what we see.
In support of sustainable productivity, the APO Strategic Future Platform was developed to monitor global trends. It uses artificial intelligence to handle big data while quickly scanning multiple events and references for emerging trends.
APO Directors also shared their views on sustainable productivity. Delegates from Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Republic of China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam made presentations. Two observers, from the Pan African Productivity Association (PAPA) and Ministry of Science, Industry, and Technology and Directorate General for Productivity of Turkey, gave special presentations.
Other key highlights
The GBM approved the proposal by the NPC of India to set up the APO COE on IT for Industry 4.0. The COE would focus on aspects relevant to SMEs. The Secretariat was requested by the GBM to monitor and review the performance of all COE and report on them annually.
Adviser to the President on Economic Affairs and Head of the Iranian Institute for Management and Planning Studies Dr. Masoud Nili gave a special presentation on “Overview of Iranian Economy and Business and Investment Opportunities in Iran.” Dr. Nili noted that during the last 15 years, the number of people with university degrees had tripled in the country, which meant that the labor cost of the skilled workforce was cheaper compared with many other countries. He hoped that this would pave the way for investment in technology and engineering fields.
Closing Remarks by the Secretary-General and Chair
In delivering closing remarks, Secretary-General Kanoktanaporn thanked the Directors and delegates for a highly successful GBM. After expressing appreciation to the representatives of the FAO, PAPA, and the Government of Turkey for attending the GBM as observers and for the statements of the latter two, the Secretary-General said that the Secretariat would be following up with them after the meeting.
He also expressed gratitude to APO Director for the Philippines and outgoing Chair Dr. Cruz for chairing the preparatory meeting and for her strong leadership in guiding the meeting to reach successful outcomes through consensus. He thanked new APO Chair Chew, First Vice-Chair Rathnasiri, and Second Vice Chair Dr. Harnhirun for handling the sessions and proceedings of the 2017 GBM expertly and for launching the APO Strategic Future Platform.
The Secretary-General also took the opportunity to thank HE Ansari, Vice President of IR Iran and Head of the Administrative and Recruitment Organization, for attending the GBM and supporting the activities of IR Iran and the APO to improve the productivity and competitiveness of member economies.
Secretary-General Kanoktanaporn conveyed special gratitude to GBM host IR Iran, in particular Dr. Yazdi, for the warm hospitality and hard behind-the-scenes work of NIPO staff led by Mr. Mohammad Mokavven who ensured that the meeting proceeded smoothly. He also thanked Dr. Yazdi for arranging for the special presentation by Adviser to the President on Economic Affairs Dr. Nili.
In her closing remarks, APO Chair and Director for Singapore Chew said that the GBM had moved ahead with the collective vision of the APO and facilitating cooperation among member countries. She expressed gratitude to the Outgoing Chair and Alternate Director for the Philippines Dr. Cruz for her leadership and great efficiency in chairing the preparatory meeting; First Vice Chair Rathnasiri and Second Vice Chair Dr. Harnhirum for their support in contributing to the success of the meeting; Vice President of IR Iran and Head of the Administrative and Recruitment Organization Ansari for the keynote address and attending the opening ceremony; Adviser to the President on Economic Affairs and Head of the Iranian Institute for Management and Planning Studies Dr. Nili; APO Director Dr. Yazdi and her team from NIPO for the great hospitality and excellent arrangements for the GBM; Secretary-General Kanoktanaporn for his vision, new initiatives, and changes made to enable the APO to stay ahead of the curve of emerging trends; and the APO Secretariat team for their preparations for the meeting.