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58th Workshop Meeting of Heads of NPOs [24–26 October 2017, Republic of Korea]

Statement by APO Secretary-General
by Dr. Santhi Kanoktanaporn
APO Secretary-General

It is a great honor for me to attend this distinguished gathering of Heads of National Productivity Organizations (NPOs) and Agriculture delegates. I would like to express my gratitude to the Government of the Republic of Korea for its generosity in hosting this year’s Workshop Meeting of Heads of NPOs (WSM) in Seoul. I would also like to express our deepest appreciation to APO Director for Korea Dr. Soon Jick Hong for hosting this meeting and the warm hospitality extended to the delegates.

I would like first to reiterate that my priority is to ensure that the APO remains on track to achieve the goals of the Roadmap to Achieve Vision 2020. The APO has done a marvelous job for more than half a century, catalyzing national productivity movements and equipping generations of productivity champions and practitioners, including some of you. However, with dramatic advances in technology shaping the economy of the future, we need to rethink how we can also shape the national productivity agendas of member countries.

The APO plans its projects on a two-year budget cycle. The advantage of the two-year budget cycle is that it allows member countries sufficient time to secure funds to host projects relevant to their own development plans.  On the other hand, it also means that it can take us between two to three years from the time a project is endorsed by the WSM until it is finally implemented. However, at the speed that the digital economy is disrupting industries, we run the risk that projects can become obsolete.

To reduce this risk, we requested the participation of senior planners in the Strategic Planning Workshop, or SPW for short, held in Tokyo in July. I used the opportunity to hold a frank exchange of views with APO Directors, NPO Heads, NPO Planning Officers, and Liaison Officers who attended the workshop. The main objective of the SPW was to involve NPOs at an early stage of the planning process before the WSM so that we can factor each country’s inputs into the design of the program plan.

At the SPW, the Secretariat presented a new program development methodology that emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between NPOs and the Secretariat. Project development and delivery should be done jointly with NPOs. In addition, all projects should meet three main criteria: first, the projects must be aligned with the Roadmap 2020; second, the projects must meet the needs and expectations of member countries; and finally, the projects must be future-proof. Delegates at the SPW also strongly urged the APO to quickly transform itself within the next five years into a forward-looking, globally-connected, and smart organization of the future to lead member countries.

Your feedback matters. In addition to the SPW, I had the pleasure of being invited to several member countries where I had more in-depth discussions with APO Directors and NPO Heads. It was invaluable to hear and understand firsthand your needs and expectations which I summarized as follows.

First, member countries welcome the focus on new smart initiatives for industry, services, agriculture, and the public sector. As we enter the era of Industry 4.0, our economies must be prepared for the transition as there will be impacts on other sectors such as services, food, and agriculture. The APO has already organized conferences and missions to help us understand the impact of Industry 4.0 and the necessary actions required by governments and industries. We have also set up a Center of Excellence on IT for Industry 4.0 spearheaded by India. But we need to do more. We have to go beyond knowing what Industry 4.0 is and into learning, disseminating, and imparting knowledge on how to implement it. This will be the new challenge for the APO and it is likely to keep us busy for another five to 10 years.

Another key challenge for the APO is to help feed the world. Agriculture remains an important part of the economy for the majority of our member countries. By 2030, the world population is projected to grow by another one billion, with about 40% of the growth in Asia alone. The APO will continue to play a key role in leveraging technology to boost agricultural productivity on farms. However, land that can be used for cultivation will become increasingly scarce. How can we still feed the 8 billion people in 2030 without overwhelming our planet? We have to explore new options early, and one area in which the APO can take the lead is to facilitate the development of future food. This will be a key focus area for APO agriculture programs.

There are, however, still requests for the APO to continue supporting some basic productivity programs. One way to address these needs is to expand the number of e-learning programs more aggressively, as almost 6 billion people are expected to be connected to the internet via their mobile devices by 2020. As explained during the GBM and SPW, the eAPO was launched to meet the demand of our people to access the APO’s online courses easily. Most of the basic productivity programs will be converted to online courses. Currently, we aim to have 36 new courses by the end of 2020. Meanwhile, we have launched a social media campaign to promote the eAPO digital-learning platform to increase its reach.

As many member countries have pointed out in the past, the APO cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. Therefore we have asked for ideas from all member countries to co-create programs aimed at addressing the specific developmental needs of member countries. Later, the Secretariat will present a paper providing more details of this new program approach for your endorsement.

The second point made by several member countries was that the APO could do more to deepen the impact of its programs within member countries, and at the same time increase the visibility of the APO among key stakeholders. In other words, member countries need to be able to explain to their governments the benefits that APO membership brings to justify the resources that they contribute to APO activities.

As mentioned previously, project development and delivery should be done jointly between the Secretariat and NPOs. One of the most important factors that determine the outcomes of a project is the selection of the participants. Half the battle is already won if APO accepts participants that fit the qualification criteria of projects. Within the Secretariat, we have newly set up a cross-functional team that thoroughly examines the applications of potential participants before making its recommendations to me. I strongly urge NPOs to play its part by nominating their best candidates that fit the criteria set by each project.

Another challenge facing the Secretariat with its small complement of 45 staff members is to monitor the follow-up actions and outcomes after projects are completed. It is an impossible task for the Secretariat alone, and I urge NPOs to provide resources for follow-up activities. To deepen the impact of APO projects in individual countries, member governments should also allocate additional resources to follow through on projects to achieve the desired outcomes they seek.

On our part, we are committed to developing new technical competencies within the Secretariat so that we are able to lead member countries in the fields that matter most in the pursuit of productivity improvement. In this connection, from 2018 we will refrain from sending our staff to your countries for the sole purpose of administering projects. Based on some of your feedback, we believe that NPOs do a better job in handling administrative duties for projects that you host. When our program officers travel for projects, they will also be required to act as resource persons for the projects.

In the digital era, APO has to accelerate our adoption of digital technologies to overcome resource constraints. We have already taken the crucial first steps by laying our cloud foundations. Next, we aim to develop new digital platforms that will connect APO, NPOs, and other stakeholders. These digital platforms will not operate like traditional platforms that push out information or services. Instead the APO digital platforms will leverage our networks to create pull strategies by drawing more and more participants through innovative new services and access to common resources. The plan is to create digital platforms that cover industry sectors and new capabilities.

In efforts to increase the visibility of the APO, we have been using a mix of traditional public relations approaches combined with social media platforms. We launched the APO LinkedIn, Instagram, and Slideshare platforms to strengthen its social media presence through a content-based strategy. The Secretariat also launched the APO Media Alumni page on Facebook to engage with the media more actively. A new, more dynamic APO website incorporating advanced features that integrate social media platforms is under development and will be ready next year. The new website will also have digital resources containing all APO publications, some of which will be in interactive digital formats. With your cooperation, we hope to be able to reach out and engage more stakeholders and media within your country to raise the profile of APO activities.

The APO continued efforts to promote its activities among nonmember countries. Government officials from the Republic of Turkey attended the last GBM in IR Iran to continue pursuing APO membership. Turkey aims to establish a “digital transformation center” to transfer knowledge gained in Europe to APO members. Colombia will be organizing the first Eco Products and Eco Services Latin American Fair (FLEP) 2017 in Medellín in October. This aims to showcase initiatives to improve productivity and ensure zero waste of resources and raw materials. Colombia is replicating experience learned from the APO’s EPIFs and is now successfully leading Latin American countries in productivity improvement.

With a special cash grant provided by the Government of Japan, we were able to implement projects that benefited several member countries as well as a mission to Japan for senior government officials and business leaders from Myanmar to network with APO member countries; a study mission to Japan on the importance of women in the workforce; and a study mission on Public–private–academia Partnerships also in Japan that could be adopted to support industrial human resources development programs. We would like to thank the governments of Japan and the Republic of China for their generosity in providing special grants to enable the APO to carry out such projects.

The third issue raised by member countries is related to the uncertainties surrounding disruptions to their economies from new and emerging technologies. While welcoming the benefits that technology will surely bring to society, policymakers are concerned about how to navigate the uncertainties to sustain productivity growth and prevent job losses.

In response, we have set up a Future Team within the Secretariat to strengthen its capability in using artificial intelligence to detect emerging global trends. The team will work toward providing powerful narratives on how the future might unfold in ways relevant to the mission of the APO. We launched the APO Strategic Future Platform at the last GBM in Teheran with the goal of building the strategic foresight capacity of the Secretariat and member countries. Next year, we will organize workshops for NPOs keen to apply these advanced tools. We believe that knowledge and skills on strategic foresight and scenario planning tools are critical for NPOs and other relevant organizations in member countries to shape their futures.

Why is foresight so important? One issue the Future Team worked on is developing scenarios of how digital technologies will affect labor productivity by 2025. The destruction of old jobs and the creation of new ones have been a constant since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of the modern economy. While it may be inconceivable that the technological revolution will leave no role for humans, we need to understand the key drivers of change well before the trends develop. Only then can we develop strategies to build flexibility into our policies to ensure that our economies are prepared for the transition to the digital economy.

The APO has been publishing productivity data through its Productivity Databook and Database project for the past 10 years. The project has been steadily expanding its scope to cover total factor productivity and, more recently, productivity at the city level. Such data have helped our member governments that need more reliable information on productivity for better analysis and planning. The concept of Sustainable Productivity, first introduced to member countries at the last GBM, will strengthen our capabilities even further. In collaboration with other renowned institutions and experts from member countries, the APO has embarked on a research project on Sustainable Productivity and developing suitable new indicators including the new Sustainable Productivity Index (SPI) that better reflect the actual outcomes of economic activities and productivity growth.

Overall, this WSM will be reconfirming the line-up of projects for 2018 and discussing the proposed projects for 2019 and 2020. The 2018 lineup features 90 projects including 73 multicountry ones. For the new 2019–2020 biennium, we are going to propose 74 and 69 projects for 2019 and 2020 respectively for your endorsement at the planning sessions later. In summary, the APO will focus on its mandate to provide policy advice, assist members to strengthen their national productivity programs, and build capabilities of NPOs and relevant institutions. We will gradually reduce the number of multicountry projects that is primarily training in nature except for those that build new and important competencies.

Focus matters. The late Steve Jobs practiced that to perfection in Apple by picking only a few good ideas and saying no to thousands more. Likewise, I believe that by deliberately focusing our resources only on a few areas that matter, the APO will achieve more. We can do more by doing less.

In closing, I thank all NPO and Agriculture delegates for your continuous support. Once again, I would like to specially thank the Government of Korea and Korea Productivity Center for their hospitality and generosity in hosting this WSM.

Thank you.

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