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by Dr. Santhi Kanoktanaporn
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am deeply honored to have been invited by the Development Academy of the Philippines to deliver the keynote address at the International Conference on Public-sector Productivity.
The APO was formed 56 years ago with the mission of assisting governments in the Asia-Pacific to improve productivity. In the early years of Asia’s economic development, the APO focused mainly on building up basic productivity-related knowledge among member countries. As the region prospered and the needs and expectations of member countries evolved, the APO continually introduced new programs to stay relevant to economies in the Asia-Pacific.
However, in today’s fast-changing environment, technologies create disruptions in every industry, adding to the complexity of economic planning. These drive massive transformations and directly impact economic development and long-term productivity gains. We therefore have to abandon our old perceptions of economic, productivity, and business models and look into how we can shape our own futures to meet the longer-term economic goals of our countries.
The APO is currently following a roadmap to achieve its Vision 2020 of improving labor productivity and competitiveness as well as raising its stature as a leading international organization on productivity enhancement. To ensure that the APO achieves these goals, I have launched two major initiatives since becoming the Secretary-General last year.
The first was the new concept of Sustainable Productivity. This concept was first introduced to member countries during the APO Governing Body Meeting held five months ago. Sustainable Productivity incorporates strategies to make productivity meaningful. In collaboration with other renowned institutions, the APO is currently embarking on a research project on Sustainable Productivity and developing suitable new indicators that better capture the actual outcomes of economic activities and productivity growth.
The second major initiative was a new approach designed to align APO programs with the long-term development goals of member economies. Called the APO Strategy Development Approach, it incorporates foresight capacity building to help member countries plan for complex scenarios caused by the unpredictable social, political, and economic environments around the world. Using a modern, structured, strategic planning approach, member countries will be able to anticipate emerging trends, identify their driving forces affecting economies and organizations, and develop plausible scenarios of how the contextual environment may change over a certain period.
Both these initiatives are interlinked. In a nutshell, traditional productivity focuses on doing things right, for example, by doing things better and faster. On the other hand, Sustainable Productivity is about doing the right things right. To know whether we are doing the right things will require strategic foresight capability.
Why is strategic foresight important? Strategic foresight allows us to anticipate and identify opportunities and threats that may arise in the mid- to long-term versions of the future. At the macro level, governments need to be forward thinking and prepare for unforeseen changes in environments and circumstances. The main challenge facing governments is how to reconcile the desire to achieve high economic growth while balancing environmental and societal needs amid global uncertainties. Using strategic foresight, governments can help their countries navigate a course through these economic, environmental, and societal uncertainties by anticipating and preparing for possible, probable, and, most importantly, their desired futures. At the micro level, the key lies in the ability of organizations to shape their environments to take advantage of shifting markets or risks.
In this complex world, the status quo or business as usual is not an option. The human tendency is to see familiar patterns and be blind to the unexpected. It comes as no surprise that the United Nations has been urging governments to shift from traditional planning methods to strategic foresight to break out of the silo mentality and encourage innovation, strategic evaluation, and the proactive shaping of the future. To enhance the implementation of its Sustainable Development Goals, the UN extensively uses strategic foresight as a crucial exercise to engage the parties involved in a participatory process to identify areas of scientific research and technological development which are likely to drive changes. The UN is acutely aware that achieving the SDGs requires individual countries to look beyond their borders to focus on global trends and other developments.
As an organization that seeks to meet not just the current but also the future needs of its members, we have set up a Future Team within the Secretariat as part of the Strategy Development Approach initiative mentioned earlier. That team will work toward providing powerful narratives on how the future might unfold in ways relevant to the APO and its members. It is important to understand the contexts in which we are operating today and may be operating in the future to help us fulfill our productivity mission. We have also launched the APO Strategic Future Platform with the goal of building the foresight capacity of the Secretariat and thereafter in member countries from next year.
One of the issues the Future Team has worked on is developing scenarios of how digital technologies will affect labor productivity by 2025. These scenarios are not predictions. They only provide insights into what might be important drivers of change in the future and how those drivers might interact and affect the APO and member countries. The aim of this exercise is to expand our understanding of the options available in the long term and to identify strategies for those scenarios.
I believe that the issues our Future Team has studied are important to the Philippines as they concern both labor productivity and future jobs. Such concerns about the impact of changing technology on employment are not new. But because the changes are now more revolutionary than evolutionary, their complexity has multiplied many fold and we have to use a different approach.
Therefore, I strongly encourage the Philippines to build up its foresight capacity through existing institutions such as the DAP or even new institutions dedicated to foresight and strategy. Such institutions should advise the highest political offices in the Philippines on preparing scenarios aimed at identifying and solving complex issues that demand interministry knowledge, coordination, and authority. Through our years of catalyzing productivity movements in member countries, we know that such national initiatives are only effective if championed by the top echelons of governments. If requested, the APO would be delighted to work with the Philippine government to develop foresight capabilities.
As policymakers, we have the duty and responsibility to help steer our countries in the right long-term direction, to make a difference to our economies through bold national initiatives, and ultimately to enable our people to live in peace and prosperity. I have only two more years before completing my tenure as Secretary-General. It will be a privilege and honor if during this time the Philippines and other members work with me on productivity initiatives that really matter for the APO to make a lasting impact. Together, we can shape the future of the Philippines and other APO member countries.