Ha Vu and Trung VuRMIT University, Vietnam
For many countries all over the world, different combinations of minorities live within their borders, operating on their own norms and customs, typically a comfortable distance away from their nations’ centers. As such, these ethnic minorities are often perceived as disadvantaged and economic liabilities for their countries.
In order to tackle the growing economic discrimination these minority groups face, the team of Ha Vu and Trung Vu from RMIT University Vietnam and their project “Ethnic Minorities: A Potential Source for Economic Development” studied the potential of ethnic minorities of becoming economic growth drivers in the ASEAN region.
— a competition by the ASEAN Foundation, in partnership with SAP, that aims to equip ASEAN youth with skill sets that will help them thrive in the digital economy and unleash the region’s full potential. Harnessing the power of SAP Analytics Cloud, the team examined the present situation of ethnic minorities in Southeast Asia and pin-pointed opportunities to help build an inclusive ASEAN where ethnic communities can freely participate in economic activities.
They exist all over the world, but more so in the ASEAN. Southeast Asia is a geographically expansive and populous region, which makes it a rich ground for ethnic and cultural diversity. According to the United Nations, in 2011, minorities made up about an average of 20 percent of the total population of their countries, with more than 150 million of them sprawled across ASEAN. By 2015, more than 1,500 groups were registered in the region alone. By definition, ethnic minorities are groups of people who do not share the race, religion, or cultural origin with that of the majority of the population of the country in which they live in. The United Nations describes them as numerically-inferior, economically, socially and culturally non-dominant, but otherwise possess a strong sense of solidarity towards preserving their unique culture and traditions.
The Sundanese, Malay, and Batak peoples make up the majority of the Indonesian ethnic population. Meanwhile, the Philippines follows suit at 28.5 percent and Vietnam at 14.27 percent (See Figure 1).
But despite being a viable pool of labor force, social mobility remains elusive. In Malaysia, the unemployment rates of minorities are significantly higher than those who do not belong in these communities (See Figure 3). This means they are not encouraged to join the workforce or there is a lack of attractive labor incentives for them.
But despite being a viable pool of labor force, social mobility remains elusive. In Vietnam, the unemployment rates of minorities are significantly higher than those who do not belong in these communities (See Figure 4). This means they are not encouraged to join the workforce or there is lack of attractive labor incentives for them.
It is also worth noting that ethnic minorities belong to the marginalised sector that typically suffers from heavy discrimination. It exists in various forms: education, religion, services, and employment— indicating a violation of their basic human rights.
Stimulating local industries can be a great jump-off point. Just before the turn of the decade, Cambodia expanded its Special Economic Zones (SEZs), encompassing about 54,939 hectares of land to date. This attracted attention to rural areas where many ethnic communities reside, creating thousands of jobs for locals and increasing the spending power of their households.
The ASEAN Ethnic Minority Empowerment Initiative 2030 is a roadmap that pushes to alleviate the economic conditions of ethnic minorities in the region with the support of stakeholders across public and private organizations.
An internet-enabled learning framework for minority students will grant them access to global knowledge, give them readily available sources of information through online courses, and connect them to the world outside of their own. On top of that, it will address logistical and manpower issues that cannot be immediately solved due to excessive funding and aid requirements.
Take Nepal for instance. Due to its mountainous geography and difficulty in transportation, educators find it difficult to reach students in living in ethnic regions. But with the government’s efforts to introduce e-learning as a way around it, students from these areas can continue on their path to learning (See Figure 7).
If the initiative succeeds, ASEAN will enjoy a 5 percent spike in the overall labor force, develop new economic regions and resources, and increase its GDP by 5 percent in 2031 (See Figure 8).
Of course, all of this will only be possible with the support of ASEAN governments and stakeholders. National policies concerning equal workforce and educational opportunities for ethnic minorities should be in place, while infrastructure and transportation in rural communities are improved in the background.
Economic inclusion benefits tourism, education, innovation, and cultural linkages—thereby creating a community of vibrancy, resilience, and adaptability.