STRONGER cooperation is essential for APEC as economies address inequality, environmental health, and the digital economy – the region’s critical challenges – said the APEC Secretariat’s Executive Director Dr Rebecca Sta Maria.

The digital economy can foster opportunities that reduce inequality, explained Sta Maria during a visit to the United States to bolster collaboration with the tech community.

“The biggest challenges of our lifetime – inequality, environmental health and the digital economy – are interconnected. When harnessed responsibly, digitalization can help level the playing field for small businesses and traditionally marginalized groups,” said Sta Maria in San Francisco.

“To prepare the right policy responses, economies gain from collaboration with each other and the private sector when they share best practice,” she added.

The organizations consulted include the Asia Foundation, LinkedIn, the World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the Economic Institute of the Bay Area.

One recurring topic was the urgent need to ‘upskill’ APEC economies for a digital future and reduce the gender gap in the tech sector.

The APEC Digital Prosperity Award, supported by the Asia Foundation and Google, has been key in highlighting talented female ‘techpreneurs. In 2019, a duo of women software programmers from Malaysia received the top prize. Both the award and the APEC App Challenge aim to empower people and broaden opportunities for small firms, which account for some 95 percent of the region’s businesses.

“Small businesses drive economies across the region. The Asia Foundation looks forward to continuing our collaboration with APEC to open up the world for the region’s entrepreneurs and achieve more inclusive growth,” said David Arnold, President of the Asia Foundation

To help boost women’s participation in tech, LinkedIn’s Economic Graph recently prepared a report about the region’s digital skills gap. Across APEC, women account for only 20 percent of professionals in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) sector, even as AI becomes more prominent across non-tech industries.

“Understanding the gender gap in tech can help decision-makers in both government and business invest in skills training that will lead to a more balanced workforce,” said Nate Williams, Director of Global Policy Partnerships at LinkedIn.

Sta Maria will continue to San Diego where she will consult with the US business community on the role of the private sector in addressing increasing challenges to economic liberalization.

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