Embracing our region
A SPIRITED SOUL - Jeannie E. Javelosa (The Philippine Star) - May 6, 2017 - 9:05pm

Everyone is grumbling with the traffic situation. Recently, the grumbling became louder as the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meetings have forced traffic rerouting around the city for security of the heads of state of the 10 member countries.

In the 1980s, as part of my job in the field of arts and culture, I would travel the countries of ASEAN under the ASEAN Committee on Culture and Information (COCI) planning cultural projects around the region. It was always about understanding the similarities and diversities of our regional culture. Is there really an ASEAN culture? We never could fully answer this. During these meetings in the 1980s, we would have artistic discussions with the leading visual art scene movers like curators, artists, critics, writers and cultural managers in the region.

In my latest trip to Singapore, I spent a whole day at the National Art Gallery Singapore enjoying the collection of paintings of those artist friends I had interacted with in the 1980s. And the memories of learning, remembering how those gatherings built on each other, in defining our cultures and societies and discussed positive changes within certain fixed cultural parameters.

Now, I am once more moving around the region, this time, as a social entrepreneur, meeting women entrepreneurs, speaking in fora and conferences related to our advocacies of green and gender-inclusive businesses.

For me, ASEAN has always been about my relationship with people. From the art critics, curators and artists of the 1980s, relationships have moved into meeting women who have become my friends, some business alliances. At the end, it’s all about relationships we form around the region that allow us to open up to learn about their culture, to see that their lives and struggles are so like ours. The most positive aspects have been the visits to each country, to be with the people there, to allow them to open their homes and for some, their hearts, too.

This can be in Singapore where I sit with women leaders and dynamic entrepreneurs, in Myanmar where we trek coffee farms and textile weavers’ spaces, or deepen friendships as homes are opened to us. In Jakarta, we build relationships based on shared advocacies, visit quiet sublime places in Bali and talk yoga and spirituality with friends. In Laos sharing lunch in small coffee shops, or Thailand and Vietnam visits that continually awe us with the traditional culture so ingrained in the fabric of daily life.  I am excited for a second upcoming trip to Cambodia, beyond Angkor now is meeting up with women leaders and seeing what we can do together.

Travel then becomes an opportunity not only to enjoy the place, but to form relationships with the locals. Understanding the region becomes a must. And friendships created become the glue by which trade and our advocacies can move forward. And advocacies shared with everyone in the region bring about change as a positive collective effort. And we connect through women, trade and culture. And together as one group, we always have a stronger, united voice in the global community.

This is why, our GREAT Women brand and platform is focused on ASEAN. First because women get things moving! And because women are half the population of the region, whose collective power once awakened, can really bring changes in all aspects of life.

In our GREAT Women Showroom and Café, we are excited as beautiful products created by women from each country will be made available. Aside from continuing our development directions locally, our brand and platform’s market direction is ASEAN. This includes our trade showcases and other up-coming projects here and abroad. On the development side, what makes it doubly exciting is that our partner, the government of Canada, is open to seeing how we can replicate our best case example of GREAT Women in the other ASEAN countries, especially the less developed ones like Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

The recent hosting of the 50th year of ASEAN by the Philippines is significant. That’s half a century of the vision of our founding fathers now real as the ASEAN Economic Community. We have the ASEAN Foundation recently formed. We even have the ASEAN Women-Entrepreneur Network, which will no doubt help to empower the other half of the population of our region. And there are all sorts of ASEAN groupings in all aspects of trade, politics and socio-economic fields.

What our leaders do to create the policies to make our region more secure, more competitive and collaborative is a turtle-slow process but will have its gains, no doubt. To tap new opportunities and overcome challenges, it is essential for ASEAN to strengthen our internal unity and adjust our “rules of game,” including the principle of consensus, which has always been a seeming roadblock.

Despite the many challenges, it is an exciting time for ASEAN, as the world reels with noise and chaos, yet paralleled with so much innovation and opportunities — this is the region where the action is!

EMBRACING OUR REGION
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