A region-wide entrepreneur mentoring program is set to be rolled out across the ASEAN this February, bringing formal training to millions of micro-, small and medium enterprises in the region.

The ASEAN Mentorship for Entrepreneurs Network (AMEN) is a modules-based training program facilitated by accredited mentors and designed for MSMEs. “It can be likened to an MBA program for MSMEs,” said Joey Concepcion, the founder of the Philippine Center for Entrepreneurship – Go Negosyo. The non-profit originated the blueprint for AMEN, and patterned it after its Kapatid Mentor Micro-Enterprises (KMME), which it implements together with the country’s Department of Trade and Industry. The KMME program has been implemented in the Philippines since 2016, and has since produced more than 12,000 graduates. AMEN is the legacy project from the Philippines chairmanship of the ASEAN in 2017, where Concepcion serves as chair.

At the Handover Ceremonies of the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ABAC) held in Jakarta Indonesia last January 30, Concepcion reiterated the importance of MSMEs in achieving inclusive economic prosperity in the region, and the role of AMEN in making this possible.

“We must embrace these MSMEs,” he told the gathering of ASEAN officials, diplomats and some of the region’s most successful businessmen. “It is our responsibility as big business to help [MSMEs] move up the ladder,” he said. “As we scale them up, your businesses will also scale up,” he said. Upgrading and upskilling MSMEs, he said, can have a great impact on the region’s economies, and help achieve greater equality and prosperity for all.

There are more than 70 million MSMEs in the ASEAN, and they are estimated to be responsible for generating 85 percent of the jobs and 45 percent of the GDP in the region.

AMEN aims to certify and train at least ten mentors from each ASEAN member state, and mentor at least 30 MSMEs from each ASEAN member state. AMEN was first piloted in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. For its ASEAN-wide implementation, AMEN will be translated into seven languages, namely Khmer, Indonesian, Lao, Bahasa Malay, Burmese, Thai and Viet.

In his speech before the ABAC, Concepcion thanked the Government of Japan, which funded AMEN through two grants: US$347,396 in March 2019 for its pilot phase, and US$333,943 in March 2022. Both grants were made through the Japan-ASEAN Integration Fund (JAIF).

The Japanese Ambassador of Mission to ASEAN Kiya Masahiko congratulated AMEN’s proponents for the success of its pilot implementation and the commencement of its second phase. He also expressed his support of the prioritization of MSMEs as beneficiaries of ABAC, adding that the ASEAN is Japan’s largest investment destination in the East Asian region.

“It will will contribute to narrowing the gap, which is very important in this region,” he said. “Growth is important, but equity and fairness and inclusivity, that is a priority for this year’s ASEAN BAC,” he said.

AMEN’s approach is a Public-Private Partnership system to help micro- and small enterprises scale up their operations and make them profitable and sustainable through a region-wide sharing of entrepreneurship knowledge, and linking to markets and financial services. “With AMEN, we can help ASEAN MSMEs realize their potential to enhance and grow the region into a more united, cooperative and integrated economy,” said Concepcion.

Overseeing the AMEN will be JAIF, together with the ASEAN Business Advisory Council (ASEAN BAC), and the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on MSMEs (ACCMSME).