KUALA LUMPUR: Women and youth can be the driving force for more inclusive growth in Asean, said Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (pic).

The Deputy Prime Minister said since women and youth made up large parts of the population in member countries, getting more of them in businesseses such as small and medium enterprises (SMEs) would create fairer development in the region.

He said their economic power should be harnessed for Asean’s integration as a global game changer.

“Asean member countries should create massive new investment opportunities in SMEs for women and youth.

“Markets and demography, rather than production, are the drivers of Asean,” Muhyiddin said when opening the inaugural Asean SME Showcase and Conference 2015 yesterday.

He said Asean SMEs were the backbone of the region’s economy, contributing up to 58% of the gross domestic product and as much as 30% of the exports of member countries.

By the end of the year, Asean aims to announce the Asean Economic Community, a single market and production base for the region where SMEs would play a larger role in driving growth.

Muhyiddin said many highly innovative enterprises in Asean started out as SMEs, providing jobs and contributing to gender and youth empowerment.

“Women and youth are an essential part of this changing dynamic landscape,” said Muhyiddin.

Asean Secretary-General Le Luong Minh said having more women and youth involved in business was a proven way to cut poverty in Asean member countries.

“Women have an increasingly bigger role in the economic advancement of Asean, as their participation in the labour force continues to rise,” said Minh.

He said with youth unemployment rates in South-East Asia and the Pacific projected to hit 13% by 2017, entrepreneurship was an important option to consider.

“Exploring entrepreneurship as a career path should be an integral part of youth employment in Asean member states as it promotes self-reliance, resilience and innovation,” added Minh.

The three-day event at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre is jointly organised by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and SME Corp Malaysia.

The event, themed One Business, One Community, is in conjunction with Malaysia’s current chairmanship of Asean.