The Asia Foundation

The Asia Foundation

Improving Lives
Expanding Opportunities

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Economic Development

The Asia Foundation has a long history of supporting economic growth across Asia through both public and private channels. Our approach is to empower the private sector, especially small and medium enterprises, with the tools, information, networks and resources they need to seize business opportunities, and to work with government, local authorities, and civil society to improve business environments at the regional, national or local levels. The Foundation's economic development program focuses on three core areas: business environments for private sector growth; entrepreneurship development, and regional economic cooperation, with special attention to women and environmental concerns. Read Program Overview. Read Program Overview.


A supportive business environment for private sector development, particularly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), is essential to competitiveness and efficient markets, which are integral to more inclusive economic development, resiliency and growth. Too often, a lack of transparency, legal roadblocks, red tape, monopolies, vested interests and a myriad of other barriers make it difficult to do business in many developing countries in Asia, especially for women. For example, some Foundation programs address the barriers to women’s equal economic participation and capacity to develop their business. Read more about efforts to increase women's economic opportunities.

The Asia Foundation assists MSMEs to reach out and network with the public sector, financial institutions, other businesses, and service providers in order to address constraints faced by businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs. Through strengthening the capacity of the private sector to network to influence policies and engage in advocacy for tangible changes in their business environment, The Asia Foundation helps entrepreneurs develop opportunities for growth and expansion.

The Asia Foundation utilizes evidence-based monitoring and reporting like our Economic Governance Indices, Business Climate Barometers, and Regulatory Impact Assessments, which measures the quality of local business environments and the costs associated with poor policies. Such studies have been conducted in Bangladesh, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Vietnam. By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of business environments, the Foundation's programs provide a roadmap for local business owners and public officials to identify and address specific areas for improvement.

In an increasingly globalized world, economic integration and cooperation is key to stable and healthy economies. The Asia Foundation works across several dimensions, especially in the area of intra-regional trade and investment and regional value-chain optimization, in both South Asia and South-East Asia, to support regional economic cooperation. The Asia Foundation encourages the formation of networks and coalitions to remove impediments to trade such as non-tariff barriers, utilizing a political economy approach to understand the motivations and incentives of key stakeholders in order to achieve better engagement throughout the reform process.

The Asia Foundation's approach to economic development focuses on creating more conducive business environments for sustained, inclusive economic growth and stability in Asia in order to benefit business owners, their families and their communities alike.

Local Economic Governance Book

Innovations in Strengthening Local Economic Governance in Asia summarizes The Asia Foundation's experience designing and implementing programs aimed at strengthening economic governance in Asia. Read an excerpt by V. Bruce J. Tolentino, the Foundation's former Afghanistan Country Representative, Chief Economist, and Director of Economic Development Programs, or download the entire book.

Other Economic Development Publications

Middle-Income Trap: Economic Myth, Political Reality

Access to Trade and Growth of Women's SMEs in APEC Developing Economies Regional Economic Cooperation Forum: Making AEC Work for SMEs Trade Facilitation- Cost of Non-Cooperation to Consumers in the ASEAN Economic Community
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