CitiesXChange: Resilient Recovery by SMEs in Southeast Asia

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In Southeast Asia, six member cities of the Resilient Cities Network (R-Cities) are exploring ways to support their local economy recover in a way that actions and projects will simultaneously address wider resilience and climate challenges.

In Bangkok and Melaka, city governments want to revitalize waterfront tourism by working with local Small and Mid-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to address interconnected problems resulting from tourism, economic development, water pollution and declining social cohesion.

In Semarang, the city wants to turn its traditional textilebatik industry green through the promotion and facilitation of environmentally friendly methods created for a premium market. “Batik is a traditional fabric from Indonesia. Semarang is one of the producers of batik with our own particular yet unique motif,” said M. Luthfi Eko Nugroho, Head of Economic Division at Semarang Regional Planning Agency & Chief Resilience Officer of Semarang. “The pandemic hit batik SMEs hard, with some having to close their business. We want to help them recover as well as to build their capacity by educating them to use environmentally friendly materials.”

Jakarta and Can Tho work with SMEs in the waste collection and separation industry to improve the cities’ waste management system by minimizing, recovering, and treating waste. In doing so, the cities can help to reduce pollution, emissions and environmental degradation, protect the local environment and community, save money, create jobs and ultimately build resilience.

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how cities think about their economies and created a new social contract to address deepening urban divides and chart a more inclusive roadmap towards recovery. Cities are aware that the choices and decisions they make today will determine their success in building a transition to a greener, more inclusive and more resilient tomorrow and that small local businesses and entrepreneurs are critical to forge the path to recovery.

SMEs are engines of innovation, productivity growth, and job creation and therefore have a pivotal role in Southeast Asia. The region is home to over 70 million SMEs, making up 99% of the private sector.[1] Globally, SMEs represent 45% of total employment in cities, making them important drivers of local development.[2] Over the past two years, SMEs have struggled from the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic with nationwide lockdowns and border closures. Governments responded rapidly to the economic crisis, deploying a ‘firefighting’ approach via grants and wage support instead of reducing barriers that allow SMEs to access strategic resources such as finance, skills and technology. They also struggle to deal with inefficiencies in framework conditions.

As Covid-19 becomes endemic, governments know they need to take on a more strategic approach to sustainably support SMEs long-term.[3] The pandemic could be viewed instead as an opportunity for disruptive change: towards a greener and more just future. Through the Catalyzing City Resilience Solutions (CCRS) program funded by Citi Foundation, the Resilient Cities Network is helping local economies recover from the pandemic by empowering cities and SMEs to co-create solutions that have the additional benefit of building urban resilience. Putting resilience principles at the center of bold, collective actions and solutions development will be key to unleash and fully harness SME’s potential for a sustainable and just economic recovery.

“As we look towards rebuilding economies from the pandemic, Citi’s commitment to promoting collective action is stronger than ever, working with governments, clients, experts, practitioners and communities to make progress,” said Yibin Chu, Head of Community Investing and Development for Asia Pacific, Citi. “Through this program with the Resilient Cities Network, we are working with diverse stakeholders and SMEs to address pressing urban challenges toward economic recovery.” 

Earlier this year, resilience officers and other local government officials from Bangkok, Can Tho, Da Nang, Jakarta, Melaka and Semarang took part in a virtual knowledge exchange called CitiesXChange.

Bangkok’s presentation on their CCRS project

During the CitiesXChange, each city presented the challenges and opportunities of engaging with a critical SME sector they identified. Based on this, cities received targeted advice and guidance on their rapid assessment approach including preliminary results to ensure that their program intervention is grounded in the city’s realities and is responding to the SME’s priorities to increase resilience outcomes.

The latest city to join the program, Da Nang, was inspired by Jakarta’s efforts on waste generation from their mussel industry and after the CitiesXChange is keen to advance their work into a similar direction, focusing on identifying solutions to address the issue of climate change and waste management in their fishing community. Exchanging ideas, sharing learnings and receiving technical support and advice from peers and selected partners provided inspiration and insights into new and different views and approaches that have proved beneficial to the cities as they design their pilot projects.

Images from rapid assessment in Bangkok, Jakarta and Semarang (from top to bottom)

Other member cities and partners from the Network including Kyoto, Pune, and Cape Town shared their experiences in advancing a green economy, cultural tourism as well as inclusive waste management. Guest speakers from OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth and Transform Cities reiterated the value of SMEs to local economies and communities and highlighted the importance of collaboration between different stakeholders within the SME ecosystem.


“This CitiesXChange is only the beginning of peer collaboration between CCRS cities. While differing in the details and context, the exchange emphasized the shared challenges that cities are facing and the opportunities to leverage resilience co-benefits in their recovery solutions. As each city progresses further into the co-design and piloting stages, there will be more opportunities to learn from and to support each other,” said Katrin Bruebach, Global Director of Programs, Innovation and Impact at the Resilient Cities Network. “We at R-Cities are committed to facilitating knowledge exchange and peer-to-peer learning between member cities through our various programs, platforms and events. As cities are learning, we are too. It is our job to find more and better ways to partner and support cities to build better initiatives and projects based on long-term environmental, social and economic benefits as part of their recovery work.”


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CitiesXChange: Resilient Recovery by SMEs in Southeast Asia