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Small and Medium Enterprises and Value Creation in Southeast Asia

Organisers:
Dr Juliette Koning
Oxford Brookes University
j.koning@brookes.ac.uk

Dr Can Seng Ooi
Copenhagen Business School
cso.int@cbs.dk

Dr Heidi Dahles
Griffith University
h.dahles@griffith.edu.au

Panel Abstract

The aim of this double panel is to explore the various ways in which small and medium enterprises are involved in processes of social, cultural and economic value creation in Southeast Asia. In much of the entrepreneurship literature as well as in policy documents, SME’s are considered key in economic development. This must however, not be taken uncritically and neither be restricted to economic value creation but include explorations of social and cultural value creation. Therefore, the papers in this panel will take a broader approach and critically explore the role of SME’s as drivers of development, growth, employment, innovation, creativity, and internationalization and the opportunities and challenges they encounter in the region in terms of different constellations of informality, patronage, unstable capital markets, rising middle classes, ITC, and social, environmental, political and economic turmoil.  Papers can focus on SME’s in the creative industries (the growth of small specialized firms in providing services, ranging from webpage design to art consultancy, event management to film editing), the growing phenomenon of social entrepreneurship, female entrepreneurship, the resilience of SME’s in the volatile tourism industry, the on-going discourse of so-called successful ethnic Chinese entrepreneurship, generational dimensions in small family firms, and so on. This double panel hopes to address these issues either through empirical case studies and/or more theoretical explorations. The panel welcomes contributions from any discipline related to any of the Southeast Asian countries or the region as a whole. Potential papers will be invited for publication in the open access journal Asia Matters: Business, Culture and Theory of which the panel organisers are the editors.

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1st Session

Chair: 

Dr Juliette Koning
Oxford Brookes University
j.koning@brookes.ac.uk

Paper 1: Ethnic Chinese SMEs in Myanmar’s rice industry as actors of early internationalization and bottom-up innovations in development

Jinsun Bae
Copenhagen Business School
jiba.int@cbs.dk

Valeria Giacomin
Copenhagen Business School
vg.lpf@cbs.dk

Gradual relaxations of trade embargos from the West and the rise of China as a major consumer market and economic superpower are providing Myanmar with opportunities to take advantage of internationalized economic linkages. Local SMEs accounting for 96% of Myanmar’s urban and rural economies will undoubtedly be key players. In this light, Sino-Burmese SMEs deserve renewed attention. The Sino-Burmese represents only 3% of Myanmar’s population (about 1.6 million) but holds dominant business presence in several strategic industries of the primary sector. They are early and presently active actors in Myanmar’s trade with other countries based on their firm-specific assets and working ties with the government. We are particularly interested in the rice industry in which ethnic Chinese SMEs have long been involved as producers for export through rice mills mostly located in Upper Myanmar. Statistics reveal local SMEs dominate in the food sector, and within it rice-related firms are largest in number. Our paper aims to understand the role of these Sino-Burmese SMEs in the early internationalization process of Myanmar’s rice industry and the bottom-up innovations they have created during the process. This paper jointly constitutes a part of two PhD projects: one focusing on evolution of ethnic Chinese internationalization strategies in developing Southeast Asia (Valeria Giacomin), and another on trade, FDI and signs of early internationalization in Myanmar (Jinsun Bae). The literature on SMEs in Myanmar is scant, and information accessibility is very low. Hence, our paper will be explorative and rest on quantitative and qualitative data. We will also gather empirical data from the field such as interviews, statistics or case studies.

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Paper 2: Negotiating gender through informal micro-entrepreneurship in Malaysia 

Anja K. Franck
University of Gothenburg
anja.franck@globalstudies.gu.se

There is growing recognition that women’s informal micro-entrepreneurship is not only the result of poverty, disadvantage or exclusion from the formal labor markets. Instead, several studies seem to indicate that women actively seek such work in order to gain more freedom, self-fulfillment and flexibility to balance work and family roles. This study engages with this discussion through adding a spatial dimension. Employing a feminist geographical perspective the study suggests that while women in Malaysia engage with informal micro-entrepreneurship for a wide variety of reasons, such engagement also involves a renegotiation of gendered spatial boundaries. In other words: a renegotiation of the places and spaces accessible to women. As such, women may utilize informal micro-entrepreneurship to gain access to an independent income – but also as a means to negotiate and extend their room to maneuver both within and beyond the household.

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Paper 3: Birds of a feather? Local versus (inter)national competition in the swiftlet nest trade in Indonesia

Laurens Bakker
University of Amsterdam and Radboud University Nijmegen
l.bakker@jur.ru.nl

The trade in edible swiftlet nests collected in Southeast Asia and exported to China goes back hundreds of years, but production, cleaning and farming techniques have seen considerable professionalization over the past decade. In Indonesia, these improvements have brought domesticated swiftlet farming into the greater security of urban areas and greatly popularized interest in this profitable trade. Increased competition has seen the rise of local Indonesian traders and investors next to Chinese businessmen. Whereas the latter used to dominate the business, new trade routes through Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam provide ample opportunity to circumvent Chinese trading networks. In this paper I discuss the mechanics of this business competition at the local level in the Indonesian province of East Kalimantan, one of the major production areas. My focus lies on entrepreneurs’ dealings with the facilitating/prohibitive bureaucracy, the  providers of protection and supporting financial networks. I ask whether the current boom sees local entrepreneurs taking over from (Indonesian) Chinese businessmen, or whether this trade remains a mostly Chinese affair.

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Paper 4: Developing border zones in the Greater Mekong Sub-region: bridging cultures or destroying identities?

Gianluca Bonanno
Kyoto University
gbonanno@cseas.kyoto-u.ac.jp

Improving connectivity in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (the region comprising Southern China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Viet Nam, and Thailand), has been a high priority on governments’ agendas since regionalising efforts started to be implemented in 1992. In sight of the forthcoming ASEAN Community, many are the facets of development that are being addressed by the national governments, as well as by the international community writ large. Nevertheless, acknowledging the tangible difficulty of tackling more sensitive issues such as policies of socio-political integration, a lot of attention has been shifted towards economic co-operation schemes, in particular the development of border zones, as a means to improve intra-regional flows and to foster trans-border economic ties. Since allowing large state companies to take on the whole task would have meant creating frictions at a national level, the current strategy seems to favour the involvement of a diversified arrange of SMEs.

This presentation looks at the emergence of SMEs’ clusters along the internal borders of the Greater Mekong Sub-region, economic spillovers both at national and at local levels, and consequent social implications. In particular, attention is given to the adverse distribution of benefits caused by ownership and labour force coming mostly from far away provinces, and the inevitable human insecurity perceived by local people who find themselves once again excluded from participating in the development of their own land.

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2nd Session

Chair: Dr Can Seng Ooi
Copenhagen Business School
cso.int@cbs.dk

Paper 5: Family firm sustainability in the traditional batik industry in Lasem, Indonesia

Lely Kristinawati Budhiyanto
Oxford Brookes Business School
lely.budhiyanto-2012@brookes.ac.uk

This paper aims to come to a better understanding of the nature of sustainability (growth and survival) in family firms in the traditional batik industry in Indonesia by exploring how they adjust to changing circumstances. It will analyse the changes at different levels and contexts: the micro level (the family and the firm), meso level (the market and institutional environment), and macro level (economic and political climate). This adds a new perspective to existing approaches in family firm sustainability research and will result in a more holistic conceptual framework for the study of small family firm sustainability. Within the context of developing countries, family businesses are the dominant business model. Family businesses in general also have the potential to contribute substantially to economic development and social welfare in the countries in which they are active. In the case of the traditional batik industry, cultural value creation can be added to this list. However, being small business units, these firms are also vulnerable in terms of survival in the long run. As a consequence, research that offers insights into how the sustainability of family firms can be supported can contribute quite significantly to further community development in developing and pre-emerging markets such as Indonesia. The paper will be based on ethnographic data (gathered in 2013) and will compare the experiences of traditional batik family firms on how they adjust to changing circumstances.

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Paper 6: The Mixed Blessings of ‘Mixed Embeddedness’. Returnee Entrepreneurs in Cambodia

Heidi Dahles
Griffith University
h.dahles@griffith.edu.au

The scholarly interest in ‘migrant entrepreneurship’ received an innovative impulse with the concept of ‘mixed embeddedness’, which addresses entrepreneurial activities in migrant receiving economies. Mixed embeddedness outlines the economic, social, cultural and political opportunity structures that affect immigrant business operations. Overall, the opportunity structures of both the immigrant community and encompassing host economy are viewed as providing assets conducive to immigrant business. Conversely, this paper relocates the concept of ‘embeddedness’ in a transnational setting by focusing on the business activities conducted by Cambodian returnees in Cambodia. Return is understood in terms of circular mobility between home and host countries.  The paper aims at identifying the opportunities and challenges of returnee entrepreneuring in Cambodia emanating from their persistent – hence ‘ mixed’ – embeddedness in diverse economies.  This explorative study compares two categories of returnee through a review of literature on Cambodians in the United States and France and primary fieldwork data obtained through open interviews with Cambodian returnees in Cambodia. Cambodian French and Cambodian American returnees show different entrepreneurial dispositions based on divergent migration histories and hence play different roles in the Cambodian economy. While both categories initiate myriad institutional and business ventures, their contribution to the Cambodian economy remains contested for different reasons.

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Paper 7: Chinese Indonesian Female Entrepreneurs and their Value Creation

Dr Juliette Koning
Oxford Brookes University
j.koning@brookes.ac.uk

There is an abundant literature on ethnic Chinese entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia. Although the ‘actual’ contribution of ethnic Chinese business groups to the Southeast Asian economies stays a contested debate, most scholars agree that there is an important role played by ethnic Chinese businesses in terms of employment, innovation, and internationalization. On closer inspection, this overwhelming research however, rarely contains an analysis of companies, businesses and ventures developed, managed and expanded by ethnic Chinese female entrepreneurs and business owners. It can be argued that in fact the literature on ethnic Chinese entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia is very quite in terms of gender. Following critique on entrepreneurship studies more in general (such as articulated by Helene Ahl) of the implicit masculine discourse and the homogenizing tendencies of research that compares the behaviour of male and female entrepreneurs, this paper explores individual life and business stories of Chinese Indonesian female entrepreneurs. The aim is to come to a better understanding of the different routes to value creation developed by these women, why the literature is so quite about their activities and what these can tell us about the interesting relationships between gender, ethnic identity, entrepreneurship, and value creation.  The paper is based on case studies of several Chinese Indonesian female entrepreneurs in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.