Improving the performance and growth of small and medium sized enterprises in South East Asia

Fields of Research

  • 14 - Economics

Socio-Economic Objectives

  • 86 - Manufacturing
  • 89- Information and Communication Services
  • 90 - Commercial Services and Tourism
  • 91 - Economic Framework
  • 970114 - Expanding Knowledge in Economics
  • 970115 - Expanding Knowledge in Commerce, Management, Tourism and Services


Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs)
  • South East Asia
  • Economic growth
  • Economic development
  • Organisation performance measurement
  • Efficiency/productivity improvement
  • Innovation/technology capacity and utilisation
  • Competitiveness and trade integration (Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN)
  • SME policy development

UN Sustainable Development Goals

  • 8 - Decent work and economic growth
  • 9 - Industry, innovation and infrastructure
  • 10 - Reduced inequalities
  • 11 - Sustainable cities and communities


Impact Summary

In the late 1990s the Asian financial crisis devastated the economies of much of South East Asia. It was immediately apparent that the region needed to re-appraise its economic development model and place greater focus on the private sector, entrepreneurial activity, and growth of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) rather than big business. However, at the time, little was known about SME performance and growth. UOW researchers in economics developed what grew into a long-term engagement with regional partners with the aim of better understanding the role, contribution and performance of SMEs in South East Asia. Findings informed policy development in many countries and revolutionised business practices, contributing to the resurgence of successful SMEs in South East Asia.

Related United Nations Sustainable Development Goals:

8. Decent work and economic growth
9. Industry, innovation and infrastructure
10. Reduced inequalities
11. Sustainable cities and communities

Read details of the impact in full

Details of the Impact

Throughout the 2000s, in response to the Asian economic crisis of 1997-98, economics researchers at UOW hosted a series of conferences which aimed to address the lack of understanding about the role, contribution and performance of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in South East Asia. The conference series ran for 12 years across Australasia, with over 100 researchers, policy makers and practitioners attending each year. The conference series created a researcher network and facilitated the sharing of SME knowledge across Australasia. For example, Dr Michael Schaper, Deputy Head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and a keynote speaker at the Laos conference, was later invited to inform policy decision makers in Malaysia and Cambodia on the effective implementation of competition policy. The conference series resulted in a collaborative series of four books with contributions from 75 researchers, practitioners and policy makers from throughout Australasia.

“[Volume 2] deserves to be read by those who take an interest in industrial development and SMEs in the region. It provides good basic reading before executing more in-depth study into a particular country or sector.” (Henry Sandee, ASEAN Economic Bulletin).

“[Volume 4] is highly informative and a welcome contribution to the study of SMEs in East Asia.” (Ren-Jie Hong, East Asia Integration Studies).

UOW economics researchers went on to develop a framework and methods to measure the economic benefits, challenges and performance of SMEs in South East Asia. This framework has been applied by governments and businesses in China, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos and Sri Lanka. It identifies country-specific barriers to SME efficiency, productivity and growth, and enables policy makers to address these barriers in a targeted manner.

International policy development: UOW researchers contributed to a number of reports for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI), the Economic Research Institute for the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia (ERIA), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the International Trade Centre (ITC, United Nations).

Recognised as international experts in the field of SME development, our researchers have provided advice to many governments and forums. They participated in research projects for the ADB (2013-2015), the ADBI (2015), the ITC (2015), Canadian aid agency the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) (2014-16), ERIA (since 2008/09) and a training program on SME productivity under the Asian Productivity Organisation. Keynote addresses were given for the ADBI and OECD. For example, in 2014 and 2016 Dr Harvie was invited to be a working group advisor for the ASEAN SME Policy Index (ASPI) project which developed an index for SME governance and policy. The index was subsequently used by all ten ASEAN countries and also further afield, for example, an evaluation by the Latin American and Caribbean Economic System (SELA) noted that:

“ASEAN has had an average annual expansion of 7% of GDP […] and achieved a 6% share of global GDP”. The ASPI “has allowed for identification of the main obstacles faced by SMEs in the member countries.” (SELA, 2016).

SELA has since used the ASPI to develop its strategy for the development of SMEs in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Further, in 2015, UOW researchers were commissioned by the ADB to update the Laos government SME development strategy, including how it aligns with the ASEAN SME development strategy and priority areas to improve SME development in the country.

SME networks and training: The network of SME stakeholders in Asia has led to one SME, Bread Talk, developing into a multinational organisation. In 2013, Bread Talk hosted a delegation of 16 Asian Productivity Organisation members to share insights into its productivity measurement system and business operations. At this event, UOW researchers provided a training workshop for regional government SME development staff on SME productivity measurement and analysis. This workshop formed part of the online resources provided for SMEs by the Asian Productivity Organisation. The Bread Talk collaboration provided other SMEs with a practical example of how, using the insights and tools provided by UOW researchers in relation to productivity measurement and growth, an SME can grow into a multinational corporation.

In 2016, our researchers helped to improve the financial literacy of SMEs by presenting at conferences and workshops in Indonesia, jointly organised by the Financial Services Authority of Indonesia and the OECD. Participants then applied their new knowledge in their home countries, for example in Thailand:

“…arising from these workshops a number of SME entrepreneurs have improved their business skills with tangible outcomes in terms of employment and business expansion.” (Director, Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for SME Development in the ASEAN region, Thailand).

The international reputation of our researchers led to advanced training opportunities for PhD students to extend the application of the SME framework to other countries such as Botswana, China, Thailand and Vietnam. In Thailand, for example, this led to the establishment of the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and SME development in the ASEAN region (CEISDA). The Centre’s Director, a former UOW PhD student, conducted a number of consultancies for the Thai government and the ADB. He also provided training programs for Thai small businesses and government that have improved the capacity of local entrepreneurs and policy makers by encouraging entrepreneurialism, developing business plans and highlighting the importance of innovation for business success. In Botswana, in his role at a local university, another former PhD student developed professional training programs for local businesses and potential entrepreneurs.


  • Small and medium sized enterprises
  • Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
  • International/Regional development agencies (World Bank, Asian Development Bank, OECD)
  • Latin American and Caribbean Economic System
  • Banks and micro-finance institutions (e.g. Central Bank of Sri Lanka)
  • Government development agencies
  • Policy makers


Impacted Countries
  • Australia
  • Botswana
  • Brunei
  • Cambodia
  • China
  • Indonesia
  • Japan
  • Lao PDR
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Sri Lanka
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

Approach to Impact

Summary of the approaches to impact

A key component of UOW’s strategic plan is the delivery of benefits to society as a whole. Our research in economics has delivered tangible benefits to the economies of numerous countries in South East Asia. It was initially supported by a UOW Challenge Grant and a Commonwealth grant, which enabled the launch of the international SME conference series. UOW has supported ongoing research on SME development, by funding research Centres in the Faculty of Business. We support our researchers through internal seed funding, supporting and facilitating strategic networking, expanding the application of research with HDR student projects, maintaining strong connections with alumni and supporting translational capacity with technical and professional development.

Read the full approach to impact

Approach to Impact

UOW has built an international reputation for producing practical, actionable research. This reputation is underpinned by our capacity to successfully foster links with regional, domestic and international partners. UOW emphasises strategic and operational planning and measurement to support the accomplishment of our mission and strategic goals. The strategies of the Faculty of Business reflect this same emphasis to ensure we are working cohesively together to deliver on UOW’s overall mission and goals.

The catalyst for UOW’s long-term program of SME-related research was the first “SMEs in a Global Economy Conference” held at UOW in 2000. This was made possible by a Vice Chancellor’s Challenge Grant of $10,000 under a Business-University Linkage program. The conference was further supported by a Commonwealth Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business grant. The success of this conference led to the establishment of Centre for Small Business and Regional Research (CSBRR) to further develop links between researchers and government and industry stakeholders. As a result, an international conference series was held over the following nine years.

In addition to strategic support provided by UOW, the Faculty of Business has supported this program of research by funding the Centre for Small Business and Regional Research from 2000-2013. Since then, the Centre has grown into the Centre for Contemporary Australasian Business and Economics Studies (CCABES), one of three funded research centres in the Faculty of Business. SME research is one of the core areas of focus for CCABES. Faculty support for the Centre has included annual funding allocations, project-specific funding and ongoing administrative support. Recognising the importance of research dissemination for this group, the Faculty has consistently supported SME group members to attend international conferences, hold strategic and ad hoc workshops, organise domestic conferences and host visitors and seminar speakers.

UOW has also facilitated strategic networking and collaboration between domestic and international institutions with a similar interest in SME research. This has been done, for example, through the development of Memoranda of Understanding for institutions based in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Korea (e.g. Khon Khan University in Thailand and Can Tho University in Vietnam). These agreements have enabled the formalisation of SME research networks and collaborative grant opportunities and built upon connections initiated by our researchers attending international workshops, conferences and training programs.

UOW has provided HDR scholarships to successfully attract high quality students to complete PhD studies on SME competitiveness and performance. These students have played a pivotal role in the ongoing development of the SME performance framework, the identification of explanatory variables and the formulation of policy recommendations. Students have advanced the framework by applying it to different contexts and sectors. Following successful completion of their degrees, ongoing professional collaborations have been maintained after students return to their home countries. This has led to the framework being refined further such that it is being adapted and applied in more countries (e.g. in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam and Botswana) and different sectors (e.g. banking, manufacturing and oil). These collaborations have enabled the research to continue and develop in a sustainable way.

Maintaining connections with former PhD students has been actively supported by UOW through its University International Collaboration Grant scheme. This scheme encourages UOW researchers to collaborate with researchers at other universities internationally. Economics researchers have been successful in obtaining University International Committee funding specifically for research projects that relate to SMEs. For example, one project tiled Small Business competitiveness in South East Asia – a comparative study received funding of $24,800 in 2016.

The Faculty has further supported the program of SME research by paying for researchers and students to attend training programs on technical efficiency and productivity measurement at the Centre for Efficiency and Productivity Analysis at the University of Queensland.

Associated Research

The impact of almost two decades of research is multifaceted and has included multiple initiatives:

(1) Nine international SME conferences;
(2) A four volume edited book series about the contribution of SMEs to national economies in South East Asia, their survival in a global economy, and their contribution to national and regional growth (2002-2008);
(3) A compilation of empirically-based research outcomes on SME efficiency and productivity measurement and their key explanatory factors (2012-ongoing) in the form of working papers, reports, journal articles, book chapters, keynote addresses, training programs and HDR theses;
(4) Extending the empirical framework to measure SME efficiency and productivity in a diverse range of countries, for different manufacturing sub-sectors, and for different sized SMEs (2013-2017); and
(5) Applying improved and more robust statistical techniques to measure SME efficiency and productivity.

Prior to the work of the UOW economics researchers information of this nature was very limited. As a result, SMEs lacked the policies, economic structures and business strategies to enable optimal performance. As the research has progressed, each of element has enabled businesses and policy makers to improve SME performance by using the latest and most advanced techniques.


1. ASEAN (2014) “ASEAN SME Policy Index 2014: Towards Competitive and Innovative ASEAN SMEs”, ASEAN SME Agencies Working Group.

2. Harvie, C. and Lee, B.C. (2002), The Role of SMEs in National Economies in East Asia, Studies of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises in East Asia, Volume II, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, pp.404.

3. Harvie, C. and Lee, B.C. (2002), Globalisation and SMEs in East Asia, Studies of Small and Medium sized Enterprises in East Asia, Volume 1, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, pp.318.

4. Harvie, C., Narjoko, D. and Oum, S. (2015), Economic Integration in East Asia: Production Networks and Small and Medium Enterprises, Routledge, Singapore, pp.188.

5. Amornkitvikai, Y. and Harvie, C. (2016), “The Impact of Finance on the Performance of Thai Manufacturing SMEs”, in P. Vandenberg, P. Chantapacdepong & N. Yoshino (eds.), SMEs in Developing Asia New Approaches to Overcoming Market Failures, Chapter 6, pp. 144–179, ABDI institute, Tokyo.

6. Harvie, C. and Charoenrat, T. (2015), “SMEs and the Rise of Global Value Chains”, Chapter 1 in Integrating SMEs into Global Value Chains: Challenges and Policy Actions in Asia, Asian Development Bank/Asian Development Bank Institute, Manila/Tokyo, pp. 1-26. Available at:

7. Charoenrat, T. and Harvie, C. (2014), “The Efficiency of SMEs in Thai Manufacturing: A Stochastic Frontier Analysis”, Economic Modelling, Vol.43, December, pp 372-393.

8. Amornkitvikai, Y. and Harvie, C. (2016), “Sources of Finance and Export Performance: Evidence from Thai Manufacturing SMEs”, Singapore Economic Review, Vol. 63, No. 1 pp. 1–27, 2017.

9. Harvie, C. (2015), “SMEs, Trade and Development in South-east Asia”, Working paper, WP-01-2015.E, International Trade Centre, Geneva, Switzerland, December 2015.

10. SELA (2016) “Experience in implementing the Index of Public Policies for SMEs in the ASEAN”, Case Study 1,