Ramil Andag, APCOM
In 2018, APCOM, with the support of VOICE Global, embarked on what can be considered as an innovative but also “ambitious” journey. We wanted to engage the financial institutions and the private sector in the Asia Pacific region for LGBTQI inclusion. Ambitious, because on the one hand financial institutions are not one of the usual sectors which we traditionally engage with on large scale. On the other hand because we wanted to engage the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for LGBTQI inclusion.
Engaging financial institutions and the private sector on LGBTQI inclusion, is one of the strategic directions which APCOM is pursuing to advance our vision of ‘a world where all gay men, other men who have sex with men, and people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identities and expressions, and sex characteristics can fully participate in and achieve sustainable development in all aspects of their health, rights, and wellbeing’.
APCOM believes that such engagements will contribute to the goal of ‘leaving no one behind.’
We were aware that having a better understanding of the situation and the institutions we wanted to engage with, was a necessary step for us to move forward.
Finance Inc. is being implemented in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, and the Philippines. The state of available information about LGBTQI inclusion, both social and economic, vary from country to country. Also, the available data looks into different aspects of the LGBTQI experience. Furthermore, given the aspect that APCOM had no previous experience in engaging the Asian Development Bank, we also needed to have a better understanding of the institution.
At the start of Finance Inc. implementation, APCOM engaged a consultant to conduct a scoping research. The desk research looked into existing data and information related to LGBTQI inclusion and exclusion in the four countries where Finance Inc. was being implemented. The documents reviewed included research, government reports, studies by UN agencies, reports from other non-government organizations and news reports, among others.
It also looked into the existing frameworks of the Asian Development Bank and identified possible entry points for engagement on LGBTQI inclusion.
The research report ‘Economic Inclusion of LGBTQI People in Southeast Asia: A Background Research Report on Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR and the Philippines’ has been very helpful for APCOM and our country partners, not only in engaging the Asian Development Bank but also informed the other Finance Inc. component activities, including in country researches which our country partner organizations undertook in 2019.
Engaging the Asian Development Bank
The scoping research has been very informative for APCOM and our country partner organizations under Finance Inc., in providing insights on possible entry points with the ADB.
With the preliminary insights from the scoping research—anchored on our vision of LGBTQI inclusion—APCOM reached out to the ADB late 2018. We were able to conduct preliminary meetings with key ADB personnel where we had the chance to present Finance Inc. The ADB sections we had meetings with, expressed support for LGBTQI inclusion and we identified possible engagement moving forward.
APCOM and our country partner organization in the Philippines were part of the panel titled ‘LGBT+ as a vulnerable population: Entry Points for ADB Operations’ in May 2019. This marked the first time for ADB headquarters to commemorate IDAHOTB. In 2020, APCOM was again part of the virtual panel of ADB ‘Bridging the LGBTQI Inclusion Data Gap’ which was done in commemoration of IDAHOTB 2020.
APCOM and our country partner organizations were able to conduct preliminary meetings with ADB resident missions in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR and the Philippines to discuss Finance Inc.
To guide us in the implementation of Finance Inc., APCOM convened an Advisory Group whose expertise range from research, financial institutions and the private sector—all in relation to LGBTQI issues.
Our Advisory Group is composed of Clifton Cortez—Global Advisor on SOGI at the World Bank—, Prof. M.V. Lee Badgett—renowned for her research work on the economic impacts of LGBTQI discrimination and exclusion—, Prof. Yiu-Tung Suen—founding director of Sexualities Research Program at the Chinese University of Hong Kong— and Nada Chaiyajit, a lawyer with vast experience in advocating for LGBTQI inclusion in Thailand.
The advisory group has been very instrumental regarding strategies which we did and are continuously doing so in the duration of the project implementation and beyond.
Our country partner organizations Micro Rainbow Foundation (Cambodia), Suara Kita (Indonesia), CHias (Lao PDR), and Babaylanes (Philippines) were very instrumental in what we have been able to do under Finance Inc. They have been involved in all the phases of the project. Their knowledge about the LGBTQI situations in their respective countries allow us to be nuanced and sensitive in the course of our project implementation. As organizations who have been working for a long time on LGBTQI issues in their respective countries, we were also able to ensure participation of communities in our country specific activities.
Our country partners were also able to conduct their perspective in country researches regarding the situation of economic inclusion and exclusion of LGBTQI. Research reports will be published next month.
Currently, our country partners are implementing small pilot projects which aim to contribute to LGBTQI inclusion in the private sector.
In November 2019, APCOM and our country partners conducted in country capacity strengthening in countries where we are implementing Finance Inc. These capacity strengthening workshops were aimed at getting to know the private sector better and reflect on possible entry points where LGBTQI organizations in each country can engage with. The four workshops were attended by around 25 representatives from LGBTQI organizations in each country.
In December 2019, APCOM and our country partner organizations conducted an assessment and planning meeting. During this meeting, we charted out our project’s Theory of Change where we were able to identify gaps, challenges, and achievements.
Plans were crafted to address the gaps, being all set for 2020.
However, COVID-19 happened and affected everyone around the world. Travel restrictions and other mobility restrictions put in place to address the situation, affected Finance Inc. as it affected everything else.
APCOM and our country partner organizations had to recalibrate plans due to the pandemic. We shifted our plans to be largely online, such as in countries where there is still a high incidence of COVID-19 and furthermore to strictly follow regulations in countries where activities are allowed.
At the regional level, APCOM is planning on conducting hybrid formats for our upcoming activities which will be a mix of physical meetings of stakeholders based in Thailand; and online participation from stakeholders outside of Thailand.
Miles to go
While there have been achievements in Finance Inc. in the areas of engaging financial institutions and the private sector, we recognize that still a lot has to be done.
We are convinced that LGBTQI inclusion should happen at policy level and standard, involving processes and procedures. We are also aware that these changes do not happen in a vacuum, nor do they happen in three years.
APCOM and our country partners are truly committed to continue on this innovative and rather “ambitious” journey.