Unevenly Distributed: China and the Future of Work in Southeast Asia


Speaker: Dr. Stephen J. McGurk

Special Advisor to the President

Former Vice-President,

International Development Research Centre



This presentation reviews the findings of a series of International Development Research Centre papers on the Future of Work. Digitization of ever-more connected and networked value chains permits faster, simpler, and cheaper trade within Southeast Asia and with trading partners outside the region. Digital trade in products and services connects small entrepreneurs to regional marketplaces while innovation and growth in digital finance bring widespread benefits. China is the largest external investor in Southeast Asia’s digital economy and these investments are among the more significant offshore investments to date by China’s fintech industry. Whether and how Southeast Asian economies can retain the advantage in manufacturing and continue structural transformations in agriculture, government, and services in the face of such technological disruption is a story of global relevance, particularly to other emerging economies working hard to develop their own manufacturing. Southeast Asian countries are the “canaries in the coal mine” for the effects of AI and automation on emerging economies.

About the Speaker

Stephen is an economist and sinologist who has spent more than three decades studying Asia’s rural development as a research manager, policy researcher, grantmaker and investment banker.

From September 2017, Stephen serves as a special advisor to the President of the International Development Research Centre, a Canadian crown corporation that is part of Canada’s foreign policy family, based at the Institute of Asian Research at UBC. Stephen provides research foresight to IDRC on issues like the Future of Work and climate change and represents the IDRC on a number of governance committees for international partnerships.

Between 2013 and 2017 Stephen oversaw a billion dollar research portfolio leading a staff of nearly 170 scientists based in four Regional Offices and in Ottawa, as the Vice President of IDRC. Prior to that, also based in Ottawa, Stephen led the Centre’s global programs on Agriculture and the Environment supporting research to increase agricultural productivity and food and water security while also ensuring environmental sustainability.

Stephen began his work at IDRC in 2000 as Regional Director Asia, based first in Singapore between 2000 and 2006 and then in Delhi between 2006 and late 2012. Before that, between 1992 and 2000, Stephen worked with the Ford Foundation in Beijing, where he led the Foundation’s economic security program in China. He taught environmental and resource economics at the University of California between 1990 and 1992 and worked with the World Bank on the first generation of lending to China’s rural development between 1986 and 1992.

Stephen has a Ph.D. (Development Economics) 1990 and an MA (Nutrition) 1986 from Stanford University’s Food Research Institute and a BA (Chinese/Political Science) 1979 from the University of British Columbia.


*This event is brought to you by UBC Centre for Chinese Research and UBC Institute of Asian Research.
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