Today’s global leaders continue to battle major problems, from post-pandemic health care and economic recovery to the energy transition. Asia’s leaders are no different and need to find ways to harness the power of technology to aid change in the areas that most affect their countries and people.
Which is why it’s good timing that this week sees Asia Tech x come to Singapore. The region’s flagship tech event brings together leaders and innovators from government and industry to discuss the many ways technology will shape our shared digital future.
It makes sense that this event is being held in Singapore, the gateway to the world’s fastest-growing digital economies and a country at the forefront of tech adoption and innovation. I know because I live here, and I see both the potential and the pitfalls that leaders are facing in their tech journeys.
On the one hand, regional progress in grasping the opportunities presented by technology is astounding: 40 million new internet users came online in 2021, bringing the internet-penetration rate in South-East Asia to 75 per cent. That brings us to a whopping 440 million internet users in the region.
On the other hand, tech advancements and accelerated digital adoption have brought with them a growing digital divide and massive variation in levels of digital inclusion. So, how do leaders fully harness the potential and benefits of digital transformation to close the digital divide and the economic gaps this creates for individuals?
The one thing we know for certain is they shouldn’t go it alone. We see a real risk in this region of countries adopting different approaches to regulating tech, which in turn will do little to support the growth of an inclusive digital economy.
Leaders must continue to remain open to regional cooperation and exchange in order to fully maximise the benefits of tech. Regional coherence on strategies, policies and systems can help boost cross-border public services and e-commerce in the region. And the incentive is clear – it is estimated that increased investment in digital integration, backed by a consolidated and coordinated Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) approach, could add an additional $0.8–$1 trillion to the region’s GDP by 2025.
We see clearly at TBI what leaders need to do in order to support digital transformation across Asia. This includes:
Coherence and collaboration within the region. Greater regional coherence on strategies, policies and systems, including for cross-border data sharing and cybersecurity, can boost digital interoperability as well as regional integration. Bilateral and regional ASEAN agreements will also support digital integration, with Singapore seen as a role model in its approach to forging such agreements with countries globally, to collaborate on the digital economy.
Embracing the benefits of the cloud. This can enable governments and businesses to become more agile, resilient and cost effective.
Bridging the digital divide through infrastructure investment is key, in order to expand access and improve affordability, particularly for the underserved.
Investing in digital upskilling and capabilities to ensure the future workforce possesses both the soft and hard skills to thrive in an economy that will be driven by technology and technological disruption.
Our work at the Institute is focused on equipping leaders across Asia to deliver ambitious transformation agendas by harnessing the power of tech in a digital age.
Our team in South-East Asia is working on the most pertinent opportunities and challenges facing our region today and in the future, including:
Taking stock of digital-government transformation and pioneering a participatory approach to solving the shortcomings and maximising the opportunities of gig work.
Outlining the technology and legal challenges in internet policy in Asia.
Outlining a vision for smart cities around the world, and for how climate-vulnerable countries in particular can leverage and access tech to mitigate the impact of extreme climate events.
This is just a snapshot of the work we know still needs to be done to help leaders realise the transformational power of technology for good. This is why we have a delegation attending Asia Tech x Singapore this week, where we look forward to expanding both our work across the region, and our network of partners and advocates who share our ambitions for a tech-driven and tech-optimistic future.