Pursuing Inclusive Digital Growth in Southeast Asia

These remarks were originally delivered at the Prize Ceremony of the Tech For Good Essay Competition 2022 by Dr. Roberto Martin Galang, Dean of John Gokongwei School of Management at Ateneo de Manila University.

Image: Dr. Roberto Martin Galang, Dean of John Gokongwei School of Management at Ateneo de Manila University

I would like to thank the Tech For Good Institute (TFGI) for inviting me here to present. I believe that as a university, these partnerships are what we look forward to, especially partnerships where we can engage with constituents from all across ASEAN. My presentation today will focus on the post-pandemic digital reality we are now in, and how universities can contribute to this tech ecosystem, which is also the focus of the TFGI Essay Competition.

A couple of years ago, many countries all over our region and the globe dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic by imposing containment measures which affected mobility. Many economies went into a tailspin and some smaller economies till date, remain below their pre-pandemic levels. While many of us thought that our lives would go back to normal after COVID-19, the reality is that the world remains as uncertain, if not even more risky, with pressing issues such as wars, food shortages, devaluation of currencies, economic crisis, and climate change. Thus, while we are waking up from the contractions we experienced in 2022, the world we see in 2023 seems to be one filled with more uncertainty.

Thankfully, digitalisation seems to be the answer in helping the world overcome these shocks. Digitalisation has allowed remote learning and work, meeting consumers’ needs via online services and even allowed small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to be part of the platform economy through the use of e-commerce. Thus, digitalisation has brought upon greater efficiency, resiliency, business continuity and even inclusivity in the face of natural and manmade disasters.

In fact, this is the silver lining of the pandemic: where all of us, whether you are an SME, elderly or a young consumer, are brought forcefully into the digital age. Many of us now use digital applications e.g. Grab for ordering of food online and even transportation. Social media has also grown into a place for e-commerce and platforms are now better able to match buyers and sellers online. Thus, digital platforms and payments are now becoming ubiquitous, and we are experiencing this wonderful trend of digitalisation where novel applications are born every day. Previously, it was unimaginable to have a medical consultation online but now we can book a virtual medical consultation whenever and wherever we are. More investments are also flooding into the tech space, with venture capital firms and government agencies channeling funds into new technological start-ups.

However, the big question that we face as a society is how we can ensure that this innovation is used as a force for good, rather than a force for exclusion. It is unfortunate that there are many people with no access to the digital economy. For example, those who live below the poverty line, isolated communities or even those that are less technologically savvy, because they may be born in an earlier generation. While many of us take for granted the digital services we have today, we have to acknowledge that there are many who are unable to access and utilise them fully. Thus, it is vital that while all innovations are good, we as a society have a part to play in ensuring that they are good for all, and it does not exacerbate the digital and economic divide we have today.

At the Ateneo de Manila University, we aim to be at the forefront of digital transformation, but we also grapple with the challenge of promoting innovation. While we have undergraduate degree programmes to promote digital innovation, we recognise that it is sometimes much easier to promote innovation outside our degree programs. Currently, we have in place innovation initiatives such as start-up bootcamps, demo days, hackathons as well as active partnerships with private and government entities to help students beta test their innovations in campus and communities. As a university, we have also provided many resources such as our labs and libraries to students to promote innovation and entrepreneurship.

To conclude, I wish to highlight that while the digital world is here and it is something that we, as digital users in ASEAN, are very excited to be part of, it is crucial that we ensure innovation is done in an inclusive manner, to benefit and uplift everyone. On this ending note, I would like to thank everyone for listening and I wish all the participants in this competition the best.

Thank you and have a great afternoon!

To learn more about the highlights of the Prize Ceremony of the Tech For Good Essay Competition 2022, click here.

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Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.

 

Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management. Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.

 

As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.