ASEAN Digital Economy Framework Agreement: Business Perspectives on Fostering Digital Growth

On 30 November 2023, the Tech For Good Institute participated as knowledge partner for the 10th ASEAN Economic Community Dialogue. The dialogue focused on unpacking the Digital Economic Framework Agreement (DEFA), discussing aspirations and implications to policy and business. This event note highlights the second panel discussion: Aspirations of Business for the ASEAN DEFA.

As the ASEAN DEFA shapes up as a regional instrument for digital integration, businesses across Southeast Asia anticipate unlocking unprecedented economic and technological advantages. The second panel discussion delved into aspirations, opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for ASEAN-based businesses, emphasising the critical role of digital integration in bolstering the region’s global economic standing.

Read on for key takeaways from the second panel discussion at the 10th ASEAN Economic Community.

Panel Discussion 2: Aspirations of Business for the ASEAN DEFA

With digital integration at its core, ASEAN DEFA is a regional instrument that would enable ASEAN-based businesses to harness technological advantages and strengthen the role of the ASEAN in the global economy. Digital integration is also expected to facilitate cross-border trade and attract regional and global investments to Southeast Asia. While regional integration offers opportunities for industry players, there are key issues, for instance, interoperability and cross-border data regulations, that need to be considered ahead of the DEFA negotiations. 

The panel discussed the ideal outcomes and potential roadblocks for the ASEAN DEFA, and shared private sector perspectives from global companies, regional firms, local businesses and investors. 

From Left to right: Dr. Maria Monica Wihardja, Economist, and Visiting Fellow in the Media, Technology and Society Programme, the Regional Economic Studies Programme and the Indonesia Studies Programme,  ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, Dr. Jasmine Begum, Regional Director, Legal and Government Affairs, ASEAN Region, Microsoft, Jayden Vantarakis, Head of ASEAN Equity Research, Macquarie Group, Lim Yew Heng, Group Managing Director of Public Affairs, Grab, and Sati Rasuanto, Co-Founder & CEO, VIDA.

Moderator and panellists:

  • Maria Monica Wihardja, Economist, and Visiting Fellow in the Media, Technology and Society Programme, the Regional Economic Studies Programme and the Indonesia Studies Programme,  ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute
  • Dr. Jasmine Begum, Regional Director, Legal and Government Affairs, ASEAN Region, Microsoft
  • Jayden Vantarakis, Head of ASEAN Equity Research, Macquarie Group
  • Sati Rasuanto, Co-Founder & CEO, VIDA
  • Lim Yew Heng, Group Managing Director of Public Affairs, Grab

Key Takeaways:

  • Strategic Regional Approach for Regulations

The panel emphasised the importance of a strategic, regional approach to regulations for fostering a thriving digital ecosystem in Southeast Asia. Present challenges were identified due to fragmented national regulations, highlighting the necessity for coordination at the ASEAN level. The key takeaway was the need for a top-down strategic conversation to align policies across the diverse developmental stages of Southeast Asian countries. Achieving a balance between driving digital growth and ensuring healthy competition was recognised as requiring concerted efforts from governments, businesses, and regulators to establish interoperable and internationally aligned regulatory frameworks.

  • Shifting Perspectives: Focusing on Skill Development

Shifting the focus from a perceived talent shortage to a more nuanced perspective, the discussion acknowledged the existing talent pool in Southeast Asia and delved into addressing the skills gap. The panel recognised the significance of skill development across various societal segments, including the middle class and underserved communities. Key considerations included the promotion of upskilling, reskilling, and certification programs aligned with foreign direct investments, all crucial for empowering the workforce in the digital age. The conversation underscored the importance of not only catering to tech-savvy millennials but also extending efforts to multi-generational workers, fostering inclusivity, and building a robust talent pool capable of driving digital innovation.

  • Collaborative Public-Private Efforts to Cultivate Digital Talent

Consensus emerged on the role of collaborative efforts between the public and private sectors in nurturing digital talents. The emphasis was placed on establishing partnerships, particularly in the realm of upskilling civil services. The discussion highlighted the importance of leveraging foreign direct investments to scale up talent, coupled with a parallel investment in the skill development of government personnel to meet the demands of a digitised era. The panel stressed that these collaborative efforts should prioritise technology adoption in public sectors, aligning with the overarching vision of ensuring verified identity for all. This, in turn, contributes to fostering a more inclusive and adept society.

  • Prioritising the Middle Class, Rural, and Underprivileged Communities

The conversation underscored the imperative for inclusive digital growth, with a specific focus on the emerging middle class, rural, and underprivileged communities. A key emphasis was placed on ensuring that the digital economy serves as a catalyst for uplifting the broader population, creating opportunities in third-tier cities and rural areas. In recognising the challenges faced by non-digitised individuals, the discussion shifted towards the importance of building technology tailored to diverse needs and demographics. Panellists highlighted the significance of making technology choices and developments that are free from biases, ensuring inclusivity in the rapidly digitising landscape.

In summary, the panel underscored the vital need for innovative collaboration among diverse stakeholders, including regulators, global, regional, and local companies. The goal is to drive digital transformation and position the region as a robust economic bloc in the dynamic landscape of the global digital economy.  Additionally, there was a strong emphasis on the careful selection of technology, ensuring it caters to the diverse demographic of Southeast Asia. The conversation urged for open-mindedness towards partnerships, advocating for the leveraging of expertise from various sources, including international educational institutions, to ensure a comprehensive approach to digital talent development.

Read the 10th ASEAN Economic Community Dialogue press release for more information. 

Watch the summary of the ASEAN DEFA video below: 

The dialogue is held with the support of the Australia for ASEAN Futures – Economic and Connectivity (Aus4ASEAN Futures (ECON)) and with the Tech for Good Institute as the knowledge partner. 

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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.