Building a Better World, One Digital Platform at a Time 

On 21 May 2024, Tech for Good Institute, in partnership with Ant International, hosted a closed door roundtable focused on exploring the unique abilities of digital platforms to drive public good and sustainability.
From left to right: Peimin Lin, Director of Ant International Foundation & Sustainability Strategies, Ant International; Cecilia Hough, Lead Impact Management and Operations, B Lab Singapore; Carrie Suen, Senior Advisor of Global Affairs & Sustainability Strategies, Ant International; Dr Joey Tan, ASEAN Head of Sustainability, Amazon Web Services; Gaurav Bhasin, Chief Strategy Officer, Carousell Group; Fiona Tan, President, Digital Platform Industry Association; Gladys Chun, General Counsel, Lazada; Dr Ming Tan, Founding Executive Director, Tech for Good Institute; Jamie Ko, Director, Regional Public Affairs, Grab; Rachel S Teo, Head of Government Affairs & Public Policy, Google Singapore; Janessa Kong, Senior Policy Research Analyst, Singapore Institute of Internal Affairs (SIIA); Matin Mohdari, Head of Public Policy, Government and Corporate Affairs (Southeast and South Asia), Expedia Group; Devika Bora, Associate, White Rook Advisory; Keith Detros, Programme Manager, Tech for Good Institute; Quanfu Li (Teddy), Advisor and Director of Governmental Relations, Ant International; Hamizah Myra, Programme Assistant, Tech For Good Institute.

In Southeast Asia, digital platforms have emerged as pivotal drivers of the digital economy, fundamentally transforming the way value is both created and delivered. While the impact of digital platforms on economic growth is widely acknowledged, studies highlighting their positive influence on social, developmental, and environmental progress remain relatively scarce. There is an opportunity to gain deeper insights into the ways in which digital platforms are catalysing meaningful and sustainable societal change.

Digital platforms are unique, primarily due to their ability to function as intermediaries connecting various user groups such as buyers, sellers, brokers, and others. By facilitating interactions and transactions among diverse stakeholders through their multi-sidedness, digital platforms have carved out a distinct niche for themselves. Their success is driven by network effects, where increasing efficiency and reducing transactional costs become more achievable as their user base expands. Moreover, digital platforms inherently rely on their community of users, with their value and utility closely tied to the scale and engagement of their networks.

Leveraging their speed, scale, and flexible business models, digital platforms can develop fit-for-purpose solutions responsive to societal needs. By nature, their accessibility enables these platforms to cater to a wide range of stakeholders, including merchants and consumers. They create multi-sided marketplaces and digital ecosystems, which in turn allow them to reach diverse populations. Operating at scale, digital platforms extend beyond metro cities, bridging social and geographical divides. Additionally, their ability to innovate business models creates value for the digital ecosystem. Harnessing data and technology, these platforms identify possible areas of intervention, allocate resources, and develop new products and services. With their unique capabilities and far-reaching influence, digital platforms present a compelling opportunity to explore how they can drive positive societal change and contribute to sustainable development across various domains.

On 21 May 2024, the Tech for Good Institute and Ant International jointly facilitated a roundtable discussion that convened leaders from various sectors of the platform economy in Southeast Asia. The discussion focused on the unique capabilities of digital platforms in promoting social and environmental benefits, while exploring challenges and opportunities in this space.


Moderators and Speakers

Moderators:

  • Dr Ming Tan, Founding Executive Director, Tech for Good Institute

Speakers in roundtable discussion:

  • Gaurav Bhasin, Chief Strategy Officer, Carousell Group
  • Gladys Chun, General Counsel, Lazada
  • Keith Detros, Programme Manager, Tech for Good Institute
  • Cecilia Hough, Lead Impact Management and Operations, B Lab Singapore
  • Jamie Ko, Director, Regional Public Affairs, Grab
  • Janessa Kong, Senior Policy Research Analyst, Singapore Institute of Internal Affairs (SIIA)
  • Matin Mohdari, Head of Public Policy, Government and Corporate Affairs (Southeast and South Asia), Expedia Group
  • Carrie Suen, Senior Advisor of Global Affairs & Sustainability Strategies, Ant International
  • Fiona Tan, President, Digital Platform Industry Association
  • Dr Joey Tan, ASEAN Head of Sustainability, Amazon Web Services
  • Rachel S Teo, Head of Government Affairs & Public Policy, Google Singapore


Key takeaways

 1. Digital platforms can generate social benefits and foster community well-being.

 With their unique characteristics, digital platforms contribute not only to economic growth, but to social inclusion as well. For example, digital platforms play a pivotal role in developing economic and social resilience. During COVID-19, for example, digital platforms leveraged their distinct features to onboard micro, small and medium (MSMEs) businesses online, enabling them to operate and sustain their livelihoods, reach more customers, improve their business operations, and meaningfully participate in the digital economy during unprecedented times. In addition, digital financial services platforms were also tapped by governments to distribute cash assistance to eligible social protection beneficiaries during the pandemic.

In terms of building social resilience, digital platforms have facilitated accessible travel and mobility solutions, allowing individuals with disabilities or mobility challenges to access transportation services more conveniently. Platforms have also enabled charitable giving and community support initiatives, fostering a sense of social responsibility and compassion among users.


2. Digital platforms can contribute to environmental sustainability.

Digital platforms have facilitated the growth of the circular economy by providing marketplaces for the resale and redistribution of pre-loved items. These platforms streamline the buying and selling of second-hand goods, extending the lifespan of products and reducing waste. Leveraging AI and transaction data, these platforms can suggest appropriate pricing, categorise used items, and optimise listings for better visibility, streamlining the process for buyers and sellers alike. By making it easier for individuals to participate in the circular economy, digital platforms encourage sustainable consumption practices and minimise the demand for new resources

Digital platforms are also actively working to address environmental challenges related to energy consumption and carbon emissions. Some platforms have integrated sustainability into their supply chain operations, optimising logistics and transportation to reduce their carbon footprints. This includes implementing more efficient routing systems, encouraging eco-friendly delivery methods, and promoting the use of electric vehicles or alternative fuels. Additionally, digital platforms offer initiatives to merchants aimed at reducing waste produced in packaging and promoting eco-friendly practices throughout the product life cycle. These initiatives may include incentives for using sustainable packaging materials, implementing recycling programs, or encouraging paperless transactions.


3. Digital Platforms can uniquely nudge individuals toward more sustainable practices and positive societal outcomes.

At scale, digital platforms can effectively raise awareness about sustainable practices among both merchants and consumers. They can steer consumers toward environmentally-friendly choices by simplifying decision-making processes and promoting data-driven insights. For example, platforms may employ green ratings or labels to make sustainable products and services more easily identifiable to consumers. Moreover, digital platforms often employ gamification techniques or incentive systems to encourage desired behaviours. For instance, digital platforms may offer reward points or discounts for making sustainable choices, effectively nudging users toward more environmentally conscious actions through positive reinforcement.


4. Collaboration across the public, private and people sectors can enable digital platforms to support efforts toward public benefit.

Open lines of communication are needed between the public, private, and people sectors. First, there should be a concerted and whole-of-society approach to promoting trust in the digital ecosystem. For example, due to the expansive reach and scale of digital platforms, scams and fraud are increasingly becoming significant concerns. If left unchecked, this undermines trust and stifles the adoption of platform services, thus limiting network effects and the potential impact of digital platforms in delivering social good.

Second, collaboration between governments and digital platforms is essential, especially in co-creating policies and regulations. For instance, fundamental policies regarding cross-border data flows enable digital platforms to innovate and provide value. It is imperative for governments and digital platforms to engage in a multi-stakeholder process aimed at developing responsive regulations, thereby creating ample space for digital innovation while cooperating on specific safeguards.

Finally, close collaboration among stakeholders in the digital economy, including non-profit organisations, is crucial to optimise impact. A platform for sharing data and exchanging best practices would facilitate a more coordinated approach towards sustainable development.

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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.