Innovation is more than just technology

This article explores how digital innovations such as AI, 5G, and IoT can boost the Philippines' development goals at the intersection of technology and policy. It examines the impact of digital financial services on the underbanked, challenges posed by outdated regulations, and the potential benefits of regulatory sandboxes in promoting inclusive economic growth.

Note: This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer under the "Business Matters" column, which is a project of the Makati Business Club (makatibusinessclub@mbc.com.ph).

By: Keith Detros, Programme Manager, Tech For Good Institute and Dr. Roberto Martin Galang, Dean of John Gokongwei School of Management at Ateneo de Manila University

In partnership with Ateneo de Manila University and the Makati Business Club, the Tech for Good Institute organised a public seminar last May 23, highlighting how the full potential of the Philippine digital economy may be realised for inclusive, equitable, and sustainable growth.

The discussion focused on enabling an innovative environment for digital solutions to contribute to the nation’s broader development goals. Emerging technologies such as the internet of things, 5G, and artificial intelligence have the potential to change how Filipinos live. However, technology alone is not enough. Business model innovation is needed to bring fit-for-purpose solutions to market at scale.

Take digital financial services for example.

Developments in digital finance make it possible to serve the underbanked, both individuals and micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). In the Tech for Good Institute’s study of MSMEs in 2021, approximately 60% of those who had taken digital loans were previously unable to access financing from traditional sources. In addition, Ateneo and the Social Enterprise Development Partnerships, Inc. note that access to finance is crucial for small businesses, including nano-retailers and nano-enterprises, as loans are a means to grow livelihoods.

To help address financial inclusion, digital financial providers lean on technology and business model innovations to leverage alternative sources of data, such as transaction data, to develop credit risk models. In the Philippines, for example, GCash is able to extend financial services to over 4.5 million borrowers as of May 2024 through its various digital financial solutions on credit, loans, and insurance.

Digital financial services is just one example. Business model innovations in other sectors, such as distance learning, telemedicine, ride-hailing, and parcel delivery, also continue to transform the way Filipinos access goods and services.

Yet, while technology moves fast, government policies move at a slower pace. The recent signing of the implementing rules and regulations of the Internet Transactions Act is a testament to the government’s commitment to provide regulatory certainty on consumer protection and the development of the e-commerce landscape. There is, however, more work to be done.

Outdated regulations hinder ease of doing business and also introduce compliance burden, especially to MSMEs who want to move into the digital space. For example, local government unit business permit requirements and Bureau of Internal Revenue regulations include zoning, sanitary, occupancy permits, and receipt notices—which automatically assume businesses occupy a physical office or retail space.

A way forward is for the government, the private sector, and academia to collaborate on the governance of emerging technologies and new business models. There is space for coregulation, particularly in understanding the full impact of digital solutions on society.

One best practice is through sandbox initiatives. Sandboxes are regulatory frameworks that allow for live testing of innovative technologies or policies in a controlled, time-bound manner. The goal is to test innovation, mitigate unintended consequences, and foster regulatory learning. This is not new, as in fact, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has adopted a regulatory sandbox framework in 2022 to encourage the development of new financial products and services that utilise emerging technologies. While this is a good start, the other industries can benefit from having sandbox practices as well.

As governments and the private sector collaborate, universities and think tanks can provide a safe space for incubating innovative ideas. This includes fostering entrepreneurship, studying policy impacts, and serving as repositories of open data. Through a whole-of-society approach, digital stakeholders must work together to shape the country’s digital transformation effectively.

Impactful innovation requires more than just technological breakthroughs. Just as important are the business model and policy innovations we are able to encourage. There will always be new technologies on the horizon, so we must have operational space and agility in both the private and public sectors to take advantage of them. If we cannot evolve quickly enough, the Philippines might miss the boat on leveraging transformative solutions for sustainable development. Adopting this holistic view on innovation will help unlock an inclusive Philippine digital economy.

About the writers

Keith Detros is program lead of the Tech for Good Institute. Roberto Martin Galang is dean of the John Gokongwei School of Management of Ateneo de Manila University.

 

The views and recommendations expressed in this article are solely of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views and position of the Tech for Good Institute.

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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.