Front row (Left to right):
Professor Paul Cheung, Director of the Asia Competitiveness Institute and Professor (Practice) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy; Mr. Lim Siong Guan, Advisor to the Tech for Good Institute; Dr. Ming Tan, Executive Director of the Tech for Good Institute; Dr. Lim Sun Sun, Vice President, Partnerships and Engagement and Professor of Communication and Technology, College of Integrative Studies at Singapore Management University (SMU); Jeannie Lim, Manager, Government Affairs of Grab
Back row (Left to right):
Mr. Lim Yew Heng, Group Managing Director, Public Affairs & Grab for Business of Grab; Ms. Gladys Chun, General Counsel of Lazada Group; Professor Walter Edgar Theseira, Associate Professor, Economics & Head, Master of Management (Urban Transportation) Programme at the School of Business of Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS); Ms. Lee Sue-Ann, Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute; Dr. Chew Han Ei, Senior Research Fellow at IPS Social Lab at the Institute of Policy Studies; Mr. Ang Wee Keong, Assistant Chief Executive, International Group of Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA); Regina Ng, Partnership Lead of Tech For Good Institute.
Singapore’s digital economy is estimated to reach USD 30 billion by 2025. This growth is driven by the e-commerce and online travel sector, which is projected to contribute about USD 11 billion and USD 9 billion respectively within this timeframe. Singapore’s modern physical and digital infrastructure, a strong digital talent base, and robust Intellectual Property (IP) regulations have often been cited as key factors to a robust digital economy. Innovation was central to the conversation at the Singapore Roundtable. Singapore ranks seventh in WIPO’s Global Innovation Index but fourteenth in innovation outputs. Maintaining a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship was seen as vital not just for Singapore to maintain its position as forerunner in the region, but also to enable prosperity and sustainable development across Southeast Asia through regional cooperation. Other issues such as inclusion and equity, skills, safety and security, and the polarising of the political sphere were also top of mind for participants.
Attendees and discussants:
- Mr. Lim Siong Guan, Advisor to the Tech for Good Institute
- Dr. Ming Tan, Executive Director of the Tech for Good Institute
- Mr. Ang Wee Keong, Assistant Chief Executive, International Group of Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA)
- Professor Paul Cheung, Director of the Asia Competitiveness Institute and Professor (Practice) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
- Dr. Chew Han Ei, Senior Research Fellow at IPS Social Lab at the Institute of Policy Studies
- Ms. Gladys Chun, General Counsel of Lazada Group
- Ms. Lee Sue-Ann, Senior Fellow at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute
- Dr. Lim Sun Sun, Vice President, Partnerships and Engagement and Professor of Communication and Technology, College of Integrative Studies at Singapore Management University (SMU)
- Mr. Lim Yew Heng, Group Managing Director, Public Affairs & Grab for Business of Grab
- Professor Walter Edgar Theseira, Associate Professor, Economics & Head, Master of Management (Urban Transportation) Programme at the School of Business of Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS)
Key Insights from the roundtable
Singapore needs to foster a propensity to curiosity and courage to fail
How might Singapore be the innovation hub and business node for Southeast Asia? Singapore has the fundamentals, but innovation requires more than systems.
Innovation and entrepreneurship is catalysed through curiosity about opportunities in the region, approached with a creative frame of mind, openness to collaboration and appetite for risk.
A friendly neighbourhood starts at home
As a small country, Singapore needs to continually foster a gracious and welcoming mindset to shape digitalisation in the service of society, future generations to come and the region. A network of interconnected relationships and a culture of mutual respect for individual differences are needed to build a trusted and conducive environment for cooperation and collaboration among diverse stakeholders from the private, public and civil societies, and within and across countries. Together, a coordinated effort can help to achieve impactful outcomes.
Innovation must be inclusive and fit for purpose
Singapore’s mandate of the “digital-first” approach is held up as a role model for other countries, especially for public services such as welfare programmes, assistance grants, and healthcare. Yet, the digital gap exists amongst vulnerable populations such as the elderly. A survey by the Ministry for Communications and Information (MCI) showed that 34% of Singaporeans in their 60s do not know how to pay using their smartphones. Among those aged 70 and above, the proportion rises to 60%. A commitment to inclusive adoption is essential, to ensure that no one is excluded from an increasingly digitalised society. This requires more than whole-of-government coordination; Singapore needs a whole-of-society effort.
Meaningful progress also means aligning innovation with national and regional goals. Driving adoption for economic productivity must be balanced with consideration on the impact of technology and technology-enabled business models on citizens with different skills. For example, does technology that reduces a worker’s runway to productivity erode the returns on experience for another? Ultimately, meaningful participation in the digital economy needs to benefit workers in the long run, offering a path for personal and professional advancement.
The “people-element’ in digital trust
Trust is about earning the social licence to operate. In the ever-changing landscape of the digital economy, the notion of trust in the digital realm is more important than ever, transcending technical security of systems to ensuring safety of individuals and communities. For example, Tech for Good Institute’s research in the digital financial services space showed trust is granted to the institutions using these technologies, not to the technologies themselves.
Beyond the critical realm of cybersecurity lies a deeper and equally pivotal facet – the relational element of trust. As Singapore charts its next phase of growth, it is imperative to recognise and nurture the interpersonal dynamics that foster a sense of reliability and confidence in digital interactions. Such trust is particularly vital in the political sphere, in which the polarising effect of social media and use of technology to amplify narratives have had a profound impact on ideology and political outcomes. Meaningful progress also means aligning innovation with national and regional goals.
Incorporating the relational-element approach to digital trust means not only safeguarding sensitive data and systems but also cultivating robust relationships between individuals, organisations, and digital platforms. This encompasses transparent communication, ethical data handling and flow, and a mutual commitment to shared digital values. By fostering an environment where trust is nurtured through meaningful engagements, Singapore can play a part in ensuring that the digital landscape for Southeast Asia remains resilient, adaptable and grounded in the confidence of its people.
To read more about our Malaysia Roundtable on the Digital Economy, please click here.