On 22 February 2023, the Tech for Good Institute conducted a roundtable discussion with leaders in the Singapore tech ecosystem to discuss how technology and the digital economy may support Singapore’s growth and development.
Eleven (11) participants from the public, private and civil spheres shared their perspectives on what “tech for good” meant to them and their respective organisations and provided action-oriented recommendations to advance it for the country.
The Roundtable surfaced key themes of inclusion through connectivity, digital literacy and capacity building. As participation grows and deepens, building trust in the digital economy and ecosystem are imperative if growth is to be sustained. This can be achieved through evidence-driven, consultative policymaking that takes a holistic and responsive approach to driving innovation and inclusive growth.
Moving beyond compliance to achieve social impact
- Doing good for society is more than compliance with existing rules and regulations. Distinguishing between compliance (for profit’s sake) and social impact (for society’s sake) will maximise the potential of DECs to contribute to society. Compliance regulations set the baseline standards DECs need to follow to maintain a licence to operate. There is an opportunity however to further enhance incentives to make it easier for DECs to pursue social impact programmes. The government and DECs should coordinate with one another to complement the existing regulatory environment with efficient incentive schemes.
- Singapore offers a wide array of grants and subsidies that are offered to DECs. One way to promote social impact is to incorporate ESG pillars in allocating the grants and subsidies. For example, the government and investors can highlight the need for ESG initiatives as a criteria for availing of the incentive schemes. DECs with high impact potential can be prioritised. This would also help breed a new generation of DECs with a stronger focus on sustainability and social responsibility.
- Both producers and consumers in the digital economy should observe “ethical consumption”. Ethical consumption refers to the practice of being mindful and intentional of the choices in the digital economy. For businesses, this means sourcing out to suppliers who have more sustainable business practices. For consumers, this entails being conscious of the kinds of products and services that are made available to them. This has cascading effects which goes a long way in promoting social impact in the digital economy.
Addressing “invisible digital illiteracy” will encourage more productive use of technology
- There should be a higher level of discourse around digital adoption and the use of technology for more productive use. While Singapore has made investments in access and infrastructure, the challenge is to enable the population to leverage technology to improve their quality of life.
- Digital competency programs are needed not only for businesses and MSMEs but also for the individual to address the “invisible illiteracy”. This term pertains to people who are digitally literate, but not for the right value. A difference should be made between those who use the digital space for upskilling and re-skilling from those whose consumption of technology is centred on recreation. The goal is to equip digital society with the correct mindset to thrive in the digital economy.
- Singapore aims to empower its citizens to be confident users of the digital economy. This means that Singaporean lives are supported and enhanced by technology, but users are not overly reliant on it. In addition to digital competency, this confidence can be achieved through strengthening data protection and adopting best practices in cybersecurity.
Mitigating risks through capacity development and policy innovation
- Singapore is focused on enhancing security while it pursues to be a global hub for digital services. There are currently initiatives in place to improve the security posture of DECs in Singapore. However, the focus must also involve the MSMEs, who hold a great potential to be integrated into the global value chain. There is an opportunity for MSMEs to be third-party suppliers for larger firms. To encourage their participation in the value chain, the government and DECs should consider supporting MSMEs to develop the necessary capabilities to be secure. This would help achieve a trusted ecosystem for Singapore to be globally competitive and attract more investments to the country.
- Policy innovation will also help in mitigating risks. One of the best practices in policy innovation is to implement sandboxes. Singapore has several sandbox initiatives in place to test products and policies before it is rolled out for society to use. For example, the government recently launched a sandbox for privacy-enhancing technologies.
- Singapore would also benefit from exercising “predictive interventions” in policymaking. Taking an anticipatory approach will facilitate seamless adoption of emerging technologies, while keeping an eye on the possible risks.
To read the national-level priorities of Singapore, please click on the link here.
This study is made possible with the support of the AsiaTechX (ATX) Programme Office, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) Singapore. A consolidated report of the six roundtables will be launched at ATXSG 2023.