Understanding “Tech for Good” in Southeast Asia: Key Insights from Singapore

The Tech for Good Institute (TFGI) conducted a series of roundtable discussions across Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam to understand how “tech for good” may be realised in each country. The Singapore roundtable brought together policymakers, investors, digital economy companies, think-tanks and academics, who contributed their perspectives not just on how to grow the digital economy, but how the digital economy may advance sustainable, inclusive and equitable growth.

This study is made possible with the support of the AsiaTechX (ATX) Programme Office, Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) Singapore.

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.

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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.