Need for Asia to close gaps in digital inclusivity

Photo by Anthony Shkraba

The Economist Events hosted its inaugural Technology for Change Week Asia virtually on March 8th-12th 2021. The event brought together more than 70 cross-industry expert speakers and 1,800 delegates from both private and public sectors to discuss how technology and data-driven solutions can ensure that no adult or child is left behind in an increasingly digital world.

 The virtual week kicked off with a live ministerial keynote to discuss how territories in Asia can strive to be regional and global leaders in driving connectivity and digital inclusivity. S. Iswaran, Minister of communications and information, Minister-in-charge of trade relations, Republic of Singapore shared:

“Digitalisation is a means to an end, and therefore, by digital inclusion, what we [Singapore] mean is every citizen and member of society must feel that they have a place in this digital economy and they stand to benefit.

“If you are an SME owner, this is not just a play for the big boys, you too can benefit and in fact digitalisation is a great democratiser of the economy, creating fantastic new opportunities to access the market.”

Echoing Minister Iswaran later in the day, Dan Neary, Vice-president, Asia-Pacific, Facebook commented: “In early stages, while many think SMEs will be disproportionately impacted by the pandemic in a negative sense due to lack of resources, what we are seeing is while catastrophic impact has been serious, the pivot to digital transformation is more pronounced among the SMEs than their global counterpart, which is inspirational.”

The second day of the event welcomed Audrey Tang, digital minister, Taiwan. Expressing her excitement for the future of Taiwan in co-creating social innovation with citizens, she shared:

“My hope is that more people will see democracy as a type of technology, a social technology that improves beyond just each person contributing through this every 4 year [the election], and can contribute at a much higher bit-rate of democracy using the day-to-day democratic participation as we have been deploying.”

The week also touched on digital education. On day three, Nadiem Makarim, Minister of education and culture, Republic of Indonesia highlighted that the limits of technology in education has never been so strongly proven than through the pandemic:

 “The science and research disprove the wish that AI could solve the issues we are facing in education. The emotional and physical presence of adult as mentor within a face-to-face interaction in the classroom is mission critical, and therefore the most important impact of technology has got to be enhancing and empowering the capability every teacher, principal and parent to be able to learn what it means to be a facilitator in the learning of a child.”

The full week of discussions came to an exciting conclusion with a live Q&A featuring questions from the audience to speakers from WWF, social sentiment analyst BrandsEye, decentralized AI network SingularityNET,  and the National University of Singapore.

The day was then concluded by Jason Wincuinas, senior editor, thought leadership Asia, The Economist Intelligence Unit’s remark: “The major headwinds of gaps in connectivity, digital inclusivity and digital fluency have been highlighted and need to be closed through proactive collaboration between public and private sectors”.