In the latest issue of Insights, Asia House’s thought leadership publication, Stephanie Davis, Managing Director of Sales and Operations in Southeast Asia, Google, writes about how we can ensure everyone in Southeast Asia benefits from the digital revolution.
A decade ago, only one in five Southeast Asians (about 120 million people) had access to the internet. Today, more than 360 million people are online — 100 million more than just four years ago. People are using technology to improve their lives, businesses are using the internet as a platform to grow, and industries like ride hailing and e-commerce are developing around a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism.
The latest eConomy Southeast Asia report from Google, Temasek and Bain & Company confirms that the region’s internet economy will reach US$100 billion in 2019; three times its size in 2015, and with no sign of slowing down any time soon.
By 2025, the report forecasts Southeast Asia’s internet economy will have tripled again to reach US$300 billion—while its contribution to regional GDP will have more than doubled to hit 8.5 per cent. With non-metro areas catching up to big cities and a young, mobile-savvy population keeping the entire region at the forefront of digital trends, it’s a time of unprecedented growth and opportunity.
We should all celebrate this remarkable transformation. But just as importantly, we should focus on the things we need to do to make sure that everyone in Southeast Asia can benefit from the next wave of growth.
“Today, more than 360 million people are online in Southeast Asia —100 million more than just four years ago”
First, we need to expand access to the internet more widely and equitably across the region. The eConomy Southeast Asia report found that only half of the people online in the region are regularly using internet economy services like ride hailing or online media. And 200 million people still don’t have access to the internet at all.
Second, we have to help people develop the skills they need for the changing economy. More than 40 per cent of small businesses in ASEAN say they don’t have the necessary digital skills to grow, and the report identifies talent as the biggest single challenge for the regional internet economy as a whole.
Third, we have to develop policies and regulations that support business and jobs. The report singles out digital payments as an area where well-designed regulation could foster new financial services and a thriving industry, as it has in India.
At Google, we’re proud to provide the universally available services that help Southeast Asians navigate and thrive on the internet, from search, email and maps to our advertising tools for businesses and the creative opportunities of YouTube.
At the same time, we recognise we have a broader role to play in making sure the benefits of the internet are shared widely with millions more people across the region – working in partnership with government, businesses and communities.
Meeting that responsibility is why we’re working to expand internet access with Google Station, an initiative that provides fast, secure and free public WiFi in public spaces across the region.
It’s why we’ve committed to teach three million Southeast Asians digital skills, with a particular focus on women, regional communities and schools. And it’s why as well as supporting training programs like Gapura Digital in Indonesia and Digital 4.0 in Vietnam, we’re working with governments to support startups, advance digital knowledge and literacy, and protect people’s safety and privacy online.
“More than 40 per cent of small businesses in ASEAN say they don’t have the necessary digital skills to grow”
It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to help shape the future of technology in this diverse, dynamic and entrepreneurial region.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen how access to the internet in Southeast Asia can improve lives and empower business owners in ways that wouldn’t have been possible in the past. Our challenge now is to make sure that all Southeast Asians have the digital skills, tools and platforms they need to shine in an online economy that continues to scale new heights.
This article is featured in Insights, Issue 3 (November 2019).
DOWNLOAD the latest edition now [PDF]