Let the youngsters run Asean digital economy

Continued trust from the powers to the innovative youngsters will see the region developing its own ‘Asean Products’


THE growth of Asean’s digital economy now lies in the hands of the younger generation and start-ups that need to be facilitated and nurtured to ensure further exponential growth.

Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (picture) said continued trust from the powers to the innovative youngsters would see the region developing its own “Asean Products”.

He said one of the ways is to increase connectivity that could be leveraged by the youngsters in South-East Asia, while ensuring the security within the cyberspace as a safe venue to do business.

Speaking to the press after holding a virtual media conference of the Asean Digital Ministers’ Meeting (ADGMIN1) last Friday, Saifuddin said should such an initiative be neglected, Asean would lose its talent in spearheading the digitalisation and e-commerce trade in the region and globally.

“They have high skill and talents. Maybe even now, the interaction between these groups in Malaysia with their partners in Asean already existed.

“They could come out with a product branded ‘made in Asean’ — which we have not heard yet… Maybe such a product has already existed but (we do not know) because there is a lack of promotion.

“However, what we were thinking was, how we can give facilitation to the youngsters in the start-ups or in further developing their technologies. That is the future move that we are looking at,” Saifuddin said.

Asean’s attractive investment market, along with an expansive digital environment, has led to the emergence of a vibrant start-up ecosystem across the region.

According to global consultant Bain & Co, the rise in venture capitalists and private-equity investment in the region has helped produce the region’s first set of unicorns — companies that rapidly achieve market valuations of at least US$1 billion (RM4.04 billion).

As of 2018, Asean had 10 unicorn start-ups and the number is set to grow in the next decade, with at least 10 more companies reaching unicorn status.

Among these unicorns are Grab, a ride-hailing business that is now one of the region’s largest companies, Go-Jek from Indonesia — now a rival for Grab and Vietnam’s first-ever unicorn start-up, VNG Corp, which specialises in online gaming and e-commerce.

In a nutshell, start-ups which provide fintech, e-commerce and on-demand services are growing from strength to strength in the region.

Saifuddin said 64% of South-East Asians are now below 40 years of age, and they form the bulk of the region’s workforce, that is young, literate and tech-savvy.

“We need to acknowledge that the digitalisation world must be moved by the young generations. They are the ones who are very IT-savvy, so we need to pass this baton if we really want to move to the Asean economy, especially in the digital economy.

“We need to ensure that we put the trust on the young people to pursue this agenda among their partners,” Saifuddin said.

At the inaugural ADGMIN1 meeting hosted by Malaysia, all ministers from each country also expressed their commitment to furthering deepening cooperation with their dialogue and development partners in enhancing digital cooperation.

This also includes the development of human resources, exploring emerging technologies for adoption and improving the capacity to address cybersecurity risks in the implementation of the Asean Digital Masterplan 2025.

In a joint statement released at the end of the ADGMIN1, the ministers also reiterated Asean’s commitment to pursue policy and regulatory dialogue with both dialogue and development partners.

They also called for greater participation from the private sector to jointly develop quality information and technology communication infrastructure and services, including protecting Critical Information Infrastructures as highlighted at the 5th Asean Ministerial Conference on Cybersecurity and to improve Asean’s competitiveness to support the goals of the Asean community.

Chaired by Saifuddin, the meeting, themed “Asean: A Digitally Connected Community”, began with the senior officials’ discussion which could only be held virtually from Kuala Lumpur due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

It was participated by all 10 Asean member states namely Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Among others, the Asean ministers addressed its commitment on the collaboration with various countries in the multiple digital aspects including China, Japan, South Korea, India, the European Union and the US.