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Democratising ASEAN’s digital sphere

In the last decade, digital technologies have had a profound transformative effect on ASEAN’s economies and societies. For example, Grey Wolf, a Burmese startup, combines traditional wood carving techniques with computer-controlled 3D carving technology to create wooden phone cases. In Malaysia, a young woman with a passion for baking has created a growing online brand called KekMolek. Across Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, several young social entrepreneurs are transforming the lives of local farmers and fishermen with the Internet of Things and other cloud-based technologies.

These are just a handful of ASEAN’s digitalisation success stories highlighted by the ASEAN Coordinating Committee on Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in a publication released in 2018, at the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit (ABIS) in Singapore.

But this pace of development comes with its own unique set of challenges. In a region of more than 600 million people, increased connectivity does not necessarily translate into equal access for all. Significant sections of the ASEAN economy still do not get the benefits of modern technology.

The digital divide between the emerging economies of Southeast Asia and the more developed nations is stark. This is at its widest in nations like Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar less than 50 per cent of the population use the internet. In contrast, nations like Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia fare better with around 80 per cent.

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