Spotlight on Regional Issues At World Economic Forum on ASEAN
Leaders consider ASEAN's future direction [Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abzspVpP89s]
Last week, I represented Infosys at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN in Kuala Lumpur. The theme of the conference - Shaping the ASEAN Agenda for Inclusion and Growth - couldn't have been more relevant. Southeast Asia is experiencing great economic growth and urbanization, but that kind of social improvement doesn't include everyone. Granted, the ten-member states of ASEAN all share similar cultures and histories by virtue of geography. But that's where the similarities end. There is Singapore and Brunei on one hand, with their pristine streets, skyscrapers, and some of the wealthiest populations on the planet. Then there is Cambodia, with a largely rural and poor population.
This year's conference focused on public and private partnerships to address some of the areas that need immediate attention, such as education, infrastructure, transportation, and unemployment, to bring about parity between the developed and poorer countries in the region. And for such initiatives to succeed, digital - as the great enabler of our times - must connect 625 million people in the ASEAN region. It was heartening to witness unanimous faith of leaders from political, social and business communities in digital technologies in accelerating changes, improvements and benefits in the ASEAN region. The perfect confluence of needs, collective intent to address these and opportunities.
One area in which digital would make an incredible difference is education. For example, the Malaysia's Ministry of Education has ensured that all of the country's 10,000 schools have 4G Internet available to students. Plus, the Ministry has developed a virtual learning platform. Now, suppose you take a classroom in an urban area with a teacher and then connect that classroom to hundreds of others in remote farming areas so that all children can receive the same high-quality education. Just think: hundreds of classrooms in rural Malaysia have a virtual teacher who students follow on a digitally-connected computer screen. That's bringing scale through technology.
And technology, not necessary digital, can do so much for the region. For example, the ASEAN nations are bearing the brunt of a huge population movement into cities, many of which are already congested. There is a reason that cities in the region continue to see an influx of rural populations: they are looking for work. What if a bullet train (a rail system that moves people at 300 kilometers an hour) could connect cities in places like Cambodia and Laos with the farming regions? Rapid public transit could allow rural populations to take advantage of good jobs in growing cities without having to move into them, where the cost of living is far more expensive.
As a first-time WEF delegate, it was awesome to see leaders from different walks of life coming together to initiate important discussions of our time. This included human trafficking, which unfortunately is plaguing the region. Due to corruption, the situation has continued to worsen. The regional leaders at WEF ASEAN discussed how they have a shared responsibility to protect those that are most vulnerable, especially children and women.
Regional WEFs like this one, which have grown in numbers over the years, create spaces for deep dive into local issues - that may not be discussed at length in Davos, which has a global emphasis. More so, it enables regionally-tailored dialogues between business leaders, policymakers and non-profits - leading to actionable insights, which can be executed now.