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There are opportunities in every crisis and businesses are ready to grab them

Written by Georg Ackermann Published on 

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The Techsauce Virtual Summit debated the future after COVID-19.

As countries around the world are opening up their economies, optimism is clearly back in the business world. The mood at the first Techsauce Virtual Summit this weekend was unmistakably upbeat. “I’m optimistic we will see inspiring innovations and new ways of working that will propel this region’s economic recovery,” said UK trade commissioner Natalie Black in the opening keynote.

Oranuch “Mimee” Lerdsuwankij, co-founder and CEO of Techsauce, still remembers how much pain the 1997 Asian financial crisis caused to her family. “In life we face many obstacles,” she said in her welcome address. “However, there are people who see opportunity in a crisis and try to build something new.” Lerdsuwankij shared probably the most alarming note of the day when she mentioned that 60% of startups and SMEs surveyed by Techsauce have less than 6 months of cash runway.

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Southeast Asia took the center stage in the first panel. Gita Wirjawan, founder of Ancora Group and a former Indonesian trade minister, underscored that 650 million people and a USD 3 trillion dollar economy provide a scale that no other region has. He highlighted how much ground Indonesia has covered in the past years thanks to a technological boost: “It has been transitioning in a much faster and bigger way to a much more virtual and digital paradigm.” The country increased financial inclusion which now stands at 49% of the population, but still far away from the 98% in Singapore, according to Wirjawan.

The insufficient financial inclusion led to “reverse migration” during the pandemic, claimed Sopnendu Mohanty, chief fintech officer of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Workers returned to their villages, as the lack of insurance and pension plans made their lives in the cities unsustainable. Mohanty stressed the importance of “digital empathy,” the need to take into account the human factor when designing the apps for the future. On the other side, he foresees the “digitization of everything”, where no business will be able to survive with traditional, analogue processes.

COVID-19 as a catalyst

For Former Thai finance minister Korn Chatikavanij, the present situation requires agility. Although he thinks that his government has to show more of it, he recognizes that Thailand has been agile in launching its virus tracking app. “COVID-19 can be a catalyst to make government and bureaucracy change,” he said.

Taiwan has been a poster child for digital government. “We have digital democracy,” said Audrey Tang, the Taiwanese digital minister. A programmer by trade (“I’m a person who talks javascript”), Tang explained how they do things differently, for example by using funny memes to reach people that are not interested in politics. “We don’t collect any more data that we absolutely need to do,” said Tang. Taiwan didn’t mandate the download of an app when the pandemic hit, but proactively used existing technologies, such as social media and cell phone towers, to monitor the spread of the virus. “If you have a strong technology, but citizens don’t understand it, they will distrust the technology,” said Tang in a virtual fireside chat.

Data to the people

“Estonian citizens trust e-governance,” argued the Baltic state’s vice minister for economic affairs Viljar Lubi. 450 institutions, 150 of them public, offer 3,000 different services. “E-solutions have to be secure and convenient,” said Lubi. The administration uses a decentralized setup—there is no “super-database” that can be hacked. “Citizens own the data,” he said. They receive an alert when someone checks their file and they can always ask why that happened. “We don’t have to queue at any of our public offices,” he said. “I can establish a company here, or in Bangkok, right now, in 20 minutes.” Foreigners can become e-residents and, in fact, already established 15,000 companies. “We have made ourselves bigger,” Lubi explained proudly.

“Respect your customer,” warned Dr. Andreas Weigend, a former chief scientist with Amazon. “If people see no value, they will not use it.” Weigand worked with the Singaporean and German government on digital projects and was surprised that even Singapore failed in getting its citizens to use the tracing app. “What is a responsible and ethical use for the technology we have now?” he asked, surprised by the recent advancements in face recognition technology. Weigand got his hands on a new tool from the company Clearview AI that is able—with a simple photo of a person’s face—to search the web for similar pictures, showing very reliable results. His message for the Techsauce audience: “Those who know how to use data will win the race.”

KrASIA is a media partner of the event.

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