Connectivity is the new oil. The more connected digitally a country is the wealthier they are. It’s a simple equation but a simple equation where ASEAN (The Association of Southeast Asian Nations) gets a failing grade. And this despite the ASEAN’s huge potential.
One of ASEAN’s strength is that it is young an dynamic. Over 50% of its 643 million people are under the age of 30And while ASEAN has a combined economy worth $2.5 trillion dollars economic, social and creative development is being held back by outdated internet connectivity.
While the Internet has reached most people in Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, and Singapore, more than 70% of people in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao P.D.R., and Myanmar are still offline and can’t fully participate in the digital economy. High-speed ASEAN trails China, Japan, and Korea except for Singapore.
This needs to change if ASEAN is to realize the true potential of it’s youth. The IMF has put together a very sobering blog on ASEAN’s digital connectivity.
Growing the digital economy depends on five key priorities:
- Internet connectivity must be universal and affordable
- The business climate must encourage competition, which spurs innovation
- Education systems must adapt workers’ skills to new demands for a digital future
- Countries need stronger safety nets to protect those displaced by automation
- Southeast nations should improve financial inclusion through technology and adapt their regulatory frameworks to manage the risks associated with fintech.
As a regional bloc, ASEAN is the fifth largest economy in the world, and with hundreds of millions of young people eager to join the digital revolution, there’s no better time to close the digital divide.