September 25, 2018[caption id="attachment_24624" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Young people on their phones in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia: about 70 percent of the country does not have internet access and can’t participate in the digital economy (Samrang Pring/Reuters/Newscom)[/caption]
The countries of Southeast Asia are young—more than half of its 643 million people are under 30— and together they live in an economy of $2.8 trillion. The ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are moving toward greater economic integration, and the region should be at the tip of the digital spear. But it’s not that simple.
Hundreds of millions of young people are eager to join the digital revolution.
Our Chart of the Week from the latest issue of Finance and Development magazine shows a digital divide in the region. While the Internet has reached most people in Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, and Singapore, more than 70 percent of people in Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao P.D.R., and Myanmar remain offline and can’t fully participate in the digital economy. High-speed broadband is even more scarce. ASEAN trails China, Japan, and Korea. Singapore is the sole exception.
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.