Vietnam (RedFOX Labs) — Digital purchases are an ever-growing trend among residents of Southeast Asia. On display within Google’s 2019 ‘e-Conomy SEA’ report is an undeniable hunger for online spending.

With the vast majority of the population walking around with smartphones, Internet access is more prevalent than ever. Over 90% of Southeast Asians have no other means to access the web. In other words, nearly everyone carries a link to the Internet economy everywhere they go.

However, while the region’s online shoppers grabbed $100 billion in goods and services this year alone, that jumbo figure fails to realize its full potential. Although the number of web-connected citizens is on the rise, half of the region’s users do little more than browse social media.

Image credit: Google, Temasek, Bain & Company

Among the 360 million Internet users in Southeast Asia’s ‘Big Six’ countries — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Phillippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — only 180 million utilize online services.

Several conditions force Internet users into the group not yet participating in the Internet economy. For starters, per Google’s report, only one in four Southeast Asians have adequate access to financial services. In Vietnam, for example, 62% of the adult population lacks any form of insurance, credit, or bank account. Despite residents’ desire to benefit from the Internet economy, digital exclusion means they can’t and won’t.

Solving the problem of digital exclusion begins with the opposite approach — digital inclusion. As the term implies, digital inclusion refers to taking steps to ensure that everyone in every community can access the entire spectrum of the digital economy’s offerings.

Today, multiple organizations are helping to upgrade Southeast Asians’ technological skillsets. Companies of all sizes are opening doors leading to improved livelihoods via access to the digital economy.

Grabbing an Opportunity to do Good

Southeast Asia’s favorite super app, Grab, recently unveiled its ‘Grab for Good’ program, which aims to usher locals into the region’s prospering Internet ecosystem.

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Under its new program, Grab hopes to enable digital literacy for three million Southeast Asians by 2025 — the same year Google’s report forecasts the region to cross $300 billion in digital spending. Grab’s methods for increasing digital inclusion involve partnerships with governments, private organizations, and nonprofits.

One such partnership is with tech giant Microsoft. Andrea Della Mattea, President of Microsoft in the Asia-Pacific region, had this to say about the two companies’ collaboration:

“One of the challenges we see in the Asia-Pacific region is the democratization of education. We believe education, specifically tech and digital literacy, should be accessible to everyone. This encourages ingenuity, computational thinking, and problem-solving skills, all of which are key to the future. We’re excited to launch a pathway to develop a digitally inclusive workforce across the APAC region with Grab, which will improve the trajectory of generations to come. Our mission — to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more — is something we care deeply about. Together with Grab, we are building a skilled workforce that will transform families, communities, and countries to create the world of tomorrow.”

While entrenched unicorns such as Grab create skilled workers to help accelerate the adoption rate of SEA’s Internet economy, stalwart startups use similar tactics.

Local Empowerment

RedFOX Labs, Southeast Asia’s first blockchain venture builder, employs a local-first business model. Per the organization’s D.B.O.T. — Design, Build, Operate, Transfer — mode of operation, regional experts gain the skills to run ventures of their own.

Image credit: Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

By identifying unicorn companies — primarily operating from the U.S. and China — then replicating those businesses in SEA, RedFOX consistently adds to the region’s talent pool.

Ben Fairbank, CEO and co-founder of RedFOX Labs, commented on the company’s business practices:

“Locally-run ventures are natural additions to Southeast Asia’s rapidly-growing digital economy. By working alongside experts familiar with the intricacies and sentiments unique to their region, essentially injecting talent into the digital ecosystem, we help fuel economic expansion, one country at a time.”

Further bolstering RedFOX’s resolve to elevate SEA’s digital inclusion is the organization’s upcoming cashback and rewards app. Residents of Myanmar — with future iterations headed for Vietnam and the Philippines — will soon receive a simple method for entering the Internet economy.

For some users, this will lead to their very first online purchase. Also, because most Asian eCommerce sites offer Cash on Delivery, app users gain a gateway to the Internet economy without the need for conventional banking or credit accounts.

By laying an assortment of frameworks for Southeast Asia’s economic expansion, Grab, Microsoft, and RedFOX Labs are each doing their part to help make 2020 the year of digital inclusion.