From recovery to transformation
The Edges of Southeast Asia series aims to showcase examples that go beyond opportunities of digitalisation to reveal unseen stories of inclusion, renewal, sustainability, evolving identity and aesthetic. The Deloitte Center for the Edge, together with the Singapore Economic Development Board and the US-ASEAN Business Council, have sought to curate and showcase the Edges of Southeast Asia, shining a light on the emerging bright spots of creativity and innovation in the region.
Southeast Asia is a region of cultural diversity, vibrant opportunities, and youthful optimism. Somewhere between the skyscrapers and tuk tuks in bustling city centers, on beautiful tourist beaches, in rural farms, and flowing down the Mekong river, edges are pushing boundaries of our imagination. Edges have the potential to disrupt how people live, work and play, in the future.
As the world begins to look to the horizon of recovery from the pandemic, Southeast Asia is aspiring beyond, to a more ambitious horizon of transformation.
The Edges of Southeast Asia
The digital future of mom-and-pop retail
Warung Pintar | The digital future of mom-and-pop retail
Warung Pintar, which means “smart kiosk” in the Indonesian language, is leading the digitalisation of the traditional warung, a mom-and-pop micro-retail outfit that provides day-to-day consumer goods for the immediate vicinity, and is valued for its convenience and grassroots familiarity. By offering warung owners a digital-ready turnkey solution that includes a pre-fabricated storefront, a digitised supply chain system, and a fully integrated app that enables product and order tracking, and dashboard monitoring, Warung Pintar helps these micro-businesses run more efficiently and profitably, while providing a better retail experience for their customers.
Why it matters
The informal cash economy is one of the last frontiers that remains untapped in an increasingly data-driven world. Estimated to be about 22% of Indonesia’s GDP, with similar or even higher rates in neighbouring countries, it continues to be a significant sector with few details available to provide a good understanding of the segment. With 95.6% of warung owners already using the internet, the key to introducing traceability and digitalisation to a major part of the informal economy may already be at our fingertips.
Beyond the Indonesian warung, similar formats in other countries–like the sari-sari store in the Philippines and the kirana store in India–remain major retail channels locally and they face the common challenge of modern trade formats such as the minimart encroaching on their market share. Digital solutions for mom-and-pop stores are not just for this massive class of micro-entrepreneurs to better understand consumer habits and demands. These solutions also help to professionalise their store operations, increasing their competitiveness.
Grab & Gojek
Superapp-powered economic development
Grab & Gojek | Superapp-powered economic development
Grab and Gojek are prominent technology startups in Southeast Asia that have produced superapps – single smartphone applications that provide users with a myriad of on-demand services. Gojek started as a motorcycle-taxi call centre in Indonesia, while Grab started with on-demand taxi services in Malaysia. Expanding beyond transportation, both superapps have moved into food delivery, financial services, and more, and are becoming integral to the daily lives of many individuals across the region. Not only have they brought convenience to their customers, they have also empowered many with more self-employment opportunities, be it through expanding the gig economy or by offering merchant tools to small and medium enterprises.
Why it matters
Superapps are becoming increasingly important to the welfare and livelihoods of many people in Southeast Asia, and they embody the potential of the mobile internet economy to change the norms of society. Projected to triple from US$100 billion in 2019 to US$300 billion by 2025, with the potential to grow at twice the rate in non-metropolitan areas compared to that of metropolitan areas, the internet economy is expected to become a path to economic inclusion for underserved regions and communities.
By adopting mobile-first internet-enabled services, Southeast Asian consumers are also leaving digital footprints. With a treasure trove of user data collected by the superapps and others like them, better customer insights can now be formed. As was the case in China’s internet economy, which was transformed by Tencent’s WeChat superapp, better insights can spur even greater innovations. This may range from alternative credit systems for consumer loans, to new services that will suit hyperlocal habits even better.
Fintech for the underbanked
Zalopay | Fintech for the underbanked
ZaloPay is one of Vietnam’s leading mobile payment platforms. Established by homegrown technology company VNG in 2016 to accelerate the cashless payment trend in the country, ZaloPay connects with 34 banks and provides a huge range of consumer financial services, including bill payments and phone credit top-ups. With the integration of ZaloPay into Zalo, the most popular messenger platform in Vietnam, 100 million Zalo users are able to link their bank accounts to their mobile phones for peer-to-peer money transfers and other services. With this move, ZaloPay not only achieved a massive increase in its user base, but also paved the way for it to become a superapp in Vietnam.
Why it matters
The growth of finance apps point to a future where mobile payments, e-wallets, and new forms of digital financial transactions may replace current norms of using physical cash and cards. Asia Pacific is leading the world with this change, with the number of finance application downloads jumping from 383 million in 2014 to 1.8 billion in 2018.
With the growth of smartphone adoption, financial technology is opening up new possibilities for payment, remittances, savings, loans, and other banking services to be transacted and accessed more cheaply and efficiently than before. More importantly, it is helping to improve the financial inclusion of the 70% of consumers who are estimated to be underbanked or unbanked in Southeast Asia today. By improving both the financial products and the customer experience, digital-first finance services like ZaloPay are giving traditional financial institutions a run for their money.
Muslim fashion, modesty, and the Western Gaze
Zalopay | Fintech for the underbanked
Mimpikita, which means ‘our dreams’ in the Malay language, is a fashion label set up by three sisters from Malaysia. From their beginnings in 2008 as an online blogshop, Mimpikita has grown to become a representative for the Muslim fashionista at the London Fashion Week and the London Modest Fashion Week. It made its runway debut in 2015. Though not intended to be a modest fashion brand initially, Mimpikita has attracted a huge customer base of hijab-wearing Muslim women. This could be due in part to the hijab-wearing founders having garnered huge followings on social media over the years, making them fashion trendsetters for a segment that generally has not been represented in global fashion marketing.
Why it matters
With the modest fashion market forecasted to expand from US$283 billion in 2018 to US$402 billion by 2024, internationally-acclaimed fashion weeks are embracing modest fashion, putting a spotlight on designers from countries with large Muslim populations, including those from Southeast Asia.
An emphasis on the modest fashion segment brings the voice of Muslim women to the mainstream and introduces diversity, heritage, and self- representation on the global fashion stage. From Dolce & Gabbana to H&M, fashion brands are responding to this phenomenon by rolling out new collaborations and collections that address this market, opening up options in modest dressing that are suitable not just for Muslims, but for everyone. Beyond sartorial selection, the 2017 launch of the Nike Pro Hijab, which the sporting goods company Nike had worked on alongside Muslim female athletes, also sent an inclusive and empowering message for Muslim women in the world to embrace their passion for sports.
Remixing the music business in a digital age
88rising | Remixing the music business in a digital age
88rising is a new-age media and music company promising to tell an authentic Asian story in an era of digital media. Since 2015, the US company has mentored a diverse mix of artists, including Rich Brian, NIKI and Stephanie Poetri from Indonesia, Chinese rap group Higher Brothers, and Japanese-Australian lo-fi R&B musician Joji. In 2018, Rich Brian’s debut album became the first album released by an Asian artiste to top the iTunes Hip Hop Chart. In 2019, Joji hit platinum in the US for his ballad. Beyond the US, 88rising partnered with Philippines-based mobile provider Globe in 2020 to launch PARADISE RISING, a platform to highlight Filipino talent. It also ran its first online music festival, ASIA RISING FOREVER, which had 8 million viewers across its social media channels.
Why it matters
The media landscape has changed, and more culturally diverse artists seem to be getting their break into global renown than before. This has significant knock-on effects, especially on tourism. For example, in 2017, 1 in 13 tourists in South Korea visited the country because of homegrown boyband BTS. Some also argue that the Puerto Rico saw a tourism spike from the “Despacito effect” in 2017 after the reggaeton number became a worldwide hit. Cultural bridging remains an inexact science, but the factors for cross-cultural appeal in an increasingly interconnected world are going to be important considerations for the success of future cultural exports.
As fans on social media look to popstars for authentic connection, artistry, and representation, media and music businesses have to rethink their presence and strategies in this internet age to appeal to the changing tastes of digital natives.
A sport or not a sport?
Free Fire | A sport or not a sport?
Developed by Southeast Asia gaming giant Garena, Free Fire was the most downloaded mobile game in the world in 2019 across both Android and iOS platforms. As of June 2020, it had over 100 million peak daily active users. The Free Fire World Series 2019 finals in Brazil recorded over 2 million concurrent viewers at its peak, setting a new record for the highest concurrent viewership for a mobile game esports event. In Indonesia, Free Fire partnered popular actor Joe Taslim to create a playable in-game character called Jota, modelled after Taslim himself. It also partnered with Netflix for a special in-game crossover with the global hit series, Money Heist.
Why it matters
Mobile gaming is becoming a significant segment of the burgeoning gaming industry. The Southeast Asian market is the fastest-growing mobile game market in the world, and it had grown 17.4% from 2018 to 2019. Apart from battle royale games like Free Fire, another popular genre is hyper-casual mobile games. An example of that would be Magic Tiles 3, a music game created by Vietnamese startup Amanotes that has been downloaded over 700 million times worldwide.
Beyond mobile gaming, the inclusion of the broader category of gaming as a medalled event at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games alongside other physical sports has also made the region a forerunner in mainstreaming esports. The growing recognition of esports as an industry and a popular spectator event, together with the changing media consumption habits powered by increasing smartphone use and improving internet speeds, will open up new brand marketing and advertising opportunities.
Global brands, local stores
Viddsee | Global brands, local stores
Viddsee started in 2013 as a platform for aspiring filmmakers in Southeast Asia to showcase their work to discerning audiences, making it easier for both sides to find each other amidst the proliferation of user-generated content on other video platforms. Having built up a community that now includes over 3,000 filmmakers across Southeast Asia, the company launched Viddsee Studios in 2017 to create premium long-form digital video content for brands and companies. With a strong understanding and ability to articulate local stories, they have worked with iconic brands such as Vaseline, Cornetto, Yomeishu, and the Singapore Tourism Board to articulate brand stories in a contextually-relevant way for their intended audience.
Why it matters
The new audience segments reached with increasing mobile internet penetration are also increasing the demand for local content, making it important for brands to act on local preferences to drive interest and engagement. With video-viewing expected to dominate overall internet traffic growth, representing 80% of all internet traffic by 2021, modern media platforms are critical for unearthing local talent and facilitating partnerships between corporations and creatives to deliver locally- relevant brand content.
Beyond Viddsee and its curated aesthetic, other crowd-sourced media platforms also serve the same function of talent discovery. In 2018, eight of the top 10 trending videos on YouTube in Singapore were locally produced or featured local talent, up from 5 in 2017. Apart from videos, platforms like Spotify have also helped to unearth and promote new music talent. Notably, Spotify has played a key role in enabling the resurgence of Original Pinoy Music (OPM) in the Philippines and beyond.
The unlikely social media entrepreneur
Anurak Seruethai | The unlikely social media entrepreneur
Anurak Saruethai, or Bang Hasun (“Brother Hasun”) as he is commonly known, is the son of a fisherman who lives in a Thai seaside village called Satun. Selling dried shrimp, squid, and fish on Facebook livestream, Saruethai’s rambunctious salesmanship has won him over a million followers on his business’s Facebook account and has made him a mini-celebrity. Hailed as a role model for modern entrepreneurship and winning business awards in Thailand, he has been covered extensively by the media and is used as a case study to teach about small business digitalisation. Saruethai is a testament to how the combination of social media, ecommerce, and modern logistics is creating new livelihood opportunities for those who are not located in urban centres.
Why it matters
Social media is becoming an increasingly important aspect for online sales as a platform to engage and interact with customers. Nearly 45% of Southeast Asian shoppers reported that conversational commerce - mainly through the use of social media and messaging platforms - had driven their first online purchase, compared to 27% in the US. The digital ability to have personalised interactions is bypassing conventional ecommerce storefronts to attract some consumer segments, and middle-aged women in middle-income households in Southeast Asian cities are leading the way.
Alleviating the burden of individually replying every potential customer, startups like Halosis from Indonesia and Jumper.ai from Singapore are integrating sales, marketing, customer service, and inventory solutions into chatbots that would take over from a user interaction on social media and turn engagement into sales and conversions.
Elevating artisanal crafts
Rags2Riches | Elevating artisanal crafts
Rags2Riches (R2R) is a social enterprise founded in 2007 in the Philippines that aims to provide a sustainable livelihood for community artisans by inserting them into a high-end value chain, thereby increasing the value of their handicrafts. R2R is most notable for its impact in Payatas, where waste-picking from a nearby dumpsite and handicrafts are common means to make a living.
Instead of highlighting the plight of poverty, R2R has turned the focus to the fashionable handmade bags that have been designed and produced by their artisans in partnership with top Filipino and international fashion designers. Beyond selling fashion and homeware, R2R is also the sewing and customisation partner of IKEA Philippines, which is slated to open its first outlet in the country in 2021.
Why it matters
An increasing awareness of the importance of businesses advancing socio-economic development is galvanising a new breed of changemakers. Though the social enterprise landscape in Southeast Asia is currently dominated by the ‘long-tail’ of small enterprises, the appetite for businesses to do more for society is growing amongst entrepreneurs, corporations, and governments. In the Philippines, the Poverty Reduction Through Social Entrepreneurship (PRESENT) Coalition was formed in 2012 to push for a bill recognising social enterprises as a vehicle for development. In 2015, the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprises was launched with partial government funding to promote this nascent sector.
B Corporation certification has also become popular, with companies trying to get recognised for their efforts in reaching high standards of social and environmental performance. While no one-size-fits-all solution exists to solve all challenges across different societies, government support, religious motivations, and other philanthropic initiatives are beneficial in creating an enabling environment for aspiring businesses to lead change.
Sharing economy for paddy prosperity
Tun Yat | Sharing economy for paddy prosperity
Tun Yat is a sharing platform for farming equipment and machine operation services. It seeks to mechanise the farming sector in Myanmar by facilitating the rental of harvesting machines, tractors, and other productivity equipment between machine owners and farmers. By becoming a neutral broker between the two sides, Tun Yat has helped over 10,000 small-holder farmers overcome common constraints like the affordability, availability, and access to equipment, allowing them to harness mechanisation to improve their yield and incomes. Now enhanced with technology solutions including machine IoT utilisation reports, chatbot-enabled digital education for farmers, and more, Tun Yat is providing a roadmap for improving digital literacy and promoting technology adoption amongst smallholder farmers at scale.
Why it matters
Technology-enabled solutions addressing the persistent challenges of smallholder farming are being promulgated as a result of modern advancements in mobile connectivity, but much more needs to be done. Grow Asia, the multi-stakeholder partnership platform between the World Economic Forum and ASEAN created to help the farming community in the region, estimates that only 2.5% of smallholder farmers in Southeast Asia use any of the 60 digital solutions it has curated in its directory. Solutions to improve the productivity of the industry promise to alleviate the ageing farming population’s burden to feed the region and have the potential to dislodge farmers from entrenched poverty.
Local startups are coming up with market-specific solutions. In Myanmar, apart from Tun Yat, other agritech startups like Greenovator, Digital Trinity, Village Link and Impact Terra integrate data solutions to enhance farming yields. Elsewhere in the region, AgromeIQ in Brunei, TaniGroup in Indonesia, and Ricult in Thailand are also finding new ways to improve direct access to hardware, inputs, knowledge, credit, markets, and better logistics for the class of smallholder farmers.
Matching value with quality and tradition
Kampot Pepper | Matching value with quality and tradition
Kampot Pepper obtained Geographical Indication (GI) protection from the World Trade Organisation in 2010 and is the first Cambodian produce to be granted the equivalent in the European Union.
As is the case for champagne specifically from the French region, Champagne, GI identifies a product as having a quality, reputation, or other characteristics that are attributable to its place of origin. GI is an intellectual property right that is enforceable in jurisdictions where protection has been obtained.
The peppercorn industry has been in the Cambodian regions of Kampot and Kep for centuries but it declined during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. It has enjoyed a renaissance with the GI status and is now served at the finest restaurants worldwide.
Why it matters
The growing push by governments to institute GI status is elevating the value of their products in global markets and promoting socio-economic development at home. Studies have estimated that GI products generally command 20% to 50% price premiums, or more, compared to the non-GI equivalents.
In the past decade, Southeast Asian governments have passed new GI laws and regulations in their countries, introducing stricter oversights and requirements, while promoting pride for its heritage and traditions. In Thailand, which strives to have a product with GI status in every province, 118 of the 135 certified GI products are indigenous and are spread across 75 of their 77 provinces as of 2019. The same trend of promoting local GI can be seen in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam for produce like coffee, rice and also handicrafts. The enhanced recognition of the quality of these products also supports the growth of location-related industries like tourism.
Global Halal Data Pool
Modernising standards of faith
Global Halal Data Pool | Modernising standards of faith
The Global Halal Data Pool (GHDP) is an information repository that connects halal-certified suppliers to manufacturers, buyers, and retailers to synchronise the listing of their halal-certified products globally. Connected to 40,000 organisations and 1.4 million global traders, this data pool powers Verify Halal, a halal certification verification app launched in 2017 that is endorsed by Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development (JAKIM). In 2019, Serunai Commerce, which developed both the GHDP and Verify Halal, launched a blockchain enabled halal digital records system, promising better data integrity and supply chain traceability, and improving the sophistication of its whole suite of products that make up a halal digital ecosystem.
Why it matters
The Islamic economy spent US$2.2 trillion on the food, lifestyle and pharmaceuticals sectors in 2018, which are expected to grow to US$3.2 trillion by 2024. This has increased the impetus to improve the halal certification regime, which affects many industries, including consumer goods and financial services. However, as a faith-based standard on ethical and safe consumption, halal certification is not uniform. Indonesia’s Halal Product Law came into effect in late 2019, requiring new operations for registering, testing, auditing, labelling and distributing many consumer items. In the same year, the Philippines had launched their national halal logo as a mark of assurance that a product or service is up to the standards of its own Philippine National Halal Certification Scheme.
While full regulatory harmonisation across the Islamic economy may not be feasible, the recognition of regional requirements is facilitative for trade. Apart from promoting Malaysia’s halal standard, JAKIM recognises the halal certifications of 84 Islamic bodies in 46 countries as of 2020, under its International Halal Authority Board.
Blockchain for food
TE-FOOD | Blockchain for food
TE-FOOD is a farm-to-fork traceability solution provider that is powering the push to implement better food traceability in emerging markets using blockchain technology. Set up in 2016 between Hungarian and Vietnamese partners, TE-FOOD has rolled out food supply chain traceability initiatives with authorities to track the pork, chicken, and egg supply chains in South Vietnam. This implementation required the development of software and hardware components, including physical identification tools, and the training of at least 10,000 supply chain workers to verify and document the supply chain. TE-FOOD systems have been implemented for over 6,000 business customers globally, including European-based Auchan, Vietnam’s Vinamilk, Thailand’s CP Group, South Korea’s Lotte Mart, and Switzerland’s Migros.
Why it matters
Expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.3% from 2018 to 2025, the global market for food traceability solutions has been strengthened by recent technological progress and can now better serve niche dietary markets. From vegan to halal food requirements, traceability solutions are becoming important considerations for all players across the often complex food supply chain.
Producers with traceability solutions ensure transparency and compliance in farming activities. Increased transparency on upstream supply chain operations in turn allows retailers to enhance operational efficiency and optimise logistics downstream. By getting every party along the supply chain to provide transaction data on a blockchain, modern food traceability systems capture and relay information from the ground more securely and efficiently, giving rise to better insights that can enhance consumer trust, producer and distributor efficiencies, and public food safety.
Old flavours, new styles, globalising tastes
BreadTalk | Old flavours, new styles, globalising tastes
BreadTalk Group is a multi-brand food and beverage company that started in Singapore with its eponymous bakery brand in 2000. It rose to fame with its buns topped with pork floss, a dried shredded meat snack from China that is common in Southeast Asia. From old-school toast, to yesteryear street food markets recreated in air-conditioned comfort, BreadTalk Group has made local nostalgic tastes and aesthetics a modern and affordable delight. Apart from selling traditional local and regional foods in creative reinventions, it also manages other successful casual dining restaurants like Din Tai Fung. The group operates about 1,000 F&B outlets across 17 markets, including China, Cambodia, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.
Why it matters
With 65% of the population in Southeast Asia expected to join the middle class by 2030, up from 29% in 2010, the emerging consumer class in Southeast Asia opens up opportunities for new brands to command attention and spending. Coming into wealth in an age of globalisation and being from countries that are familiar with external cultural influences, these new consumers have a broad appetite that includes both local and foreign tastes, making preferences diverse and potentially unpredictable.
In Thailand, homegrown dessert cafe After You became the world’s best performing restaurant stock in 2019. Selling Japanese desserts like Shibuya Honey Toast, elaborate pancakes, and shaved iced treats in a variety of flavours from Matcha (Japanese green tea) to Thai Tea, the restaurant has grown to over 35 outlets since it set up its first in 2007. It has plans to expand to other parts of Asia.
More drinks, less glass
ecoSPIRITS | More drinks, less glass
ecoSPIRITS is a patent-pending closed-loop spirit distribution system with sustainability at its core. Spirits are transported in bulk directly from distilleries to ecoPLANTS, where they are repacked into reusable, stackable 4.5 litre ecoTOTE vessels that are sent to restaurants and bars, who will refill their bottles on-site. The famous Singapore Sling at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore has been completely supplied by the ecoSPIRITS model, reducing its carbon and waste footprint. With up to 70% of the cost of a bottle of spirits estimated to be for the glass, packaging, and distribution, the savings from reducing single-use bottles can be used to support higher-quality spirits and to increase margins all along the supply chain.
Why it matters
Growing consciousness around responsible consumption is driving retail and lifestyle habits of the future, and businesses that strive to make their supply chains and production methods more sustainable stand to benefit. While this trend is more pronounced in western developed markets, these are influences that are likely to manifest with the rising levels of consumption in Southeast Asia. A 2015 survey by Nielson had in fact found Southeast Asian consumers to be the most willing to pay for sustainable products, with Vietnamese and Filipino consumers leading the pack.
Another Nielson survey from 2018 found that globally, 73% of consumers would change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment. 46% shared that they would forgo on a brand name in order to buy environmentally-friendly alternatives. Companies new and old that jump on this opportunity to reimagine sustainable business models stand to win over consumers for the long term.
Like plastic, but better
Avani Eco | Like plastic, but better
Avani Eco is an Indonesian company best known for its plastic bag alternatives made from cassava starch. At only US$0.02 more than a conventional plastic bag, the fully biodegradable cassava starch bag retains the functional properties expected of plastic but eliminates the problems of plastic waste. The company produces 3-5 million of these bags a day, as well as a range of other sustainable products like food containers, cups, and straws. Avani Eco’s solutions are being used across a variety of packaging needs for a wide range of clients from retail to hospitality and are commonly seen in the tourist haven of Bali, where the company was founded in 2014.
Why it matters
The escalating amount of marine litter both in the ocean and in coastal communities demands an urgent look into plastic alternatives. Over half of the 8 million tonnes of plastic dumped into the sea every year come from major countries in the region, including Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, much of it due to inadequate waste management systems on land, amongst other factors.
Government policies like Bali’s 2019 province-wide ban on plastic bags, straws, and polystyrene, and Thailand’s single-use plastic bags ban in 2020, have contributed to reducing consumer plastics. However, the plastic problem spans a long value chain of actors from production to packaging to waste disposal. It will require the cooperation of many different stakeholders to effectively reduce environmental damage, while maintaining the level of convenience and protection we are accustomed to with plastic packaging.
Envirotech Waste Recycling Inc
Closing the loop on dead-end plastic
Envirotech Waste Recycling Inc | Closing the loop on dead-end plastic
Breathing new life into landfill plastics, Envirotech Waste Recycling Inc. from the Philippines sells upcycled furniture that are made from all sorts of plastic waste, including carrier bags, candy wrappers, laminated sachets and plastic bottles. Shredded, cleansed, melted then moulded, their most well-known product, school chairs, cost about US$35 (Php 1,700) each, compared to a wooden chair equivalent that would have cost about US$31 (Php 1,500). Corporations partner the company to give back to society and push an awareness about plastic waste.
The recycling company processes 50 to 100 tonnes of plastic waste and produces 1,500 school chairs per month. Beyond chairs and other furniture, its ambitions extend to creating prefabricated, low-cost, recycled plastic homes.
Why it matters
The growing demand for solutions to the global plastic waste problem is encouraging businesses to explore circular economy models and recycling technologies. The global recycling industry is worth US$200 billion annually, with developed countries shipping their trash to less developed countries to be managed. When China started to reject shipments of poor quality plastic waste imports in 2018, Malaysia became the biggest importer of global plastic waste with imports tripling between 2016 and 2019 to 870,000 tonnes. That same year, Indonesia also saw its plastic waste imports increase by 141% to 283,000 tonnes.
By 2019, Malaysia had also started returning non-recyclable plastic scrap to the developed countries that generated them. As countries take greater steps to protect their environment, it is crucial for industries to adopt better circular economy models through the successful commercialisation of new recycling technologies, in a more equitable arrangement amongst countries, communities, and even competitors.
Bad for business, good for nature
Saving Boracay | Bad for business, good for nature
In 2018, the island of Boracay in the Philippines closed to tourists and non-residents for six months to allow its popular beaches to recover from the damages of over-tourism. Nearly 400 hotels and restaurants deemed to violate the local environmental laws were also ordered to close as part of the clean-up efforts. These drastic moves came just after a bumper year in 2017, during which 2 million tourists contributed US$1 billion of revenue in just 10.3 square kilometres of land.
Since its reopening, Boracay has capped the number of visitors and imposed a host of new regulations to reduce trash. These include bans on partying and barbecuing on the beach, and also on the use of single-use plastics.
Why it matters
Before the pandemic, governments in Southeast Asia were stepping up their conservation efforts to curb over-tourism. The Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index 2019 identified environmental sustainability to be the greatest weakness of the Southeast Asian region relative to the global average. Beyond Boracay, the Hollywood-famous Maya Beach in Thailand is closed until mid-2021 as local authorities attempt to replant and revive its coral reefs. Meanwhile, Indonesia contemplates park closures and other initiatives to ensure their indigenous Komodo dragon population continues to thrive on Komodo Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Post-pandemic, this sector has to confront an even more acute struggle between economic priorities and ecological restoration. With the global travel industry in the doldrums for the foreseeable future, tourism-reliant economies especially need to find new sustainable economic opportunities. These countries may still capitalise on natural endowments, but hopefully with a greater emphasis on environmental protection and longevity.
Better, faster, cheaper, greener
Kenaf | Better, faster, cheaper, greener
Kenaf is a fast-growing tropical plant that can be processed into biofuel, fibre, pellets, and feedstock. These are then further processed into material like rope and paper, building panels as an alternative to brick or concrete, and biocomposites that are used in the automotive industry for filters, brake pads, and panelling. Noted to have similar properties as hemp, a popular option for sustainable raw material, kenaf is becoming an important industrial crop like palm oil and rubber in Malaysia, due to government investment into kanaf as an alternative crop to tobacco. Businesses like social enterprise AffordableAbodes in Malaysia are also promoting the use of kenaf as they advance their primary aim of providing low-cost and better housing solutions.
Why it matters
The growing demand for greener inputs in many industries is driving exploration and investment into alternative raw materials and production technologies. In the case of kenaf, its biocomposites have shown mechanical and physical properties comparable to fibreglass, but are cheaper and biodegradable. The automotive industry, in particular car manufacturers Toyota and Ford, has embraced kenaf biocomposites, driving initial research that has shown how this alternatve can be lighter and also greener than conventional parts.
Scaling the farming, production, and research into use cases for better alternative sustainable materials opens up possibilities for improving the unit economics of using these new materials to the point of parity with current material choices. Although kenaf has been around for thousands for years, it is just the early days of research into further industrial applications of kenaf. Other bio-based industrial material are also getting more attention as manufacturing companies explore the potential to switch out epoxy resins, chemical additives, and other man-made agents.
Sustainability at scale by design
BSD City | Sustainability at scale by design
Bumi Serpong Damai (BSD) City is an ambitious satellite city project by Sinar Mas Group, one of the largest conglomerates in Indonesia. It is now in its third and final phase of development, which is projected to be completed by 2035. BSD City aims to be a digital hub and a showcase of sustainable modernity centred on effective water, waste, and energy management, and has attained green certification for these features. With over 400 hectares of green space and a dedicated water treatment plant, BSD City is nearly self-sufficient in water supply and produces net zero potable water waste. Its pedestrian- friendly city design also accommodates bicycle lanes and sidewalks, which are unusual features in Indonesia’s famously congested urban centres.
Why it matters
Urbanisation is increasing the urgency for sustainable infrastructure that can provide for and withstand the stresses of large and dense populations. An additional 2.5 billion people are expected to live in urban areas by 2050, and 90% of them will be from Asia or Africa.
Half of ASEAN member populations already live in urban areas, and another 70 million are expected to join the class of urbanites by 2025. Today’s cities take up just 2% of the Earth’s surface, but they are major contributors to climate change, consuming 78% of the world’s energy and producing more than 60% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Yet, cities remain critical for economic development. Given that city- level sustainability can be enhanced on multiple fronts, opportunities abound for infrastructure and public utilities providers to work with governments to implement better long-term solutions for the economic and environmental health of its residents.
Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park
Mitigating floods with monkey cheeks
Chulalongkorn University Centenary Park | Mitigating floods with monkey cheeks
Built to mitigate the frequent frequent floods in low-lying Bangkok, the 12-acre Centenary Park was designed by Kotchakorn Voraakhom as a flood control mechanism. Its construction and function was a product of the Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s (Rama IX) being inspired by how monkeys use their cheeks–kaem ling–to store food for delayed consumption. With a containment capacity of one million gallons, the sloping park collects water through gravity, and has functional sections that treat the water and store this resource for use in drier months. Beyond flood management, the park features a green roof, man-made wetlands, retention ponds, and other landscape features. It also provides visitors respite from the hustle and bustle of the capital city.
Why it matters
Scientists have predicted that oceans will rise between 30cm to 2.5 metres by 2100, putting coastal cities across the world at risk of being flooded. For the many coastal areas in Southeast Asia that sit on soft clay and sand, sinking grounds with rising sea levels pose an existential threat. Climate change also enlarges seasonal variability. From Bangkok to Jakarta, as Southeast Asian cities power on with rapid economic progress, the need for sustainable urban development becomes increasingly pronounced with each monsoon season.
In 2019, following years of trying to manage the annual floods with pumps, canals, barriers, and dams, Indonesia announced that it would move its capital out of Jakarta, which is reportedly sinking between 1-15 centimetres per year. Meanwhile in The Philippines, natural flood defences like mangroves and bamboo trees have been replanted to rehabilitate Laguna de Bay, where floods affect not just local residents, but also those in Metro Manila and the surrounding region.
Real doctors, virtual visits, immediate relief
Halodoc | Real doctors, virtual visits, immediate relief
Halodoc is an end-to-end telemedicine platform in Indonesia that provides patients with access to registered physicians for online medical consultations, courier services for medicine, and home testing services. Payment solutions through insurance or other means are also available on the platform. In 2017, Halodoc partnered with Indonesian superapp Gojek to meet the growing demand for on-demand delivery of pharmaceutical items. The convenience of accessing medical services through the internet is especially welcome in Indonesia, a country made up of over 17,000 islands and with notoriously congested urban centres, where the conventional physical visit to clinics can be a real burden to be overcome.
Why it matters
Rising affluence, increasing life expectancies, and patchy existing infrastructure are some factors driving the demand for better healthcare solutions in the region, and it is fuelling investment and innovation into the healthcare technology industry. Healthtech received US$5 billion in funding in Asia Pacific for 2019, with Southeast Asia more than doubling its amount of investment attracted from the previous year.
Research has shown that the developing world accounts for only 20% of the global health expenditure, even though it hosts 85% of the human population. The increasing penetration of mobile internet in Southeast Asia provides a landscape for promising solutions that not only expand the reach for doctors but also offer better medical care experience for patients. The reimagining of healthcare provision with the help of technology is poised to improve resource allocation and reduce inequalities between regions.
National Steps Challenge
Gamifying preventative healthcare
National Steps Challenge | Gamifying preventative healthcare
The National Steps ChallengeTM was created by the Singapore Health Promotion Board (HPB) in 2015 as a fun and engaging way to encourage Singapore residents to lead healthier and more active lifestyles. The HPB offers eligible Singaporeans and Permanent Residents with a free fitness-tracking wearable device, paired with a proprietary Healthy 365 mobile application. Participants track their steps and fitness activity to earn Healthpoints, which can be redeemed for shopping vouchers and more. The seasonal challenge remains a strong movement that dovetails with other nationwide campaigns. Over 800,000 participants took part in the National Steps ChallengeTM over the 2018-2019 season, including less digitally-savvy segments such as the elderly.
Why it matters
The growing attention to P4 healthcare—predictive, preventative, personalised and participatory—to hold off the need for curative healthcare has been encouraged by the increasing affordability and usability of wearables. The feasibility of implementing individual healthcare monitoring at scale is contributing to the growth of the global preventative healthcare market, which is estimated to be US$240 billion by 2025.
Wearables can offer real-time activity data and immediate feedback on the wearer. From movement levels to diet options, behavioural nudging in the physical world will only become more prevalent as digital tools land into more hands. When introduced alongside incentives and goals, wearables open up new ways for governments and corporations to motivate higher-risk groups to stay healthy, mitigating hefty healthcare costs down the line. Insurance companies are also testing similar models by gifting wearables to their customers and rolling out policies that get underwritten based on data collected from digital touchpoints.
Mobile screen time, quality school time
Ruangguru | Mobile screen time, quality school time
Ruangguru is an education technology startup that provides affordable learning tools for after-school tuition, workplace learning (Ruangkerja), upskilling through massive open online courses (Skill Academy), and more. Since its founding in 2014 in Indonesia, it has expanded to Vietnam in 2019 under the brand Kien Guru, and to Thailand under the brand StartDee. By being able to deliver its resources to the masses in a more efficient and accessible way, it has helped to level the playing field in markets with uneven distribution of tutoring resources and facilities. Its non-profit arm, Ruangguru Foundation, also collaborates with private and public sectors to provide free resources for teachers and underprivileged students.
Why it matters
The increasing penetration of mobile internet access in Southeast Asia opens up the opportunity to enhance education experiences for the wider population beyond traditional institutions. Internet penetration in the region has grown rapidly from 25% to 63% from 2014 to 2019, with more than 90% of users accessing the internet through mobile phones.
Where online pedagogical methods are effective, affordable, and accessible – through partnerships with governments or otherwise – the scaling of edtech solutions bodes well for human capital development, as it promises to enhance resources for areas with inadequate teachers, or provide access to education for disadvantaged groups. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ruangguru provided access to its platform for zero charge after striking a deal with a telecommunications company to provide 30GB of free data for studying. It also joined the Indonesian government’s initiative to provide nationwide skills training for the workforce.
ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence
Fighting formless formidable foes
ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence | Fighting formless formidable foes
The ASEAN-Singapore Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence was launched in 2019 to increase cybersecurity cooperation in Southeast Asia through policy, technical training, and research. The centre, which has S$30 million earmarked for five years, represents governmental commitment to coordinated cyber capacity building to level up the skills of the region to tackle increasingly sophisticated and prevalent cyber threats.
ASEAN’s efforts to beef up cybersecurity comes at the dawn of 5G internet for a population that is highly receptive to digitalisation, in an environment that remains vulnerable to cyberattacks. This initiative follows from a string of bilateral and regional initiatives amongst ASEAN member states to improve cybersecurity and build a resilient cyberspace and to safeguard national interests and citizens.
Why it matters
The increasing sophistication and damage posed by cybersecurity threats is pushing governments to cooperate and develop the sector. As it stands, the Asia-Pacific cybersecurity market is outperforming the global market and is set to double in size from 2017 to 2022.
Cybersecurity solutions are difficult to pin down as the crimes are evolving rapidly with technological advancements. Faced with invisible criminals and nefarious state actors, many governments are balancing between unilateral policies and multilateral approaches to contain the formless but formidable foe. In 2016, the Philippines implemented the Cybersecurity Protection Act and Data Privacy Act, after a major hack compromised data security for more than 50 million people. The same year, Singapore launched its Cybersecurity Strategy, outlining the nation’s priorities for a resilient and trusted cyber environment, and inititiatives for regional cooperation.
As we embrace the benefits of digitalisation, the problem of cybersecurity is going to be increasingly omnipresent. Initiatives such as the ASCCE play a significant role in coordinating capacity building efforts to help ensure that the region is well-equipped to tackle the cyber challenges - together.