Jakarta. A young population and the prospect of a growing digital economy are expected to bring prosperity to people in Southeast Asia, participants in a panel discussion at a World Economic Forum event in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, said on Thursday (11/05).
"It's a huge opportunity for Asean, to get into that technology while it's still early. It's going to disrupt all of us, but that doesn't mean that jobs are going to be lost. We shouldn't be fearful of technology taking our jobs. We should move up the curve," AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes said.
According to a collaborative study by technology giant Google and Singapore's wealth-based fund manager Temasek, the internet economy in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is projected to generate $200 million annually over the next decade.
A huge chunk of that figure will come from e-commerce, with at least 32 percent, followed by 18 percent from online-based ride-hailing services and online gaming, and another 18 percent from advertising.
The digital connectivity is set to transform the Asean region as the number of people with internet access grows by an average of 124,000 per day, various studies have shown. The bloc's combined population of 630 million people – more than half of them below the age of 30 – represents a strong demographic dividend.
"If young people [entrepreneurs] want to succeed overseas, particularly in the Asean region, you have to be strong in your own country, but Asean gives you the ability to grow outside of your country into a much larger market to compete with the giants," Fernandes said.
He added that to find high-quality individuals, companies must also exploit and understand diversity in the region. "Diversity is our strength. Within Asean, there is such diversity, there is such richness of culture.
We have a Thai finance director; our head of communications is Indonesian; we've just hired a very senior Cambodian for our marketing department; and that is our real strength," the AirAsia chief executive said. He added that Asean needs to remove tariff barriers to create a huge economic powerhouse that can rival China and India.
"At the end, we must focus on the people, because Asean is all about people-to-people connectivity. We have to thank the founding fathers of Asean and the current leaders who are able to maintain peace and stability; and now we can focus more on development, education and decent jobs," said Kao Kim Hourn, a senior Cambodian minister.
Indonesia is represented by Industry Minister Airlangga Hartanto and Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) head Thomas Lembong at the three-day forum, which started on Wednesday, Last year's World Economic Forum on Asean took place in Kuala Lumpur.