- Building an actual Asean community cannot be just about business
- State policies can only get you so far, proper education is key
FIRST, let’s tackle the most important part: Digital News Asia (DNA) would like to wish its Christian readers ‘Merry Christmas.’
It’s that time of the year, when our thoughts move towards giving or sharing; or for some, towards asking for stuff. In the less-Christmassy spirit of the latter, here’s my wish list.
1) A real Asean community
In less than a week – on Dec 31, in fact – the Asean Economic Community (AEC) comes into place. It should be a big deal, except that it isn’t … or at least, not as big a deal as it should be.
Sure, the laws that regulate trade and the movement of goods between Asean countries will be eased. We can expect some businesses to take advantage of that.
It will boost the economy, but that would be hard to measure because of other prevailing factors are proving to be a challenge to many countries in the region.
But we are far from being a ‘community’ of any sort. We are far more diverse – culturally, economically and politically – than the European countries that got the European Community and later the European Commission going ever were. We lack a distinct, identifying factor that tells us, “We are Asean.”
Sure, there has been some progress, but we’re too insular and too protective of our territories (and I am not talking about geographic boundaries here) to ever really work together.
Heck, our governments can’t even be honest enough with each other to tackle the haze that engulfs the region every year, like clockwork.
If we want to build an actual Asean community, it can’t just be about business.
2) An actual ‘tech’ startup ecosystem
This is me beating a dead horse.
Many governments across Asean have recognised the value of entrepreneurship, with Singapore leading the way. The others are progressing by leaps and bounds, though they have little hope of nudging the island-republic off its ‘international hub’ status.
That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t try. I really don’t care about the bragging rights, but entrepreneurship can boost economies, uplift communities and improve lives, so it’s always good to attempt to move the needle.
There are all kinds of startups and many different types of businesses they can get into, but let’s face it, the Internet- and technology-related ones are getting the most traction – although, that is not to say the others are any less important.
But since Digital News Asia (DNA) covers the tech scene, I will limit my observations to that field.
I know it makes business sense for investors here to back startups that are duplicating tried-and-tested models that have worked elsewhere. And I know it makes business sense for most startups to think that way because that’s the best way of attracting funding.
But as long as we keep doing so, we’re creating a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ or ‘worm-eating-its-own-tail’ kind of startup ecosystem. We’ll be stuck in a loop.
Disruptive technologies shouldn’t be just about coding around a business model, but also about technology.
Singapore is leading the pack not only because it had a head-start and managed to build so many of the critical elements of a startup ecosystem, but also because it has managed to get academia involved. It has world-class universities which attract some of the best minds on the planet.
The other Asean countries need to think about education as not just as a means to a job or about meeting industry requirements, but about inculcating creative, independent thinking. And yes, Singapore could do with a bit more of that too.
Entrepreneurship is capitalism, and capitalism thrives best in a proper democracy. State-imposed policies can only get you so far.
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