The social costs of digitalisation

Southeast Asia sees some of the fastest growth in Internet usage in the world today. 23% of its population are millennials, and the region has an average Internet penetration rate of around 70%. Many countries are strengthening their digital economies in hopes of propelling the region forwards. India, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam have all outlined initiatives to drive digitalisation.

However, the push towards a digital world is not without its problems. 150 million adults in Southeast Asia are digitally excluded, with little or no access to the Internet and related digital tools. Unequal access means that vulnerable groups are often made even more disadvantaged as nations develop.

In India, gender and location play a role in determining Internet usage. The lack of digital accessibility in Malaysia led to the pandemic exacerbating income inequality. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) find it more difficult to digitalise. Many small businesses in Vietnam cite costs as their biggest barrier to digitalisation. Singapore, where Internet penetration is high, still struggles with getting groups such as seniors and hawkers online.

How can Southeast Asia bridge the digital divide?

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Marie Teo
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Spire Research and Consulting
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