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WEF President Børge Brende (first from left) and other ASEAN leaders at the opening session of the WEF ASEAN 2018 in Hanoi on September 12

The following is the full text of the interview.

Reporter: Industry 4.0 has been creating drastic and dramatic changes for ASEAN countries’ socio-economic development. How do you assess their achievements in the context of fast-advancing science-technology applications?

Brende: We see that many ASEAN countries have developed strong national-level plans for the digital economy, like the Smart Nation initiative in Singapore or Thailand 4.0. So far, the plans seem to focus on infrastructure roll-out, and that is not a bad thing; without the proper infrastructure, it is impossible to compete.

One country that does particularly well in this regard is Singapore. In our most recent “Networked Readiness” report, Singapore was the world’s best-performing economy, meaning it uses ICT in the best possible way to boost competitiveness and well-being. Since then, Singapore has continued to make strides in this field, for example in its programmes to introduce autonomous vehicles in traffic. So, it is clearly a leader.

If we look at a country like Vietnam from the “networked readiness” angle, we see that there are strengths and opportunities. One very positive element in Vietnam is the affordability of going online. The more affordable it is, the more people can be part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Vietnam scores very well here. Its infrastructure, however, unfortunately still lags, and in terms of the economic impact and innovation environment, there is also room for improvement.

Finally, what is also encouraging is that the region has generated a number of highly successful technology unicorns in the past few years. These disruptive companies have really grasped the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. These include SEA Group from Singapore, Go-Jek, Bukalapak, Traveloka and Tokopedia from Indonesia, Grab from Malaysia and VNG from Vietnam. It is this kind of entrepreneurial and innovative spirit which will make or break ASEAN’s competitiveness in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Reporter: The fast-changing science-technology applications have threatened the employment rate of human labour. What do you think about this statement? Which sector would suffer the most by those science-technology changes? Which sector would benefit the best?

Brende: I do share the concern that the Fourth Industrial Revolution challenges a lot of the jobs, particularly in manufacturing, transport, and even many repetitive service sector jobs, such as the types of jobs that are found in branches of local banks. In ASEAN, the manufacturing jobs are of particular concern. Alongside this fear is the need for job creation. There are 11,000 people entering the job market every day in the next 15 years in ASEAN. This is probably the biggest challenge facing ASEAN leaders today.

Ultimately, I believe that we’ll overcome this era of replacement, and that we will achieve an equilibrium of near-full employment, through the creation of many new meaningful jobs. Of course the best thing any country can do at this point is to make sure young people have the opportunity to be educated. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education is certain to be a winning choice, but so is education geared to the care or tourism sectors.

Having said that, we see that high-end manufacturing continues to be a source of differentiation too. If ASEAN nations can set themselves apart using their excellent manufacturing capabilities and high-skilled workers while continuing to build good trade relations with export partners like China, the EU, Japan and possibly North America, there is no need to panic about the current jobs they attract in manufacturing.

Reporter: What challenges will Industry 4.0 have towards the environmental protection and regional community? What could ASEAN countries do to balance their economic and social benefits when lacking financial resources?

Brende: This is an excellent question, especially given the increase we’ve seen in extreme weather events in ASEAN and around the world. There is no doubt among those I consult, that this is related to climate change, and that we need to do our very best to mitigate these effects. We cannot continue down the path of unsustainable economic growth, and this will not just be a major topic at the ASEAN summit, but also at the Sustainable Development Impact Summit we’re holding in New York at the end of this month.

The good news is that if we use technology for good, it can and will be a force for good, and fortunately, it doesn’t need to cost more than current solutions. We see people taking on challenges like “The Ocean Cleanup”, where some of the latest technologies are used to clean up the ocean in an affordable way and at a fraction of the cost. Scientists continue to develop early warning systems for tsunamis with technology that is more reliable, faster and ultimately, cheaper.

In many fields, I believe that technological progress and environmental progress can go hand in hand.

Reporter: How do you evaluate the prospects of startup businesses in ASEAN as some of them have proven highly potential such as Grab and GoJek? How would they help change the awareness of consumers in the region?

Brende: I’m very happy to see such high-profile successes like Grab and GoJek, which are proof of the innovative and start-up potential available in ASEAN. I should also point to fintech companies like Lenddo and OnlinePajak, both of which we have designated a “Technology Pioneer”, or to Shoppee, a subsidiary of the SEA group.

All these companies provide services to consumers that help them get ahead in life, while reducing the cost and time needed to get the service.

Lenddo, for example, is providing credit to consumers and small businesses based on their creditworthiness, even if they don’t have a credit score or even a bank account. Shoppee allows small business owners to participate in an online marketplace. Grab, of course, is very successful at moving people around cities with the help of its app.

What these companies do is create a virtuous cycle. Consumers who use them realize the benefits of digital solutions, and start to use them more. They often save time and money or are able to do more things than previously. As a result, demand for digital infrastructure rises, more people become interested in IT and technology, and a whole society and economy rises. Having these kinds of success stories early on can help countries fully develop their potential in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It should be no surprise then that entrepreneurship is one of the central themes of our ASEAN meeting. To that end, we have invited the region’s most dynamic start-ups and entrepreneurs to join us. We want to explore how the region can strengthen its innovation ecosystems and nurture more start-up success stories. We also want to learn more about their stories of disruption and transformation, as well as connect them to established business and government leaders to help them expand across the region.

Reporter: What should ASEAN youth do to be a pioneer in entrepreneurship innovation and become a leader in the Industrial Revolution?

Brende: I’d of course encourage them to start their own business if they can, or to join a start-up and help it grow. None of the most successful social media companies, including Facebook, were around even 15 years ago, and neither were some others of the world’s most valuable start-ups, including Grab or Uber. This is a time in which some of the most important companies for the coming decades will be founded.

I want young people to think about how they can use their entrepreneurial spirit in other ways, including in the public sector.

The truth is that without agile governance models and regulation that is adapted to this time, the economy as a whole won’t be able to grow in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. I see a lot of possibilities, and ASEAN nations could be among the world’s leading nations in terms of governance entrepreneurship.

Finally, I’d say: Go and study, if you can. New STEM fields are being created now, and if you study to gain knowledge on artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain or other Fourth Industrial Revolution sciences, you are certain to create a bright future for yourself, and also for your country.

Source: VNA