Asia Foundation Encourages Digital Transformation in Emerging Asian Economies and in the Organization

July 25, 2018 — Microsoft’s Asia News Center features a piece by Geoff Spencer highlighting the Foundation’s goal to encourage Asian economies toward digital transformation, establishing new industries and developing relevant skills for their labor force:

Employing cheap, low-skilled workers in relatively simple manufacturing or extractive industries has been a winning formula for many of Asia’s emerging economies. Over the decades it has created new wealth for their governments and peoples. And, it has positioned them within global trading networks and international supply chains.
But how much longer can it go on? One of the region’s leading development organizations, The Asia Foundation, says the model can only take them so far.
As a matter of priority, the Foundation is encouraging economies to embrace digital transformation, establish new industries and enterprises, and, most importantly, upskill their workers. Failure to act and move ahead with advances in technology, it argues, means inevitably falling into what economists decry as the “middle-income trap” – a place where a country’s competitive edge blunts and progress stalls.
“The economic model of using a low-skill, low-productivity workforce in low value-added industries got these countries to middle-income status. And, it has been a source of economic advantage. But it is not going to get them out of the middle-income range to advanced economy status,” says The Asia Foundation’s President David Arnold.
“It really is a question of moving from low-skill manufacturing to high-end technology as well as higher value-added and advanced services. The role that technology can play is enormous.”

But to effectively tap this tech-driven potential, Asia’s emerging economies must pursue new ways of educating and training present and future workers – including women and girls who too often languish at the bottom of the employment pool with few educational opportunities.
“Ultimately it is the matter of human capital and development relevant skills,” Arnold says. “That is currently a big constraint in many countries. So, we see this as an area of importance and priority.”
Breaking down and replacing long-held institutional and bureaucratic practices and barriers are high on the list of must-dos as well. It also happens to be a mantra that has been internalized by the Foundation, which has itself embraced technology to do its work better. Arnold sees the Foundation’s own internal digital transformation dividend as being a sort of microcosm of where the region should be heading.

The Asia Foundation’s Vice President and champion for digital transformation Ken Krug adds: 

We have created communities of practice where we use collaborative tools inside the softwares to do all sorts of work. 

Related locations: San Francisco
Related programs: Technology & Development

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