The World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) Foundation, through WIEF Young Leaders Network (WYN), successfully held the WIEF thinkTALK webinar on 30 March 2021 at 3pm, (GMT +8), entitled ‘SME Trends: Disruptive Innovations Impacting SMEs’. The event was attended by 55 participants, from 13 countries, including South Africa, United Kingdom, Belgium, Singapore, Philippines and Indonesia.
The session which falls under WYN’s thinkTALK series serves as a recovery guide for small businesses through online discussions with experts. Its first session for 2021 featured speaker Joel Shen who is the vice chairman of Singapore Chamber of Commerce in Indonesia and partner in the corporate team at Withers KhattarWong. The moderator of the session was Charlotte Kan, London-based international print and broadcast journalist specialising in finance, tech, disruption, lifestyle and travel.
The opening remark delivered by Ebrahim Patel, Chairman of WYN, touched about the resilience of humans in facing the challenges of pandemic and how digitalisation is now a necessity for all, not just the SMEs. ‘As we emerge from global pandemic, where the economy has been totally devastated, we emerged with new ways of doing things.’ Ebrahim added, ‘digitalisation is not just a trend, it is a necessary tool for digital transformation that adapts to our ways of doing business onto digital platforms.’
Through digitalisation, businesses can adapt to changing consumer behaviour and be resilient toward an evolving business environment. The attitude businesses have to adopt today is not to wait for recovery to happen. Instead, they should drive their own recovery to survive.
Joel explained, based on a study by Bain & Company, Google and Temasek on digital economy in Southeast Asia (SEA), number of internet users has increased by 40 million in a span of one year, from 2019 to 2020, at 400 million users throughout SEA. ‘The pandemic, while it has been an extraordinarily challenging and difficult time for everyone globally, has accelerated the adoption of digital technologies by consumers and businesses alike in a permanent way. These changes are expected to last post pandemic, both in SEA and across the globe, generally.’ Joel said.
The proliferation of digital technologies assumes the underlying infrastructure such as smartphones and digital telecommunication networks. There has been an extraordinary amount of private capital pouring in for the development of new and disruptive technologies, notably in the form of venture capital. SEA focused on venture capital investors. In the age where digitalisation is inevitable because of the pandemic, the existing infrastructure is a prominent enabler.
‘Can you imagine how things would have panned out if the pandemic had come 20 years ago, when the technologies were not as prolific as they are today.’ Joel explained that without the current technology, many activities that are considered as the new norm wouldn’t have been possible. ‘Students wouldn’t be able to have home-based learning, patients won’t be able to book appointments with the doctors or get prescribed drugs or essential goods delivered to them.’
Fintech and e-commerce are growing at a meteoric pace, digital payments technology being and logistics being the two pillars that supports the development of economy.
When asked if fintech will eventually replace banks, Joel explained, ‘I don’t think banks will ever be totally replaced simply because banks themselves are constantly evolving. I wouldn’t see fintech and banks as being on two ends of a competing spectrum.’ He added, ‘I’d see fintech as new technologies that are eventually either sold to banks or assimilated by banks or indeed developed by banks themselves. Some of the largest banks in SEA today are leading in fintech development.’ He added, ‘so, don’t think of fintech as disruptors but rather as an alternative.’
SMEs have a distinct advantage in their small size and nimbleness compared to larger enterprises, it’s far easier for these businesses to pivot when they when they come across ‘speed bumps’.
With the rapid advancement of digital technology, there’s a noticeable shortage of digital skills, forcing mature economies to import talents from developing countries. The need to grow local talents are evident now, more than ever. ‘There isn’t a simple solution (to curb this), but education is one. However, it takes time to develop talent such as data scientist, for instance the world might be a different place by the time they graduate.’
‘I think we do need to adopt new ways of looking at education. It needs to be a process over the productive lifetime of a typical employment. So, we need to constantly renew and educate ourselves.’ Joel added.
‘It’s important for SMEs to have an open-minded agility, try something different and see if it works. I think that’s the key and to just explore when it comes to innovative technologies. That’s what disruption is all about, trying something new, something that has never been tried by others before and see if it works for you.’ Concluded Charlotte, ending the one-hour session.
One of the participants, Irene Necosia, from Philippines, said, ‘What I like most about the program is the question and answer session because I see the speakers are very knowledgeable and well prepared.’
The one-hour session was launched by a performance by Endah N Rhesa, a WIEF MOCAfest artist from Indonesia. The talented duo performed an original piece entitled ‘Slow’, which they composed during the recent lockdown due to the pandemic.
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