As 2020 comes to a close, it is difficult not to reflect on what has been the most turbulent year in recent history. But, throughout all the volatility borne of the global health crisis, it is only right that we recognize the bright pathway ahead of the Philippines that has been laid down by efforts to rise above the circumstances and create a future enabled by technology.
Underscored by the Philippines’ recent leaps and bounds made in domestic technology development, adoption, and investment, there is no more perfect way to end the year than to witness the beginning of a new movement to digitize our country.
Technology has always been a key driver in sling-shotting global development. A World Bank study examining the period of 2013 to 2017 revealed that digital intensive-using industries had contributed to as much as 86% of labor productivity growth in the US.
The idea of digital revolution is nothing new, especially in this new paradigm of technology adoption where a single year can feel like a lifetime when it comes to “who-is-using-what.” And yet, the Philippines has never seen such acceleration in digital transformation as this year.
The facts speak for themselves, on a national and regional level:
- While the pandemic led to 7.2 million unemployed Filipinos, 2.6 million jobs were restored in the span of 3 months when many companies resorted to work-from-home arrangements (statistics from the Department of Labor and Employment)
- 73,276 new online businesses had been registered since the pandemic began, a staggering 4180% increase from the 1,753 existing online businesses prior to March (Department of Trade and Industry)
- The Philippines ranked as the number one “Digital Riser” in East Asia and the Pacific, propelled by government initiatives such as the Innovative Startup Act of 2019, the Startup Venture Fund, the Startup Grant Fund, and the Philippine Startup Development Programme. (the European Center for Digital Competitiveness’ Digital Riser Report 2020)
- Foreign direct investment in the Philippines’ information and communication technology (ICT) industry led to an unprecedented 78% growth, from P6.6 billion to P11.4 billion in approved foreign investments (Philippine Economic Zone Authority)
- Our business process outsourcing (BPO) firms remains a stalwart pillar of our economy, maintaining jobs and contributing revenues to our GDP, helping to weather the damage that the pandemic had done to our embattled agriculture sector and the tourism industry.
Building a resilient, long-lasting tech ecosystem
Prior to the pandemic, international investors were setting up shop in the Philippines, helping to build our nation as a prime tech hub in Asia. Coins.ph, a blockchain-powered mobile wallet and cryptocurrency exchange serving over 10 million Filipinos, was acquired last year by Indonesian unicorn Go-Jek for US$72 million. In 2019, Voyager Innovations Inc. had sold US$175 million in newly issued shares to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. L.P. and Tencent Holdings Ltd.
There are indications that this will further grow and more investors will come in, especially given the forecast by the Asia Development Bank (ADB) that the Philippines’ gross domestic product growth will return to 6.5% in 2021.
What we need now to seize on this momentum and accelerate our forward thrust into progress is a whole-of-nation, whole-of-government approach, with our industry players and other stakeholders collaborating to digitize our country----and market and promote its visibility to the rest of the world. The BPO industry blazed a trail in showcasing our capabilities as an outsourcing destination hub---and we can do so again with fintech.
But aside from the tremendous economic gains that we stand to make will be another intangible and immeasurable benefit that is close to the heart of the Filipino: a reverse diaspora of the best and brightest technology players choosing to domicile in the Philippines. The rising tech hubs in the near future will bring our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) back home---where they can contribute their talents and their time, advance a career and build businesses while enjoying a happy and prosperous life with their families. It is a vision that technology can help us reach. It is our time to shine.
Amor Maclang, the author, is the Executive Director of the Fintech Philippines Association.