Business in South Asia: Opportunities and Challenges
South Asia is projected to remain the world’s fastest-growing region. It is projected to have an annual growth rate of 7.1 per cent in 2020 and 2021. These are particularly impressive projections, given the slowing growth rates in other parts of the world. As a developing region with consumer-driven economies, South Asia offers great potential and opportunities for businesses and investors. These opportunities are facilitated (or hindered) by various external and internal factors. These include, for instance, infrastructure facility, documentation procedure, regulatory regimes, market sentiment, the availability of credit and domestic political imperatives. In this panel, the distinguished experts will discuss business opportunities and challenges in South Asia.
Women Empowerment in South Asias
In 1960, Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike, became the world’s first female prime minister. Since their independence, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have or have had elected female prime ministers or presidents. Yet, women are poorly represented in the parliaments of the South Asian countries. While important progress has been made in ensuring female access to education, health and the workforce, statistics reveal that there is still a disturbing gender gap in these sectors. Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education, Singapore, will deliver the keynote address for this session. Thereafter, the eminent speakers on this panel will address the complex position of women in South Asia and the means to ensure women empowerment.
Infrastructure and Smart Cities
India’s definition of a smart city sets big challenges. “It means different things to different people,” says the Smart Cities website but the ultimate goal is that smart cities “give a decent quality of life.” In terms of infrastructure, this means housing, transport, water, sanitation and communications, all areas in which Singapore has practical, exemplary experience. Mr Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance, will deliver the keynote address and participate in an interactive session. This will be followed by a panel discussion that will discuss pathways for transforming great cities into smart cities.
Innovation, Start-ups and Youth
South Asia is a region with an increasingly young population. Currently, the median age in India is estimated to be 27 years while it is 26 years in Bangladesh and 22 years in Pakistan. This is both a dividend and a challenge for the South Asian countries. One major development that has occurred as a result of this demographic trend in South Asia is the development of many innovative start-ups. States are also looking to encourage the youth to transform from job seekers to job creators. The emergence and success of such start-ups are, however, contingent upon the development of a conducive eco-system characterised by the fostering of sources of funding, start-up friendly regulation and infrastructure, and entrepreneurial culture. These key issues will be taken up by the speakers in this panel.
Technology in Financial Services
Technology is revolutionising the provision of financial services in South Asia. Financial access enables citizens to transfer their income to build savings, invest in assets and leverage finance to better their lives. Financial inclusion has also been hastened by technological infrastructures built by public and private sector actors. The growing penetration of mobile phones has been a boon for transacting financially; citizens use interfaces like the United Payment Interface to send payments back and forth. The rapid proliferation of these technologies has also created a set of regulatory challenges related to privacy and consumer protection that have to be addressed. This session will survey the financial technology landscape in South Asia, address some of the regulatory challenges that have arisen and explore potentials of collaboration between South Asia and Singapore in the area of financial technology.
South Asian Diaspora: A Strategic Asset?
The long-standing economic and political links between South Asia and the rest of the world are, in part, a result of the efforts by the South Asian diaspora. The diaspora has been active in establishing a voice for South Asia. Besides advocating the region’s interests, it has continued to play a vital role in establishing commercial ties and strong networks that have helped to propel South Asia’s trade and businesses worldwide. The South Asian diaspora has built bridges between its adopted home and homeland, opening new markets and important trade ties. The diaspora is also playing a role as a conduit of change in South Asia. Political leaders and parties in South Asia are increasingly seeking to mobilise support among their respective diasporas. In this interactive session, the eminent panellists will discuss the importance of the diaspora and evaluate if it is, indeed, a strategic asset.