Is Thailand Ready To Be A Tech Literate Country?

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Is Thailand Ready To Be A Tech Literate Country?
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Is Thailand Ready To Be A Tech Literate Country?

 By : Patara Manas. 10-01-2020.

Saving businesses and getting them up and operating is the first step towards economic recovery

but now is the time to zoom in on what is going to be be the main focus of economic growth in the ‘new economy’ post pandemic.

Pre-pandemic, there was already talk of moving Thailand towards becoming the digital hub of Southeast Asia.The case is even more compelling now and its time to accelerate the process.

The government has taken giant leaps to turn Thailand into a digital hub with two major projects, a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite business, funded through an amendment to the Space Affairs Act and an undersea submarine cable capacity to make digital infrastructure accessible at affordable prices.

However, government can do much more than invest in digital infrastructure. Creating a strong tech ecosystem is of equal importance.

Most countries have recognised the effects and benefits of a healthy startup ecosystem generating  economic growth driven by startups and innovation. Great examples of two countries that are not resource rich with smaller populations having benefitted from investing heavily in a start-up encouraging approach are Israel and Estonia. Home to companies like Skype, TransferWise, Wix, Waze, etc both countries moved from underdeveloped to developed economies, recognised globally as startup hubs.

It takes a concentrated effort by the government to nurture a vibrant tech startup ecosystem and policies need to be rolled out to increase tech literacy, talent and number of startups.

The existing education system cannot be relied on to fast track the tech literacy of the Thai population. Policies that support the establishment of Tech & Coding institutes and agencies across Thailand for all ages of the population must be encouraged. Businesses that deal with tech education should be subsidised and promoted in terms of tax cuts, access to loans and easy hiring of foreign tech talent to be instructors and teachers. Tech literacy should be on offer at affordable prices for every  Thai.

In keeping with China’s technological drive, children at an age as early as 5 years old are learning to code. Coding agencies are in high demand in China as middle-class families are eager to have their children acquire the best skills to see them thrive in an increasingly technology focussed world.

Seeing talent as central to its technological advancement, President Xi Jinping has emphasised that talent is “the first resource” in China’s push for “independent innovation”. A multi-pronged strategy for growing its technology talent pool which includes (1) improving domestic education and (2) attracting foreign talent including overseas Chinese talent.

Thai policymakers should draw inspiration from China’s emphasis on talent to formulate an equally

wide-ranging workforce strategy. This strategy should include both domestic investments and reforms to the immigration system.

Promoting startups is another policy that is crucial in creating an innovative ecosystem and is a fundamental fact that most unicorns were startups to begin with. Companies such as Zoom, Slack

and Shopify were all startups not long ago that went public. And when startups do well they bring prestige and value to the ecosystem in which it operates.

Take the case of India, when the government focussed on supporting the startup ecosystem in 2014.

Today, India’s total number of tech startups in the country has grown to 8,900-9300 with 21 unicorns collectively valued at $73.2 billion. India is the fourth biggest in terms of unicorns, behind the US, China and the UK per the Hurun Global Unicorn List. India currently has the third largest startup ecosystem in the world with Bengaluru ranking behind only London and Silicon Valley for the greatest number of tech startups.

India launched schemes and policies promoting startups, providing financial and procedural support to  setting up incubators, workshops, upgrading technology and physical infrastructure, rewarding startups and developing links between private investors and the industry. While government support has largely been towards the creation and development of a vibrant startup ecosystem, the private capital investment in India is booming responding to relaxation in government regulation, tax breaks and the creation of new asset classes.

Most importantly, the private sector’s involvement in incubation itself has grown, running almost half of the active incubators in the country offering a wide network of mentors from the private sector and industry, while also offering more practical support such as use of proprietary software and tools, free office space and infrastructure.

Another policy that Thailand could pursue to jumpstart the ecosystem post pandemic is to attract foreigners to invest at the startup level, which would rapidly increase technological knowledge transfers and foster innovation. Thailand is anyway one of the most attractive countries to live and work in and only needs to tweak business registration policies, work permit and immigration policies

to create an environment that is easy for foreign startups to operate in Thailand. Foreign startups may not bring a sizeable investment into the country as startups are notorious for being bootstrapped but the tech knowledge and innovation that these startups can bring into the country would be invaluable.   

Building a vibrant tech ecosystem may just well be Thailand’s answer in moving towards an economic recovery, initially with thoughtful government spending and policies and  then enjoying sustainable growth as the successful ecosystem attracts investments both domestically and internationally in the years ahead.