The digital transformation of South and Southeast Asia (SEA) is opening opportunities, especially for its younger citizens, and pushing other Asian countries to the forefront.

The Philippines and Malaysia are leading in e-commerce retail growth, up by 25% and 23% per year. While India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines are exporting online labour to the West. In Bangladesh, the digital economy is opening jobs to excluded sections of the population.

Over the past two years, region-wide digital connectivity helped overcome challenges in traditional trade and enabled the Asian recovery. As 60 million people in the SEA region became online consumers, e-commerce activities skyrocketed especially in sports equipment and supermarket items. Today, the region contributes about 60% of the world’s online retail sales. By 2025, Asian-Pacific e-commerce is expected to reach $2 trillion, reshaping the business and social environment in this region.

Around two-thirds of the Asian population use mobile services, and there is still room for expansion. While Singapore (87%), Malaysia (83%), and Thailand (75%) have high smartphone usage, the Philippines registered the highest growth – over 90% – in 2020. Likewise, mobile data usage in South and Southeast Asia is projected to triple from 9.2 GB to 28.9 GB per month per user by 2025.

According to UN-ESCAP, about 78% of the region’s $2.448 trillion of e-commerce retail sales is happening over mobile phones.

In terms of social media, the penetration rate in Southeast Asia is much higher than in South Asia. Malaysia has the highest penetration rate (81%), followed by Singapore (79%), the Philippines (67%) and Indonesia (59%). In South Asia, India and Bangladesh, only have penetration rates of 29% and 22%, respectively.