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Opening Remarks at the Digital Development Forum 2018 - Bambang Susantono

Speech | 5 September 2018

Opening Remarks by ADB Vice President Bambang Susantono at the Digital Development Forum 2018 on 5 September 2018 at ADB Headquarters, Manila, Philippines


A very good morning, magandang umaga sa inyong lahat.

To all distinguished guests and participants – welcome to day 2 of this forum, Digital Development Forum 2018.

So, I would like to begin by maybe asking you to imagine.

Most of you have families and are associated with children – correct? I want you to “imagine” your child – son daughter, niece, nephew, cousin a dozen years from now. Perhaps in 2030.

What did you “imagine”? – most probably the following:

  • Books versus gadgets
  • Parent teachers conference with a different format? Maybe using hologram for the teachers? Or perhaps
  • A car or household utility that drives on command? And many, many more of that.

The potential and possibilities of our world to change is endless. In fact, our world has already entered a new era.

Technological advancements and innovations are exploding exponentially, bringing opportunities for not only enhanced productivity, but also new categories of products and services.

All of these have a profound impact on the way people live, interact, and do business.

4th Industrial Revolution

The 4th Industrial Revolution (IR)1, the 4th IR as we call it, is characterized by not just a key technological breakthrough but a fusion of technologies in multiple physical, digital, and also biological areas.

Developing Asia stands to benefit immensely in this new era where digital technologies, such as millions of mobile apps, have vastly improved people’s daily lives and are transforming entire economies.

New innovations2 like fintech, Internet of Things (IoT)3, Big Data4, A.I., blockchain5 and cloud computing are already benefitting the e-commerce, finance, education and healthcare sectors.

So let me reiterate - the application of digital and online technologies can be massive and has the potential to help emerging economies leapfrog development.

To turn this potential into reality though, developing Asia must break through some tough barriers.

Many countries are not simply ready to maximize the use of digital technologies for development.

Less than 50% of the population in the region have access to the internet and require the ICT infrastructure necessary to jumpstart the digital revolution.

They need useful digital content and applications that are not only important for immediate benefits but also for increasing local demands. They also need skilled human resources to harness the technology advancement for the broader economic transformation of their countries.

The international development community has a crucial role in helping developing countries achieve these fundamentals. Governments alone do not have the needed resources, and the private sector often faces barriers to investment. This often places countries in a financial and institutional dilemma.

ADB's role in ICT in its developing member countries

ADB, the Asian Development Bank, is addressing these challenges to support countries’ efforts towards building the enabling environments for a digital economy.

ADB is assisting its developing member countries to build ICT infrastructure, priority being those areas that are not commercially viable.

In this regard, ADB has supported the Pacific countries covering Tonga, Solomon Islands, and Palau to improve and expand the mobile telecommunications networks and internet connectivity by establishing submarine cable systems.

Further, ADB is also shifting its support from physical infrastructure in the direction of development-oriented services.

The power of digital technologies to underscore and transect issues makes it a strong enabler for governments, businesses, and individuals to foster an integrated and innovative approach to development. Additionally, the value of these technologies exponentially increases as more and more people use the same platform and more data and information are processed.

It is imperative for Governments to take advantage of digital platforms and improve the efficiency of public service delivery. Toward this end, ADB is also helping expand access to digital platforms along the infrastructure.

Let me give you some examples. ADB is currently implementing a technical assistance on Promoting Smart Systems in Suva, Fiji. This involves conducting a prefeasibility study and piloting a digital land registry that uses a high-level technology called “blockchain”. Gaining clout in industries and governments, a blockchain acts as “an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way”.

Land records in Suva are still paper-based. In a small country like Fiji, where land is a valuable resource and 92% of land is ancestral domain, there is a clear need for an efficient, transparent information system to update and monitor records, and create new ones. ADB will develop a prototype of a blockchain-based land registry for Suva.

Infrastructure is no longer just visible creations such as roads, bridges, airports and power plants. In this era of the 4.0, infrastructure, as we know it, is already expanding boundaries.

Infrastructure is increasingly being provided by the incorporation of technology to provide services to marginalized or remote communities. A good example is here in the Philippines where 30% of Filipinos do not possess a bank account, and in the province of Mindanao this is up to 41%.

ADB has established a pilot project with a small local bank to provide cloud-based banking services for remote and underserved communities in Mindanao. This offers inexpensive banking services and provides access to payment receipts and small business opportunities which would otherwise be inaccessible.

In the same token, in Indonesia, an ADB-supported project strengthened the national-wide public procurement process and the resulting e-procurement system provided huge budget savings across the government.

Another example is Cambodia where ADB has provided technical assistance for the national identity program which will be a key government platform for any digital services integrating multiple identity systems in the country.

Digital technology in economic growth

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.

Many countries have started national initiatives for digitizing economies. To name a few - “Digital Thailand,” “Digital India”, “Taza Koom” in Kyrgyzstan, and “Digital Azerbaijan”. While these aspire digital transformation, most DMCs recognize the need to address gaps in knowledge, in experience, and in capacity in developing appropriate strategies for implementing the initiatives.

ADB is supporting the development and implementation of such digital strategies as part of its technical and knowledge support.

Technological changes clearly drive economic growth and improve standards of living. If we use new technologies better, the benefits of the digital revolution could be massive.

HOWEVER! - Some new technologies can also be “disruptive”, in the sense that they can disrupt the existing market and value network.

There have been concerns over “disruptive technologies” because these innovations may lead to “technological unemployment,” i.e., the loss of jobs caused by technological change.

It remains to be seen, how new technologies play out across different sectors of the economy. For example, there is considerable anxiety about how automation, the robotic for example, ever-expanding computing power, and artificial intelligence will affect the availability of jobs, especially for the moderately skilled worker carrying out tasks that can be automated or done by computers.

But disruption, in my opinion, need not be considered negatively!

Clearly, societies, institutions and policy makers will need to think carefully about issues such as skills development, retraining, and means to support workers displaced by disruptive technologies.

So, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, today will be another full day of

  • exposure to digital know-how
  • broadening possibilities and also
  • re-imagining the future and the solutions

I wish you all constructive discussions and a menu of options to explore as you head back home. So let me end with this video taken by one of my colleagues on this ADB-AIM Hackathon 2018.

Thank you.


  1. The 1st Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The 2nd Industrial Revolution used electric power to create mass production. The 3rd Industrial Revolution used information technology to automate production. The 4th IR is different from the previous one in three ways – velocity, scope, and impact.
  2. Robots are getting more intelligent and adaptive with advanced sensors and respond in better ways; Autonomous vehicles are the typical example of this trend.
  3. IoT connects objects and makes a smarter relationship between things and people.
  4. Big Data and cloud computing are foundation to make businesses more intelligent.
  5. Blockchain will bring new ways of trust for businesses without a central system.