Southeast Asia’s digital transformation has opened the region to an advanced, innovative world with novel job opportunities and solutions that can solve many societal problems. Climate tech in Southeast Asia is a nascent sector with startups using tech for good and to change the world by protecting the environment, creating sustainable solutions while in the quest for profitability, and delivering social inclusivity and empowerment.
These improvements are possible through government support, concerted investments, innovative founders, and a sustained approach to educating the public on the importance of social and environmental solutions. Even so, there are challenges such as politicisation of the process, scepticism from late adopters, lack of education, inadequate resources, poor infrastructure, and insufficient internet access.
Investing in green technology startups: A promising frontier for impact investors in Southeast Asia
Climate tech in the region is one aspect of societal good because it combats the impact of climate change. Southeast Asia increasingly faces typhoons, flooding, and high temperatures, destroying agriculture, exacerbating health concerns, and reducing economic output.
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA) Southeast Asia Energy Outlook Report 2022, countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have an overreliance on fossil fuels, making them vulnerable to the current global energy crisis. An accelerated transition to renewable energy would reduce fuel imports, cut carbon emissions, democratise access to electricity, and create business opportunities in a green economy.
Examples of tech startups bringing social and environmental change
Here are a few examples of startups in edtech, healthtech, and climate tech that are making a societal difference:
The education sector has been growing for many years, expanding further after COVID-19 brought lockdowns that prevented students from gathering in learning institutions. Edtech leverages technology like artificial intelligence for creating content or detecting plagiarism. It also incorporates:
- blockchain for keeping records
- immersive learning to reinforce information
- gamification to keep learners engaged
- virtual and augmented reality to take studies to the next level
Startup Fammi is an excellent example of edtech in Southeast Asia. It is an online learning platform that teaches students about family life, including parenting, marriage, breastfeeding courses, and other necessary skills.
Innovative tech startups are democratising healthcare access to Southeast Asians, especially the underserved communities in rural areas. The COVID-19 pandemic already opened the door towards telemedicine solutions and telehealth for patients who could not make in-person visits.
By enhancing access and employing data-driven approaches to healthcare, doctors can better manage patient symptoms, predict potential ailments and improve their treatment outcomes.
One example of a healthtech startup making a difference is Malaysia’s Speedoc. The platform offers home-based healthcare options to patients. These options may include virtual consultations, health screenings, and home visits.
The IEA report cited above notes that energy demand in ASEAN will grow by 3% annually up to 2030, increasing carbon emissions by 35% and seeing the net oil import bill multiply drastically. Thus, citizens have to take steps to establish sustainable practices.
Singapore-based FlyORO is a climate tech startup providing sustainable aviation fuel to many airports. It offers an alternative to conventional jet fuel, ensuring clearer skies.
Social inclusion and empowerment
With the tech ecosystem proliferating, preventing people from being left behind socially and economically is essential. A diverse workforce is said to work better and offer more unique ideas. Some companies supported their employees during the work-from-home period to ensure no one was left out and everyone could contribute.
The Indonesian startup Evoware is a social impact company developing and producing sustainable solutions to replace plastics using seaweed.
Venture capital support for startups
Investors can provide financial support and mentorship for social impact startups to deliver solutions. Challenges arise because investors seek profitable exits, but tech for good initiatives may take a while to deliver considerable returns on investments (ROIs).
One way VCs can significantly impact is to specifically target and invest in startups with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies. This shift may prompt other businesses in the ecosystem to begin implementing social and economic impact ideals into their products and services.
In a report from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, the authors argue that VCs can get a reputational advantage by investing in clean energy. Social approval may boost a company’s returns, making it a win-win for the investors and the businesses.
Technology-driven solutions are vital for dealing with social and environmental challenges because they provide analytics and insights, increase efficiency and productivity, and enhance collaborations. Furthermore, they enable more innovations, enhance accuracy, flexibility and adaptability, and facilitate learning.
As such, using tech for good can solve many of the problems in ASEAN. With new technological options emerging from startups working in climate tech in Southeast Asia, bringing change, preserving the environment, improving air quality, ensuring proper waste management, creating sustainable products, and protecting the soil for food production have become much more manageable.