Healthcare in Thailand
Thailand is a country of hundreds of islands in Southeast Asia with a population of nearly 70 million people. Thailand has a history of political instability and economic uncertainty along with rising poverty rates. However, the country has made great strides to improve its healthcare. Nearly 7 million of Thailand’s citizens live in poverty and a wealthy few control a large majority of the country’s wealth. With one of the most extreme wealth gaps in the world, universal healthcare in Thailand creates a meaningful movement toward equality for all its citizens.

Switching to Universal Health Coverage (UHC)

In 2002, Thailand made the transition from a combination of various healthcare policies to an all-encompassing, universal health coverage (UHC) system. Under the UHC system, every Thai citizen is entitled to health services — including preventative, curative and palliative care, at any age. Under this system, financial protection for high-cost services also improved.

Challenges in Financing the UHC System

Though universal health coverage in Thailand has allowed increased access for all ages and classes of citizens, the country still faces challenges with funding the program. The UHC system is a predominantly publicly funded program, meaning that it functions mainly through taxation. Because the nearly 7 million Thai citizens live no more than 20% above the poverty line, the UHC budget coming from taxes is relatively inflexible. Therefore, funding the growing demands for healthcare in Thailand often requires reaching into other public funds.

Access to preventative medicine has decreased the rates of many illnesses by keeping them from occurring in the first place. However, medical expenses in other categories are on the rise. As the average age of the population increases, healthcare in Thailand faces an influx in elderly patients needing more care. Unsafe road conditions and unenforced traffic laws in many regions also contribute to high rates of road accidents and result in excessive trauma cases. Also, air pollution in cities and extreme weather conditions in various regions across the many islands contribute to increased utilization of the UHC system. For the UHC system to be an equitable, effective and sustainable service for the country, other avenues of funding must be explored.

Challenges and Looking Ahead

Healthcare in Thailand has had many positive improvements since the national transition to universal coverage in 2001. Yet, like any system, it often faces continued challenges. The system is considered popular among lower-paid citizens that did not previously have access to care. Albeit, higher-income communities hold some distaste for the system due to increased access leading to more crowding in hospitals. Universal healthcare in Thailand has created a much more inclusive environment for the Thai people as it helps to bridge the immense wealth gap. A gap between the nearly 7 million living in poverty and the wealthy 1%.

Positive Impact of the UHC System

This alteration of the previous healthcare system has led to an increase in the utilization of health services and decreased the prevalence of unmet needs in the country. Overall, healthcare in Thailand is improving. Not only did rates of care increase with the introduction of the UHC system, but other metrics of improving healthcare also rose.

Life expectancy from birth rose from 71.8 years before the introduction of the UHC system, to 77.2 years in 2020. Infant mortality rates similarly fell from more than 100 per 1,000 births in 1970 to 7 per 1,000 births in 2020. As citizens have been able to access preventative care and more expensive intervention at lower personal cost, out-of-pocket spending on healthcare needs have decreased. Meanwhile, household savings increased. Though the switch to universal healthcare certainly faces challenges, it has created quantifiable positive change for millions living in Thailand.

Jazmin Johnson 
Photo: Unsplash

Tea Farming in Sri LankaSri Lanka is a small island off the southeastern coast of India. The country is home to around 22 million people and to a long and vibrant history. Sri Lanka has gone from an early Buddhist settlement to a colony under the control of major European powers to, finally, its own independent republic in 1972. Throughout its secular history, tea farming in Sri Lanka has remained a constant activity and has played a massive role in the development of culture on the island.

Sri Lankan tea gained global prevalence after British colonial rulers transformed tea agriculture into a plantation-style economic powerhouse. With the economic success brought on by the explosion of tea farming in the country, the British began pushing peasants and subsistence farmers into producing tea to capitalize on the global interest in the beverage.

Tea Farming in Modern Sri Lanka

Plantation-style agriculture still makes up a notable volume of Sri Lanka’s economy, and tea is the “preeminent crop of the plantation sector” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

The global demand for tea has not diminished in modern times and seemingly neither has Sri Lanka’s role in providing it. The country exports hundreds of millions of kilograms of tea every year. For example, from January 2020 to May 2020 Sri Lanka exported over 100 million kilograms of tea to its trading partners.

Therefore, much of the country’s agricultural workforce is devoted to tea farming. More specifically, two million Sri Lankan farmers rely on tea farming and tea production to provide for their families and households. With tea ingrained in so much of Sri Lanka’s culture and economy, modern solutions need to be embraced to soothe the working conditions of the many poor farmers who work to meet the global demand for tea.

How Microsoft is Improving Tea Farming in Sri Lanka

To do so, Sri Lanka has turned to technology and confided in companies to assist the government in finding these solutions. For Sri Lanka specifically, Microsoft has been a superb partner in this goal.

One broad way Microsoft has helped is via a survey conducted with local business leaders to determine if they have an interest in integrating artificial intelligence (or “AI”) as a business solution. The survey discovered that 80% of those business leaders surveyed found AI to be essential to maintain their business’s competitiveness. Acknowledging this, Microsoft is investing millions of dollars into enhancing tech skills for businesses in Sri Lanka, as well as starting programs and providing hardware to assist tech startups rising in the nation.

The implications of this initiative are massive. Considering the vital status of tea farming to Sri Lanka’s culture and economy, Microsoft’s assistance in pushing more technology into businesses can lead to more efficient farming. As a result, there will be more valuable data available to increase crop yields and more companies will engage in tea farming as their enterprise of choice. The introduction of these tools can also lead to an improvement in the lives of millions of tea farmers in Sri Lanka in both safety and economic terms.

The Colombo Tea Auction

Such efforts have already begun to take hold in Sri Lanka. One major example of Microsoft’s valuable assistance to tea farming in Sri Lanka can be found in the Colombo Tea Auction. The Colombo Tea Auction is a weekly event that takes place in the nation’s capital involving the sale and export of tea from farmers. The event is vital to the tea farming community’s success as it is a major method for how the country’s tea is prepped and sold for export around the world.

However, the auction tends to involve a lot of close-quarters contact between attendees; a reality that has proven impossible given the current global COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, with the help of Microsoft’s Azure team and their Azure cloud and AI products, a local tech company was able to develop an e-commerce platform that allowed sellers and buyers to trade tea from the safety of their own homes. This was developed with extreme speed, and it allowed the tea economy (and two million poor tea farmers) to avoid economic disaster and flourish amongst a dangerous pandemic.

Now that the benefits are starting to become more tangible, and economic success is within reach for Sri Lanka’s farmers, technology may become more and more prevalent in the Sri Lankan tea industry. With the success of the Colombo Tea Auction’s move to digital commerce, along with Microsoft’s continued efforts to support Sri Lanka’s growth in tech and economic fulfillment, the world may see a better-equipped, safer and more successful Sri Lanka in the near future, perhaps beginning with their high-quality tea.

– Domenic Scalora
Photo: Flickr

EdTech in SoutheastSoutheast Asia is a region that is known for placing importance on education, with parents often enrolling their children in additional after-school tuition sessions to enhance their academic knowledge.

The region is home to 700 million people and 25.7% of the population falls under the school-going age group.
However, due to COVID-19, many educational institutions were forced to adapt and utilize education technology (edtech) to conduct virtual classes for students. Edtech in Southeast Asia utilizes tools such as mobile applications, websites, online quizzes, streaming videos and online tutorials to provide Southeast Asian students with the opportunity to continue studying no matter the circumstance or location.

The Problem of Gaining Access to Quality Education

In rural parts of Southeast Asia (SEA), the lack of development and scarcity of trained teachers result in the problem of children not getting the education they deserve. Teachers are underpaid and classes have high student to teacher ratios, further exacerbating the quality of education that students receive. As a result, public schools are underfunded and poorly-run. Those with the financial ability mostly choose to invest in private education for their children (either in the form of additional tuition or private schooling), however others who do not have the means are forced to study within the existing system, leading to a widening gap in educational inequity.

However, with edtech, not only are many of the physical obstacles (such as distance and lack of school facilities) mitigated but also, edtech lowers the cost and potentially increases the accessibility of quality education for students who have an internet connection.

EdTech in Southeast Asia as the Solution

SEA has high internet penetration rates, and in 2019 alone, 97 million handsets were purchased in SEA, making the region fertile ground for the expansion and adoption of edtech. In addition, over the last five years, Southeast Asia managed to raise $480 million in venture capital funds for edtech startup investments.

Today, there are many edtech startups in SEA such as Topica, (Vietnam), Taamkru (Thailand), Ruangguru (Indonesia) and Classruum (Malaysia) that are hoping to breach the educational gap and increase the quality of education. In particular, Topica, a Hanoi-based edtech startup aims to increase the talent pool by equipping young adults with the skills they need to thrive in a fast-paced working environment in the digital age. Topica has more than 3,000 e-learning courses, in topics such as social media marketing and computer programming, and has trained more than 6,000 students thus far.

Clearly, edtech in Southeast Asia is a burgeoning industry that promotes educational inclusion for many in need. Especially during COVID-19 where many schools have yet to reopen for fears of further spreading the virus, edtech is useful for providing millions of children in SEA with the opportunity to learn during national lockdowns.

– Mariyah Lia
Photo: Flickr

 


Technology has the ability to empower those in a community to achieve better, faster, and more efficient results. Gojek is an Indonesian start-up that began with a vision to use technology to improve the lives of motorcycle taxi drivers. The company has now flourished into an online ecosystem that connects Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in Indonesia to millions of customers and Big Tech clients. This effort is further improving the lives of millions in the region.

Who is Gojek?

Gojek is Indonesia’s first unicorn company and Super App that provides a multitude of services to thousands of users across Southeast Asia, such as ride-hailing, food delivery, beauty services, entertainment booking and online payments. The company believes there is always a way to solve everyday problems and create a positive social impact using advancements in technology. As SMEs make up most of the businesses in Indonesia, Gojek helps SMEs in Indonesia by creating a digital platform that connects consumers and businessmen efficiently and seamlessly. Overall, the company managed to raise billions of dollars in financing from Google, Tencent, JD.com, Mitsubishi and VISA. More recently, Facebook and Paypal also invested in Gojek’s financial technology division, thereby officially joining Gojek’s list of high profile investors that share the mission of increasing digital economic growth in Southeast Asia.

Connecting SMEs with Big Tech in Indonesia

Indonesia is Southeast Asia’s largest and fastest-growing digital economy. Therefore, Gojek plays an important role in facilitating the growth of the digital economy by acting as a medium of communication between Big Tech companies who want to invest in the region and Indonesia’s SMEs. This results in more sustainable business opportunities.

Gojek helps SMEs in Indonesia by increasing financial inclusion through the digital payments platform on GoPay that is supported by Whatsapp. Digital payments are safer and more reliable for both customers and businesses, yet the majority of SMEs in Indonesia still operate on a cash-basis. SMEs operate this way because they lack access to financial services such as setting up a bank account. This reliance on cash payments only has limited the financial ability and customer reach of SMEs in Indonesia.

However, since its launch in 2015, through its app, Gojek has helped more than a hundred thousands of Indonesian merchants tap into an international market of more than 170 million people across Southeast Asia. In particular, Gojek’s GoPay functionality allows Indonesians who do not have bank accounts to participate in the digital economy by transferring money through Whatsapp, a social media app owned by Facebook that is used by a majority of the Indonesian population.

Gojek’s role during COVID-19

In light of the impact of COVID-19, which rendered consumers unable to physically visit stores, Gojek successfully converted 100,000 traditional businesses onto Gojek’s online platform, saving them from going out of business. By providing SMEs with complete digital solutions and tools, business owners no longer solely rely on in-store sales. Now, they are able to migrate their business online and take advantage of Gojek’s established online platform in light of the pandemic.

In other words, Gojek helps SMEs in Indonesia by promoting digital literacy and skills that will allow them to adapt their business model and increase their chances of reaching more customers, thereby building the long term resiliency of SMEs. Not only does the company play a crucial role in ensuring the delivery of essential food and goods are carried out, but Gojek has also played an active role in helping the Indonesian society by providing relief programs and soft loans for its drivers. For instance, Gojek’s senior management initiated a pay cut to allocate more than $7 million for its drivers and employees that are struggling due to the decrease in demand for Gojek’s services. As a whole, Gojek has helped the Indonesian government manage the COVID-19 pandemic by contributing to the backbone of the Indonesian economy.

It is clear that Gojek’s mission to solve the friction in everyday life is beginning to have a positive impact. It can be seen through the financial aid and support that the organization provides to the SMEs in Indonesia. By connecting Big Tech companies and SMEs, Gojek helps SMEs in Indonesia by giving them a louder voice and increased competitiveness in the regional and international marketplace of the digital economy.

– Mariyah Lia
Photo: Flickr

Life Expectancy in Timor-Leste
Timor-Leste, also known as East Timor, is a nation that occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor in Southeast Asia. With a population of 1.26 million people, Timor-Leste is one of the least populated countries in Asia. The Portuguese originally colonized the country in 1520. After declaring independence in 1975, Indonesia invaded the nation, which occupies the western half of the island. The Indonesian invasion brought violence, famine and disease to Timor-Leste, resulting in a large loss in population. After a majority of the Timorese population voted to become independent in 1999, Indonesia relinquished control and Timor-Leste moved under the supervision of the United Nations. The nation officially became independent in 2002, making it one of the newest nations in the world. These 10 facts about life expectancy in Timor-Leste outline the rapid improvement the country has made since Indonesian occupation and the issues it still needs to overcome.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in Timor-Leste

  1. Life expectancy in Timor-Leste increased from 32.6 years in 1978 to 69.26 years in 2018, matching that of South Asia. The consistent improvement in life expectancy in the past decade is primarily due to the Ministry of Health’s public health interventions. Such interventions include the reconstruction of health facilities, expansion of community-based health programs and an increase in medical graduates in the workforce.
  2. Life expectancy in Timor-Leste increased despite a drop in GDP, which decreased from $6.67 billion in 2012 to $2.6 billion in 2018. However, Timor-Leste’s GDP rose by 2.8% from 2017 to 2018. Continued improvement in GDP and economic progress in the nation will only serve to increase life expectancy by providing more opportunities for employment, education and improved quality of life.
  3. Tuberculosis was the highest cause of death in 2014, causing 14.68% of deaths. In 2014, estimates determined that Timor-Leste had the highest prevalence of tuberculosis in Southeast Asia, and 46% of people with tuberculosis did not receive a diagnosis in 2017. Maluk Timor, an Australian and Timorese nonprofit committed to advancing primary health care, provides a service through which team members visit Timorese households to locate undiagnosed patients and raise awareness about the severity of tuberculosis in the community. The organization collaborates with the National TB Program and aims to eliminate suffering and deaths in Timor-Leste due to diseases that Australia, which is only one hour away, had already eliminated.
  4. Communicable diseases caused 60% of deaths in 2006 but decreased to causing 45.6% of deaths in 2016. While diseases such as tuberculosis and dengue fever remain a public health challenge, the incidence of malaria drastically declined from over 200,000 cases in 2006 to no cases in 2018 due to early diagnoses, quality surveillance, funding from The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and support from the World Health Organization.
  5. The adult mortality rate decreased from 672.2 deaths per 1,000 people in 1977 to 168.9 deaths per 1,000 people in 2018. Additionally, the infant mortality rate decreased from 56.6 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2008 to 39.3 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2018. While public health interventions and disease prevention contributed to the decrease in the adult mortality rate, Timor-Leste needs to expand access to maternal health services in rural areas to continue to improve the infant mortality rate.
  6. Maternal mortality decreased from 796 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1998 to 142 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2017. The leading cause of the high maternal mortality rate is poor access to reproductive health services, as only 43% of women had access to prenatal care in 2006. While the Ministry of Health continues to expand access to maternal health care through mobile health clinics that reach over 400 rural villages, only 30% of Timorese women gave birth with a health attendant present in 2013. Even as access increases, challenges such as family planning services, immunization, treatment for pneumonia and vitamin A supplementation remain for mothers in rural communities.
  7. The violent crisis for independence in 1999 destroyed more than 80% of health facilities. Despite rehabilitation efforts to rebuild the health system, many facilities at the district level either have limited or no access to water. However, the number of physicians per 1,000 people improved from 0.1 in 2004 to 0.7 in 2017. The capacity of the health care system is also improving, as UNICEF supports the Ministry of Health in providing increased training for health care workers in maternal and newborn issues and in striving to improve evidence-based public health interventions.
  8. Timor-Leste has one of the highest malnutrition rates in the world. At least 50% of children suffered from malnutrition in 2013. Additionally, in 2018, 27% of the population experienced food deprivation. USAID activated both the Reinforce Basic Health Services Activity and Avansa Agrikultura Project from 2015-2020 to address the capacity of health workers to provide reproductive health care and the productivity of horticulture chains to stimulate economic growth in poor rural areas. Both projects aim to combat malnutrition by addressing prenatal health and encouraging a plant-based lifestyle that fuels the economy.
  9. Motherhood at young ages and education levels are key contributors to malnutrition, as 18% of women began bearing children by the age of 19 in 2017. Teenage girls are far more likely to experience malnourishment than older women in Timor-Leste, contributing to malnutrition in the child and therefore lowering life expectancy for both mother and child. As a result of malnutrition, 58% of children under 5 suffered from stunting in 2018. Additionally, findings determined that stunting levels depended on the wealth and education level of mothers. In fact, 63% of children whose mothers did not receive any formal education experienced stunting, while the number dropped to 53% in children whose mothers received a formal education.
  10. Education enrollment rates are increasing, as the net enrollment rate in secondary education increased from 40.5% in 2010 to 62.7% in 2018. Completion of secondary education links to higher life expectancy, especially in rural areas. Since 2010, Timor-Leste has increased spending on education. Additionally, local nonprofit Ba Futuru is working to train teachers to promote quality learning environments in high-need schools. After Ba Futuru worked with schools for nine months, students reported less physical punishment and an increase in innovative and engaging teaching methods in their classrooms. The organization serves over 10,000 students and provides scholarships for school supplies for hundreds of students. With more programs dedicated to increasing enrollment and the classroom environment, students are more likely to complete secondary education and increase both their quality of life and life expectancy.

These 10 facts about life expectancy in Timor-Leste indicate an optimistic trend. Although malnutrition, disease and adequate access to health care remain prevalent issues in Timor-Leste, the nation’s life expectancy has rapidly increased since Indonesian occupation and has steadily improved its education and health care systems since its founding in 2002. To continue to improve life expectancy, Timor-Leste should continue to focus its efforts on improving public health access and community awareness in poor rural areas, and particularly to emphasize maternal health services to reduce both maternal and infant mortality rates. Despite being one of the newest nations in the world, Timor-Leste shows promise and progress.

Melina Stavropoulos
Photo: Flickr

education programs in Myanmar
Children are one of the most assailable groups in developing nations. Others repeatedly violate and ignore their most fundamental rights. Around 428 million children live in extreme poverty, and nearly half of this number are children working in subjugated environments. Here is some information about the education crisis and education programs in Myanmar.

Education Crisis in Myanmar

Life for children in Myanmar, a country in Southeast Asia, involves child labor and early exposure to gang activity. Outside of violence and natural disasters, the youth of the country cannot progress due to an education crisis. The decline of school attendance stems from military rule in 1962. However, this was not always the case. When Myanmar was under British colonialism, hundreds of English schools opened. Myanmar became independent in 1948, and Burmese schools played a pivotal role in keeping the deprived sections of the country at a high literacy rate. The additional impact of monasteries on education gave Myanmar the reputation of one of the best education reforms in Asia. Following military dictatorship, which lasted for 26 years, are years of neglect towards school systems. Due to student protests, the dictatorship shut down large universities until the late 1990s.

Myanmar has worked to improve all areas of basic necessities for its citizens, such as power infrastructure and sanitation. Newborns and children have high mortality rates in the country, so the country has placed focus on the welfare of its youth in various ways. Education programs in Myanmar prioritize marginalized adolescents in rural areas and open doors for their future.

Education Programs in Various Forms

The Myanmar Children’s Foundation is a nonprofit organization providing aid to parents. By assisting parents with work to finance their families, rural kids will stay in monastic schools longer. Getting children past primary school gives them the confidence to pursue higher education. In addition to creating education programs in Myanmar, the organization helps build and repair schools. The Stay in School Program uses annual sponsorships to gives books and school supplies and even supports teachers.

The Myanmar Local Charitable Organization enhances access to libraries. Several projects within the organization involve improving literacy throughout the country. For example, a digital literacy program collaborated with Facebook and the Beyond Access Myanmar project to provide internet access in the libraries. Meanwhile, Tech Age Girls Myanmar encourages girls to develop ICT skills, and Scratch Programming for Kids implements coding into children’s lessons in the classroom.

Forced to work to support their families, many children drop out of school. World Education keeps Burmese kids in school through the Youth and Technology Project. The program provides essential life skills and computer-based training for children who do not have access to formal education.

Utilizing fundraising towards education, enhancing the schools and feeding students brings awareness to the Burma Humanitarian Mission’s efforts. Its Minmawhaw School established several programs ranging from additional secondary schooling to teacher training. Students are not only learning global recognition but they are also gaining a greater sense of pride for their country. Migrant children in the neighboring country of Thailand also benefit from the Burma Humanitarian Mission through the Minmahaw Higher Education Program.

It is not uncommon for children in Myanmar to grow up without parents. Global Care opened Grace Children’s Home to house disadvantaged children and provide them with proper education. Education programs in the Kayah State run through limited high schools specifically for Karenni children. A focus on maintaining Karenni culture throughout the schools and better transportation to and from school is fundamental.

Education programs in Myanmar are thriving through United World Schools, one of the prime organizations paving ways for children in the country. This program built schools for those who cannot attend government schools. Certified teaching staff also supports children speaking ethnic languages.

Prioritizing sexual and reproductive health in education programs in Myanmar also helps the lives of all children. The 360ed company is teaching children through Augmented Reality (AR), also known as virtual reality, and technological advancements. Opening up the conversation of sexual and reproductive health will counter rape cases among children in addition to decreasing HIV/AIDs cases.

Impact of Education Programs

The impact of keeping kids in school is evident through the progress that the National Education Strategic Plan evaluated. A quality education that effective nurturing of students’ dreams supports is what improves the socio-economic status of the entire nation. Proper financing of education programs in Myanmar expands goals and enriches the lives of children throughout the country.

– Sydney Stokes 
Photo: Pixabay

apps that are changing lives
Technology continues to march onward, bringing with it exciting new opportunities to make a difference in the lives of others. Indeed, in Southeast Asia, innovative minds are utilizing the power of smartphones to enrich lives in ways previously unthinkable. From health to finance, from the dense forests of Cambodia to the food markets of Vietnam, here are five apps changing lives in Southeast Asia.

5 Apps Changing Lives in Southeast Asia

  1. It’s Our Forest Too: Illegal logging is a dire issue in Cambodia’s Prey Lang Forest, where in some cases up to 80% of villagers’ income derives from the extraction of resin from the forest’s many trees. To help combat this problem, Web Essentials has developed an Android app called It’s Our Forest Too. Its goal: to give activists the tools they need to discreetly monitor and report illegal activity within the Prey Lang. Here is how it works. Villagers use the app to take photos and record audio they deem suspicious. Then, after categorizing the recordings with the aid of a user-friendly pictorial decision-tree, users upload the data and its associated GPS coordinates to an encrypted Dropbox database. Since the entire process is quick and anonymous, activist organizations like the Prey Lang Community Network can then make use of the information they receive from the app without putting at risk any of the villagers who recorded the data. Thus, saving both lives and livelihoods.
  2. Halodoc: Recent years have seen a severe doctor shortage in Southeast Asia. This has led to excruciating wait times for patients and difficult travels for those living outside of the region’s urban areas. Enter Halodoc, the Indonesian app that allows patients to consult their doctors from the convenience of their own homes. The way it works is surprisingly simple. Patients select a doctor from a list, then immediately receive an option to schedule a video call. In many cases, the meeting lasts no more than 10 minutes. Patients can also use the app to purchase medicine, which is then delivered directly to the location of their choosing. This combination of convenience and user-friendly design has made the app a favorite of Southeast Asia’s medical community. As a result, Halodoc is now home to more than 2 million users and a database of 20,000 doctors.
  3. Foody: With a stated goal of being the Yelp! of Vietnam, Foody has more than surpassed expectations. Indeed, aside from serving as a community where users can review, discuss and order from Vietnam’s restaurants, Foody also plays an important role in the country’s struggles with food safety. The World Bank currently estimates that food safety issues cost Vietnam $740 million in productivity losses. The topic also frequently tops the list of the Vietnamese public’s biggest concerns, surpassing even corruption and cost of living. As a result, many have turned to Foody as a vital source of knowing where it is safe to eat. Foody’s user reviewers are careful to detail the food practices of the restaurant they cover, and by reporting incidents of food poisoning, their readers gain the ability to make smart decisions about where they eat.
  4. Spean Luy: Only 27% of the Southeast Asian population currently possesses a bank account, with the number as low as 5% in nations like Cambodia. With so many lacking access to financial services, start-ups like DIGICRO’s Spean Luy are looking to fill the gap by offering smart, technological solutions for Southeast Asia’s disadvantaged. Specifically, Spean Luy tackles two major problems that depress financial service: a lack of bank availability in the region’s remote, rural regions, and a lack of official documentation or collateral to provide for loans. How does it accomplish this? For one, although physical bank branches are hard to come by, more than 60% of Cambodians have internet access, which makes a mobile banking option attractive. Secondly, thanks to the clever application of machine learning techniques, Spean Luy is able to offer microloans to those who would otherwise be turned away by more stringent documentation requirements. So far, the results have been promising. Since its launch in early 2019, Spean Luy has disbursed more than $400,000 to users, with a repayment rate of 97%.
  5. Mind Palace: The growth of Virtual Reality (VR) technology has become a major talking point in recent years. More than just a tool for gaming, however, people are using VR apps like Eugene Soh’s Mind Palace to bring promising new benefits to those not typically thought of as VR consumers. For dementia patients, Mind Palace offers an immersive virtual environment in which they can revisit the familiar sights and sounds of their youths. This helps relieve the social isolation that burdens many with dementia, while also expanding their physical boundaries. Thus far, Mind Palace has seen extensive testing among Singaporean hospitals and nursing homes with very promising results. While not yet available on smartphones, Soh sees a mobile future for the app in the years to come.

These five apps offer a glimpse into the many ways that tech experts are using technology for social good in Southeast Asia. As the world’s brightest minds continue to innovate, the region will likely benefit from even more apps that are changing lives.

– James Roark
Photo: PxHere

Top 10 YSEALI Grants Impacting Youth in Southeast Asia
Established in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) aims to accelerate progress and peace in the region and increase international cooperation.

What is YSEALI?

As part of the U.S. Mission to ASEAN, the U.S. established the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) in 2013 to help strengthen leadership development in Southeast Asia by targeting 18 to 35-year-olds. According to the initiative, “Approximately 65 percent of people in the ASEAN region are under the age of 35.”

YSEALI runs a Seeds for the Future program that provides small grants to youth in Southeast Asia through annual competitions. The program awards funding to projects within four issue areas: sustainable development, economic growth, civic engagement and education. These grants create better futures for youth in Southeast Asia.

Top 10 2018 YSEALI Grants

  1. Back2Communities is a convention in Brunei that facilitates discussions about the issues people with disabilities face in day-to-day life. The organization emphasizes teamwork and hosts brainstorming sessions at its conventions. YSEALI’s grant helps fund Back2Communities’ conventions and search for practical solutions.
  2. FIBERS hosts workshops to educate young fashion entrepreneurs and help them prosper in the fashion industry. This year, FIBERS is targeting Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines and pushing initiatives in sustainable unisex clothing and empowering underprivileged youth in Southeast Asia. The organization is also creating an online marketplace where young designers can sell their products.
  3. Kid+ is based in Hanoi, Vietnam and works with kids with disabilities and kids from low-income families. According to the organization, disadvantaged children are four times more likely to be victims of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Kid+ already has programs in three schools reaching over 400 students and teaching them about child rights, gender education and child sexual abuse prevention. YSEALI funds will help Kid+ expand to more schools in Hanoi.
  4. The Lao Film Academy (LFA) trains young filmmakers ages 18 to 22 to make films related to environmental protection. Young students receive direct contact with established filmmakers and gain important insights into the industry. LFA also does important work raising awareness for environmental issues and educating audiences about environmental protection.
  5. PREDIKT, which stands for Preparedness for Disaster Toolkit, works in the natural disaster-prone ASEAN region distributing toolkits that educate families about natural disasters. The toolkits also help families design disaster plans and include disaster supplies such as emergency torches, whistles and first-aid kits. PREDIKT has already distributed over 600 toolkits and YSEALI funds are helping the organization translate materials into more languages for wider distribution.
  6. The School of Coastal Environment (Schoove) is a fishery and marine incubator that educates students from coastal villages in coastal management, fishery-based social entrepreneurship and coastal housewife empowerment. Schoove has already reached more than 100 young leaders and women in Indonesia. The program gets young leaders more involved in the environment and coastal development.
  7. SHero was founded by a domestic violence survivor to encourage other survivors to share their stories. The founder is also a lawyer and SHero also encourages young lawyers to work with victims. Originally just in Thailand, SHero has expanded to Vietnam and the Philippines with YSEALI’s grant. SHero also plans to expand its platform to include sexual assault and other gender-based violence.
  8. Teach for ASEAN (T4A) was founded by three young leaders in Myanmar, and now T4A works in the entire Southeast Asian region. The project educates and empowers youth in Southeast Asia through training programs and community events. Many young people in the region lack job preparedness which leads to a large number of unemployed youth. Large rates of unemployment strain communities and increase poverty rates. An amazing 70 percent of T4A’s Workplace Skills Program’s first class is now employed or in vocational training.
  9. Tonkar Learning is an online learning program for Lao students that provides an opportunity for them to learn outside of the classroom. The program offers courses in math, physics and chemistry as well as test prep for Lao university entrance exams. YSEALI’s grant has been instrumental in the program’s development and also helps sponsor educational events for students.
  10. Viet Children’s Picture (VCP) works in public school districts outside of Ho Chi Minh City. These school districts only spend 45 minutes per week on art but VCP has established after-school classes in drawing, photography, crafting and dancing. Thanks to YSEALI funds, VCP has already reached over 450 students.

YSEALI’s Other Projects and Impacts

Outside of its Seeds for the Future program, YSEALI also sponsors professional and academic fellowships to the U.S. and hosts regional workshops for youth in Southeast Asia. Even after young leaders move on from YSEALI, many of them continue to make positive changes in their communities.

YSEALI has also inspired other young leaders in Brunei to establish Youth Against Slavery (YASBrunei) — Brunei’s first civil society to focus on people trafficking. Both through its small grants and its example, YSEALI is making huge impacts on youth in Southeast Asia.

– Kathryn Quelle

Photo: Flickr