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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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%.
- 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