Inequality is a big problem in Southeast Asia, with much of the population lacking adequate access to education, income, and job opportunities. Yet while technology startups are determined to disrupt entire industries, they are generally fixated on First-World problems.
Blame economics: startups are profit-seeking ventures that strive to maximize the lifetime value of every customer, and a villager living in a rural part of Indonesia won’t be able to contribute a dime. As a result, they tend to ignore the 99 percent.
That said, there are internet-related companies in the region that are seeking opportunities in the countryside. Here’s a roundup of some of them:
Newton Circus (Singapore)
This social enterprise works on projects and collaborates with MNCs to create technology with social impact. It recently started a crowdfunding campaign to give seniors in Singapore access to elderly-friendly phones. Its latest project is Mobile Movies, which organizes movie screenings in rural areas, and uses them as an opportunity to educate the community on topics like hygiene and financial literacy. It’s also a marketing channel for socially beneficial products like solar lamps.
Sustainable Living Lab (Singapore)
A makerspace with a social twist. This company, called SL2 in short, is a social enterprise that educates the community on poverty, social marginalization, and environmental degradation through maker classes. Its makerspace in Singapore houses a 3D printer, laser cutter, and CNC machine. It also sells green products that are made by sustainable processes. One example is the iBam, an iPhone amplifier manufactured with the help of village craftsmen in Indonesia.
Bagosphere (Philippines, Singapore)
Founded by Zhihan Lee, Ellwyn Tan and Ivan Lau, Bagosphere is a company based in Bago City in the Philippines that has the mandate of getting youth work in the $13 billion Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry through a training program. By helping its partners secure employment using a vocational training center, the company hopes to lower the country’s high rural poverty. Bagosphere is backed by Kickstart Ventures.
This startup’s mandate is similar to Bagosphere in that it wants to help job seekers find work in the BPO industry. But it differs in approach. While Bagosphere operates a physical center, Kalibrr has built an online training platform and a recruitment website for applicants and BPO companies.
Started by Paul Kalibrr Rivera and Dexter Ligot-Gordon, Kalibrr has attracted
serious investment money, including $100,000 from Kickstart Ventures and a $1.9 million round involving Omidyar Network (an investment firm started by a co-founder of eBay) and many others. It was also accepted into prestigious accelerator Y Combinator.
Milaap (Singapore, India)
A micro-lending website where individuals can grant micro-loans to people in India. The loans, which have interest rates between 12 to 18 percent, are then administered via vetted local partners. The site was started by Sourabh Sharma, Anoj Viswanathan, and Mayukh Choudary in 2010 and has raised over $800,000 in loans for 25,000 individuals in India. It has raised a $1.1 million venture round led by Jungle Ventures along with a $250,000 seed round.
8villages links farmers and agribusinesses together through its platform to improve information flow in the entire supply chain. It allows agribusinesses to communicate with farmers in rural areas through their feature phones. It recently completed a $150,000 convertible note pre-Series A round from IMJ Fenox.
One Cent Movement (Singapore)
The startup is building a Google Chrome plugin that prompts e-commerce site shoppers to round up their purchase (from $30.75 to $31, for example) and donate the difference to charity once $10 is accumulated. The plugin supports Amazon and Zalora.
Disclosure: 8villages is funded by IMJ Fenox, which is connected to Tech in Aisa’s investor Fenox VC. That makes us indirectly related. To get a peek into our Code of Ethics and disclosure practices, please click here.
(Editing by Josh Horwitz and Gwendolyn Regina Tan, lead image by Feed My Starving Children)