CONNECT WITH: NATALIE BLACK
Hi Natalie, could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
As Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for Asia Pacific, my role is to support trade and investment across the region for the UK Government – from North East Asia to Southeast Asia and Australia and New Zealand. I am based in Singapore and before COVID-19 enjoyed regularly travelling across the region to develop new partnerships for the UK. My passion is technology so that’s a big focus of my work and before this role I worked on digital policy, AI and cyber for the UK Government and private sector.
How has your day-to-day changed in light of the pandemic?
I used to spend at least 70% of my time travelling around the region so I know the airports of Asia Pacific well! I spent a lot of time with governments, investors and businesses all across the region developing new ways we could work together. Now, like everyone else, I spend a lot more time on video calls and behind my screen. My team has adapted quickly and we have managed to move the vast majority of our work online.
In your opinion, what were some of the more impressive/innovative advancements in tech that happened because of COVID?
I am impressed with how companies have responded to new demands. In Southeast Asia in particular, we have seen a significant increase in demand for technology solutions from e-commerce to fintech and medtech. These trends have been present in Asia Pacific for a while but COVID-19 has accelerated them dramatically.
By way of example, according to Bain and company, 45% of consumers in Southeast Asia have increased online buying of groceries. Malaysia experienced a surge of 149% surge across online sales in the first few months of 2020 while Vietnam is on track for double-digit annual growth in the turnover of e-commerce over the next five years - forecasting that sales in the sector could be worth $35 billion by 2025.
Fintech is helping many SMEs across Southeast Asia not only survive but in some cases really thrive. This is absolutely crucial given SMEs provide between 52% and 97% of total employment across Southeast Asia. While medtech is helping to not only tackle COVID-19 but also help deal with the implications of not always being able to access medical care in person.
What can industry leaders do to help propel tech toward a more resilient future?
Collaboration is absolutely key to ensure we protect existing tech skills, develop new capabilities and ensure that investment continues to flow. Events like ConnectTech Asia are essential in supporting the ecosystem and it’s great to see such an impressive virtual event this year given all the challenges.
As they say, tech is a double-edged sword, particularly where cybersecurity is concerned. How can nations work together to improve this?
As we develop the global digital ecosystem, we will also see a growth in demand for cybersecurity services.
The UK's National Cyber Security Strategy includes a focus on international collaboration and we are committed to working together to develop a common understanding in the benefits of a free, open, peaceful and secure cyberspace.
We are focused on building confidence and trust with all nations, maximising the mutual advantages that cyberspace has to offer while also enhancing our collective security online.
What are your thoughts on being a speaker at this year’s fully virtual ConnecTechAsia?
I am really looking forward to joining an impressive line-up of speakers at ConnecTechAsia. This is a great opportunity to virtually connect with friends and colleagues across the region and hear how the tech sector is adapting and evolving across the region.
Finally, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
If you asked me at the beginning of the year, I would have said travel. I love to visit new places, experience new things and meet new people. That activity is off the table for a while so I am enjoying rediscovering old passions like cooking but I cannot claim to be very good!
Join Natalie on the Resilient Future in Asia Through Tech panel, 29 September at this year's fully virtual #ConnecTechAsia. Register for free here.