AS Malaysia’s COVID-19 cases climbed higher, Pak Khalid (not his real name) wondered if his roadside stall would survive another lockdown. When the news broke that dine-ins were banned again, he folded away his plastic tables for what he thought was the last time.
Pak Khalid is not alone in his struggle. Between March and October 2020, 2,713 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia have been forced to close. The impact of these closures continues to ripple throughout our country, and we see its effects in the form of our unemployed relatives, news of our favourite chendol stall in Penang closing and pleas for donations on social media.
Well-meaning researchers have pointed out that going digital will help hawkers stay afloat, but this is easier said than done.
Hawkers such as Pak Khalid continue to struggle with registering their businesses on online platforms, what more having to upload photos of his products, tracking orders as they come in, or having to answer the confusing: “Can I pay using e-wallet?”.
While the nation’s internet connectivity is at a high of 88%, 55% of our community remain unbanked and unqualified for conventional financial assistance which could help them survive these difficult times.
As we celebrate another Merdeka and sing “Rakyat hidup bersatu dan maju”, it is time we made sure this becomes a reality. That each Malaysian get equal opportunities to achieve financial independence so we can truly prosper together.
This journey begins with financial inclusion which goes beyond granting more people with access to pre-existing financial solutions.
In Singapore, a software engineer noticed that hawkers were struggling to read online orders. Understanding that these uncles and aunties were more familiar with WhatsApp, he converted the order sheets into order forms which would stay on WhatsApp.
Within eight months, this small project has been adopted by more than 230 Singaporean hawkers, sparking meaningful digital transformation for the community, and helping them keep the lights on.
To create meaningful change, as the engineer correctly did, we must include the voices of the communities we serve. Innovation
must consider how different segments of society perceive technology and the challenges or complexities those technologies may present to them.
Empathy in innovation is simplifying the challenges faced by each segment when building a digital or financial solution that best suits their needs.
In a focus group discussion recently organised by Green Packet, the underserved population surveyed shared that what matters most to them is instant service that allows them to earn an income as swiftly as possible to ensure they have the cash in hand and the financial freedom to look after their businesses, families, and future.
As we move forward, digital financial solution providers must realise that the best solution is often the simplest.
Uber explored an SMS-based booking service for clients in rural areas where smartphones are uncommon. Microfinance providers allow businesses to protect themselves at the cost of one iced Milo per day, breaking up monthly costs into manageable daily payments.
Traditional electronic Know-Your-Customer (e-KYC) systems in some countries have been replaced with a referral system within business associations to overcome documentation delays in onboarding small-time merchants. During Ramadhan 2020, bazaar hawkers in specific locations (such as the famous Bazaar Ramadhan Kelana Jaya) formed a Facebook page to advertise their goods.
Malaysia’s B40 and underserved communities have worked within the ‘limitations’ that made conventional financial solutions less accessible to them for the past 64 years.
As a nation, it is time we re-evaluate these ‘limitations’ so that we, as pioneers of a new generation of digital financial solutions, can offer opportunities that address these decades-old challenges, and unlock financial inclusivity for everyone within our community.
In tandem with the country’s Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 which commits to make Malaysia a nation that achieves sustainable growth for all, let us re-evaluate what financial inclusivity means to the Pak Khalids of our community and work towards empowering them with the right tools and support so that these individuals and communities can grow with greater resilience and achieve financial freedom to build the life they deserve.
Only by financially liberating all our communities, especially the B40s, we will be able to fully invest in the future of our country. And Pak Khalid will not need to shutter his humble source of pride built on years of toil. – Aug 28, 2021
Ku Kok Peng heads Green Packet’s Group Strategy Office, which work in close alignment with Green Packet’s five core business units that underpin its growth strategy to be a leading player in Malaysia’s journey towards digital transformation. Green Packet is an international technology solutions company listed on Bursa Malaysia.
Green Packet is an internationally recognized telecommunications, media and technology Company. Founded in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley in 2000 and subsequently listed on the Malaysian Stock Exchange in 2005, Green Packet designs and produces wireless devices, user-centered applications and services that enable the delivery of valuable digital experiences.