Tag Archives: Google in Asia

Vietnam awaits you with wonders

With its beautiful beaches, lush green landscapes, fresh food and vibrant culture, travelers the world over have been enchanted by Vietnam. In fact, in 2019, Vietnam welcomed 18 million international guests and Da Nang was named the top trending destination for 2020. 

Sadly, the pandemic has had severe implications for travel, and that is one reason we’re excited to share this new project. Before the pandemic, Google Arts & Culture partnered with Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, the local tourism boards of Da Nang, Quang Nam, Thua Thien Hue and Quang Binh and National Geographic award-winning photographer Tran Tuan Viet to capture the unique corners of Vietnam. The result is a project made more precious in today’s travel-restricted world: Wonders of Vietnam on Google Arts & Culture. 

Featuring 35 stories and over 1,300 sumptuous photos of iconic sites, historical heritage, nature, cuisine and culture, the project is a unique way for us hungry travelers to virtually explore. The project is an important part of Google’s overall support of the local tourism industry, which has been badly affected by pandemic-related travel restrictions. By showcasing the wonders of Vietnam, specifically from the Central region, we hope to also raise awareness on preserving the sites affected by the recent floods. 

Of course, nothing compares to experiencing the real thing in person. But while many of us aren’t able to do that, this is the next best thing. Here are my top 5 things to explore on a virtual visit to Vietnam on Google Arts & Culture: 


1. Dive into the world’s largest cave

Son Doong cave

Along with breathtaking photos of Son Doong Cave, you can learn about how it is home to an underground river where you can kayak and dive. The cave is so large it even has its own forest and climate. 


2. Learn about Vietnamese culture, such as  royal court music, or Nha Nhac 

Fan dance

Nha Nhac, meaning “elegant music”, refers to a broad range of musical and dance styles performed at the Vietnamese royal court from the fifteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The photos show meticulous details, like colorful costumes and large elaborate fans.  


3. Feast your eyes on the colors of Vietnam

Color filter on Wonders of Vietnam

With our Color Filter feature, you can explore Vietnam by color, taking in the sumptuous reds of temples alongside fiery food or the lush greens of farmers harvesting hairgrass in Hoi An alongside the green wrapper of Bánh nậm. What a feast for the eyes!


4. Sightsee with a soundtrack

Enjoy beautiful sites such as Xep Beach, the Meridian Gate at night or the Linh Ung Pagoda on Son Tra Peninsula while being serenaded by traditional Vietnamese music. 


5. Learn about the Hoi An Lantern Festival

Lanterns at Hoi An market

In the spirit of the coming Lunar New Year, we feature the famous Hoi An Lantern Festival, a monthly celebration of the full moon. The Hoi An lantern making tradition has lasted for over 400 years! 

Wonders of Vietnam walks you through how the lanterns are made with bamboo structures and covered with very fine and vibrant silk. You can learn about the tradition of releasing the lanterns on the river, said to bring good fortune and love, as well as health and happiness. 

With this new project, we hope locals can gain a new appreciation for the wonders of their country, and eager travelers all over the world can discover more of Vietnam, hopefully building more excitement for when they can visit in person. We invite you to visit Wonders of Vietnam and check out some of the other treasures our partners make available—including the Tomb of Tu Duc in 3D—on Google Arts & Culture.  


Changing the narrative around mental health at work

It can be debilitatingly lonely to live with a mental health disorder. I began my mental health journey in 2013, when I was diagnosed with depression in my final year of college. Soon after, I began publicly writing about my experience. I found that sharing about my mental health helped me and others in so many ways, especially in places where there is still a lot of stigma. People would message me and say, “Thank you, I thought I was the only one going through this.” I’ve been a mental health advocate ever since. Building a sense of shared experience and normalizing these conversations is so important. 

I was reminded of the value of open communication when I first joined Google in Singapore in early 2019. I am currently diagnosed with bipolar disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (cPTSD). Because of my PTSD, situations like one-on-one meetings in enclosed spaces could be panic-inducing. Thankfully, I trusted my manager enough to share this, and she was incredibly supportive. She suggested meeting at our open cafes or taking calls from home, and she shared about mental health resources available at Google. Her compassion, understanding and guidance meant a lot and helped me find my way.  

Through her recommendation, I also became an active member of Blue Dot at Google, our global peer support network that aims to destigmatize mental health conversations. In Singapore, we organize programs like mental health conferences and Blue Dot booths to raise awareness of these issues. I also spoke on an internal panel called “You Can’t Ask That,” aimed at addressing potentially sensitive questions around stigma and mental health. These programs create spaces for community, learning and compassionate listening. 

I’ve learned people just want to have a safe space where they can put down their armor and be vulnerable—yes, even in the workplace. Organizations of all sizes need to place a stronger emphasis on employees’ mental wellbeing, especially during tough times, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

After working at Google for almost two years, seeing how the company approaches mental health has been reaffirming—from employee resource groups and assistance programs that offer confidential counselling to company-wide days off to make sure people aren’t burnt out. I am heartened that we also often see leaders speaking openly about their mental health, encouraging an open, supportive and inclusive work culture. 

Being able to share my experience, and listen to how others are going through their journey has helped me feel less alone and find meaning. Whether in the workplace or outside, I want to tell those who may be struggling in silence: You’re never alone. Help is available, don’t be afraid to ask for it. You’ve got this! 


A new way to engage Taiwanese news readers

In India, a respected magazine is working out how to better serve Hindi-speaking readers. In Indonesia, a media group is creating new career development opportunities for young newsroom leaders. In Singapore, a publisher is consolidating their digital and non-digital news offerings to appeal to younger audiences. 


These diverse news organizations have one thing in common: they’re exploring new ways to get news and information to their communities, serve customers and become stronger businesses. And through the Google News Initiative’s Design Accelerator, we’re privileged to have had the opportunity to help them along the way.  


An accelerator program is a series of workshops to help everyone at an organization think about business problems differently, share ideas and try new things, using the principles of design thinking. Together with our partners at Splice and Echos, GNI hosted accelerators with nine publishers from across Asia Pacific,  including READr, a Taiwanese media organization founded in 2018 to help fight disinformation.

READr has created a community of readers who contribute data for its reporting. We asked Hsin-Chan Chien, Chief Technology Officer of Mirror Media Inc, which owns READr, to tell us a bit more about how it works.

Creating a reliable platform for citizen journalism is a big undertaking. Why was it so important for READr? 

An open newsroom is a new concept. In the past, traditional newsrooms were exclusive places, and wouldn’t make their materials public. However, the internet has given readers access to more information than ever before. So we decided to change our mindset and invite readers in. 


We want readers to be able to get to know the data and materials behind the news, and have a dialogue around what actually makes news—for example, by making readers aware of upcoming topics that we will write stories about, and enabling them to contribute. We hope this will allow them to build a more personal and trusting relationship with the media. 


Can you tell us about your experience going through the program?

We believe in the power of openness, transparency and crowdsourcing, especially after witnessing how Taiwan’s tech community has influenced society on issues like politics, the environment and open data. When we entered the GNI Design Accelerator Program, our first priority was to ask ourselves how to apply these principles to news platforms—which have suffered from the impact of fake news and the commercial pressure to chase traffic. Through the program, we were able to understand our readers and how they experience the news, and ultimately to develop reader-centric ways of writing news—such as inviting readers to discuss their concerns on a story like the introduction of electronic IDs in Taiwan, before the journalist does further research and interviews.


What advice would you give to an organization wanting to do something similar?

News readers nowadays are very different from what we were used to in the past. Today, we need to take their opinions on board and make changes in the way we deliver information. The news media of the future should serve readers and help them sort out the topics they care about, rather than tell readers what the publication thinks they should know.

AI helps protect Australian wildlife in fire-affected areas

Editor’s note: Today's guest post comes from Darren Grover, Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes at the World Wide Fund For Nature Australia.

Over the next six months, more than 600 sensor cameras will be deployed in bushfire-affected areas across Australia, monitoring and evaluating the surviving wildlife populations. This nationwide effort is part of An Eye on Recovery, a large-scale collaborative camera sensor project, run by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Conservation International, with the support of a $1 million grant from Google.org. Using Wildlife Insights, a platform powered by Google’s Artificial Intelligence technology, researchers across the country will upload and share sensor camera photos to give a clearer picture of how Australian wildlife is coping after the devastating bushfires in the past year.  

Why is this important? 

For many Aussies, the horror of last summer’s fires is still very raw and real. Up to 19 million hectares were burned (more than 73,000 square miles), with 12.6 million hectares primarily forest and bushland. Thirty-three lives were lost and 3,094 homes destroyed. And the wildlife toll? A staggering three billion animals were estimated to have been impacted by the flames. 

Australian bushfire devastation

The scale of the damage is so severe that one year on—as we prepare for the next bushfire season—WWF and scientists are still in the field conducting ecological assessments. Our findings have been sobering. Nearly 61,000 koalas, Australia’s most beloved marsupial, are estimated to have been killed or impacted. Over 300 threatened species were affected, pushing more of our precious wildlife on the fast-track towards extinction.

Hope will prevail

In November, I travelled to Kangaroo Island in South Australia to place the first 100 of the sensor cameras in bushfire-ravaged areas. Though much of the native cover has been decimated by the flames, the island’s wildlife has shown signs of recovery. 

One animal at risk from the flames is the Kangaroo Island dunnart, an adorable, grey-coloured, nocturnal marsupial so elusive that a researcher told WWF that she’d never seen one in the field. We were fortunate to capture this creature of the night on one of our cameras.

Kangaroo Island dunnart

Thou art a dunnart.

But if I hadn’t told you that was a dunnart, you might have thought it was a mouse. And as anyone with thousands of holiday photos will tell you, sorting and organizing heaps of camera pictures and footage can be labor-intensive and time-consuming. Analyzing camera sensor pictures traditionally requires expertise to determine the best pictures (and which ones you can just delete), and you can get hundreds of empty images before you strike gold.

How AI can help 

With the Wildlife Insights platform, we can now identify over 700 species of wildlife in seconds and quickly discard empty images, taking the tedium out of the process and helping scientists and ecologists make better and more informed data assessments.  

The platform will help us identify wildlife in landscapes impacted by last summer’s bushfires, including the Blue Mountains, East Gippsland, South East Queensland, and of course Kangaroo Island. We’re particularly keen to see species like the Hastings River Mouse, a native rodent that was already endangered before fire tore through its habitat in northern New South Wales, and the brush-tailed rock-wallaby, which lost vital habitat and food to blazes in the Blue Mountains.

These images will help us to understand what species have survived in bushfire zones and determine where recovery actions are needed most.

Checking camera traps

WWF-Australia / Slavica Miskovich

Join us to safeguard species

The platform is still growing, and the more images we feed it, the better it will get at recognizing different types of animals. While we’re already rolling out hundreds of sensor cameras across the country, we are calling for more images—and asking Australians to help. If you have any sensor camera footage, please get in touch with us. We’re looking for images specifically from sensor cameras  placed in animal’s habitats, rather than wildlife photography (as beautiful as these pictures may be). 

With your help, we can help safeguard species such as the Kangaroo Island dunnart, marvel at their bright beaming eyes on film, and protect their environment on the ground--so future generations can continue to enjoy the richness of Australia’s wildlife.

Googler volunteers teach (and learn) important lessons

The COVID-19 pandemic has made distance learning the default option for many school-age children around the world. But many students, especially those in underserved communities, still aren’t familiar with using technology to learn.


Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to help address this challenge as a Google volunteer mentoring with Ini Budi, a nonprofit organization in Indonesia that creates digital learning materials for teachers and students. This volunteering opportunity was part of Ashoka: Innovators for the Public’s Changemaker Journey program, supported by Google.org and aimed at helping nonprofits get the tools, knowledge and skills to meet their immediate priorities and sustain their efforts over the long term. 


It was really rewarding to work with Indi Budi’s team to help them develop a learning hub using YouTube, and teach staff members how to use Google’s analytics tools to see how engaged students were with their classes. But what surprised me most was just how much I gained from the experience. 


Despite being the mentor, I felt I was learning from the Ini Budi team as much as they were learning from me. I started to better understand the challenges the education sector faced, and how we can begin to tackle these systemic issues. I realized that you can solve any problem with the power of collaboration. 


I want to highlight a few other Googlers who have been dedicating their time as mentors to help various Google.org grantees and show how helping others can lead you to learn more about yourself. 

Pat Choa

Pat Choa, gTech Ads Operations Director, Philippines

Being Filipino, I want local businesses to succeed, so I signed up to be a mentor to Filipino startups through a local enterprise, QBO Innovation Hub

Tapping my media and digital marketing knowledge, I reviewed these startups' media plans and shared my perspective on using digital platforms to grow their businesses. 

These group mentoring sessions made me feel like I was part of a broader community, where I, too, was learning from these startups’ challenges, motivations and ideas.

Talking to these entrepreneurs and hearing what they're trying to achieve brings me so much joy— just knowing that there are so many businesses trying to create better opportunities for other Filipinos inspires me to strive to do more to help my own community.

Brian Weidenbaum, Software Engineer, Singapore

I had the chance to be a hackathon mentor to pre-college students working on exciting software ideas at Engineering Good, a Singaporean nonprofit that empowers disadvantaged communities through engineering.

Brian Weidenbaum

Our hackathon team worked on a feature to make it easier for visually-impaired people to read screens that lack integrated screen readers. 


I was deeply impressed by how motivated the students were and how quickly they picked up machine learning techniques to create a prototype. Watching them build some compelling features in such a short period of time was inspiring, and seeing their idea come to life during the hackathon was a proud moment for me. Volunteering is such a great way to serve the community and, in this case, to help build the next generation of engineers. I want the engineers of the future to be more skilled than I am, and I am happy to see what people are capable of when you invest in them.

Max Tsai, Google Customer Solutions Direct Sales Lead, Taiwan  

I spent the last few months volunteering with the Institute for Information Industry, a local nonprofit that supports the development of the information industry in Taiwan.

Max Tsai

I was tasked with designing and developing a series of webinars to help local businesses gain new knowledge on topics like finding the right talent for building a great workplace culture. 

Together with five other Google volunteers, we were able to produce three webinars, with more sessions to come in the coming weeks. 

More than 900 entrepreneurs attended these sessions, with many reaching out to share how useful our insights and tips were. 

Through this experience, I learned how valuable knowledge-sharing sessions could be. It felt good knowing that we had this opportunity to use our skills to help these organizations as they continue to evolve.

Enjoy a special visit to the Palace Museum

The Palace Museum is one of the world’s most renowned cultural heritage sites. As the largest and the best-preserved wooden imperial architecture complex in the world, it served as the home of 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Museum consists of 9046 rooms and maintains more than 1.86 million pieces in its collection.

Building on our online collection of treasures of the Palace Museum, today, Google Arts & Culture unveils a new exhibition that allows people everywhere to explore parts of this famous site virtually.

The Palace Museum
10:25

The Palace Museum

Visitors can enjoy a 360-degree virtual tour of three main structures—the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Meridian Gate, and the Gate of Supreme Harmony.  The Hall of Supreme Harmony was the venue for grand imperial ceremonies and, with its double layer of eaves and portico, is among the most prominent examples of ancient Chinese architecture.

360° virtual visit to the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Meridian Gate

360° virtual visit to the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Meridian Gate

In addition, we’re launching 19 new online exhibitions with high-resolution images of thrones and decorations in the Palace Museum, some of which are not usually accessible to visitors. These include rare paintings that show the splendour of life in the Forbidden City, such as an Album Leaf from The Grand Wedding of the Guangxu Emperor, which is being displayed online for the first time.

The Palace Museum is truly a global treasure. We hope this new exhibition allows people everywhere to learn more about its heritage and grandeur. 

Enjoy a special visit to the Palace Museum

The Palace Museum is one of the world’s most renowned cultural heritage sites. As the largest and the best-preserved wooden imperial architecture complex in the world, it served as the home of 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Museum consists of 9046 rooms and maintains more than 1.86 million pieces in its collection.

Building on our online collection of treasures of the Palace Museum, today, Google Arts & Culture unveils a new exhibition that allows people everywhere to explore parts of this famous site virtually.

The Palace Museum
10:25

The Palace Museum

Visitors can enjoy a 360-degree virtual tour of three main structures—the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Meridian Gate, and the Gate of Supreme Harmony.  The Hall of Supreme Harmony was the venue for grand imperial ceremonies and, with its double layer of eaves and portico, is among the most prominent examples of ancient Chinese architecture.

360° virtual visit to the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Meridian Gate

360° virtual visit to the Gate of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Supreme Harmony and the Meridian Gate

In addition, we’re launching 19 new online exhibitions with high-resolution images of thrones and decorations in the Palace Museum, some of which are not usually accessible to visitors. These include rare paintings that show the splendour of life in the Forbidden City, such as an Album Leaf from The Grand Wedding of the Guangxu Emperor, which is being displayed online for the first time.

The Palace Museum is truly a global treasure. We hope this new exhibition allows people everywhere to learn more about its heritage and grandeur. 

Tools to help the travel industry’s recovery

Down the road from our Asia Pacific headquarters, one of the world’s most connected travel hubs—Singapore Changi Airport—is unusually quiet. It’s been this way for months, with global air passenger numbers falling by almost 90 per cent in 2020. 


This has been a devastating year for the tourism industry and the $9 trillion global travel economy—but there are signs of promise, with domestic flights increasing in some countries in Asia Pacific, encouraging news on vaccines, and governments exploring ways of opening up safe international travel. We also know there’s pent-up demand in the region, with one in two people eager or very eager to travel now, and search interest in travel back up to about 50 percent of its pre-COVID level.  


While Asia Pacific is still in the early stages of a potential re-opening, and governments are being as careful as possible, we want to do everything we can to help the travel and tourism industry get ready for what’s next. Today, we’re launching Travel Insights with Google: a website the industry in our region — and ultimately, the rest of the world — can use to understand travel demand and make better-informed decisions. It’s built around three new tools.


Destination Insights 


One of the key things travel businesses, governments and tourism boards are looking for is information about the destinations travellers are searching for in different places around the world—and domestically.


The Destination Insights tool will give them a clear picture of the top sources of demand for a destination, and the destinations within their countries that travellers are most interested in visiting—helping them map out a possible resumption of travel on specific routes and make choices about where to communicate with potential future travelers. 

Singapore destination insights

Hotel Insights 


There are still millions of Google searches for hotels every day, which allows us to generate extensive insights about demand for hotel bookings. We're now making it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to understand where demand for their property may be coming from by providing them with these insights directly. Hotel Insights is designed to help hotels of all sizes—but especially small and independent hotels—understand how to target their marketing as they plan their recovery.

Indonesia hotel insights

Travel Analytics Center


The Travel Analytics Center—available to Google’s commercial partners in the travel sector—will enable organizations to combine their own Google account data with broader Google demand data and insights, giving them a clearer picture of how to manage their operations and find opportunities to reach potential visitors. 


The message from tourism organizations is that they want as much information as possible to move quickly when restrictions ease and people begin booking travel. His Excellency Wishnutama Kusubandio, Indonesia’s Tourism Minister, says that “when it comes to tourism recovery, I believe that digital technologies can be part of the solution,” while Singapore’s Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee, says he hopes the Google tools will provide valuable insights into people’s travel aspirations... as we work together to welcome the world to our shores again.”

We’re encouraged by the positive initial response to Travel Insights with Google, and we’re looking forward to helping meet the growing need for data and insights across the region. 

UNWTO quote

In addition to the three new tools, the site will be a one-stop location for other industry resources, including skills training through Grow with Google, Digital Garage and Google for Small Business, and resources from the UNWTO. And we’ll keep expanding the site with new resources in months ahead. 


Since the pandemic first hit, we’ve been focused on helping businesses and sharing information so people feel safe when they travel. Now, as we head into 2021, we hope to work even more closely with the industry as borders begin to open up, domestic travel increases, and international travel becomes possible again. No matter how quickly or slowly that recovery takes place, we’re committed to supporting global travel and tourism and the many people and businesses that depend on it.

Tools to help the travel industry’s recovery

Down the road from our Asia Pacific headquarters, one of the world’s most connected travel hubs—Singapore Changi Airport—is unusually quiet. It’s been this way for months, with global air passenger numbers falling by almost 90 per cent in 2020. 


This has been a devastating year for the tourism industry and the $9 trillion global travel economy—but there are signs of promise, with domestic flights increasing in some countries in Asia Pacific, encouraging news on vaccines, and governments exploring ways of opening up safe international travel. We also know there’s pent-up demand in the region, with one in two people eager or very eager to travel now, and search interest in travel back up to about 50 percent of its pre-COVID level.  


While Asia Pacific is still in the early stages of a potential re-opening, and governments are being as careful as possible, we want to do everything we can to help the travel and tourism industry get ready for what’s next. Today, we’re launching Travel Insights with Google: a website the industry in our region — and ultimately, the rest of the world — can use to understand travel demand and make better-informed decisions. It’s built around three new tools.


Destination Insights 


One of the key things travel businesses, governments and tourism boards are looking for is information about the destinations travellers are searching for in different places around the world—and domestically.


The Destination Insights tool will give them a clear picture of the top sources of demand for a destination, and the destinations within their countries that travellers are most interested in visiting—helping them map out a possible resumption of travel on specific routes and make choices about where to communicate with potential future travelers. 

Singapore destination insights

Hotel Insights 


There are still millions of Google searches for hotels every day, which allows us to generate extensive insights about demand for hotel bookings. We're now making it easier for small and medium-sized businesses to understand where demand for their property may be coming from by providing them with these insights directly. Hotel Insights is designed to help hotels of all sizes—but especially small and independent hotels—understand how to target their marketing as they plan their recovery.

Indonesia hotel insights

Travel Analytics Center


The Travel Analytics Center—available to Google’s commercial partners in the travel sector—will enable organizations to combine their own Google account data with broader Google demand data and insights, giving them a clearer picture of how to manage their operations and find opportunities to reach potential visitors. 


The message from tourism organizations is that they want as much information as possible to move quickly when restrictions ease and people begin booking travel. His Excellency Wishnutama Kusubandio, Indonesia’s Tourism Minister, says that “when it comes to tourism recovery, I believe that digital technologies can be part of the solution,” while Singapore’s Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee, says he hopes the Google tools will provide valuable insights into people’s travel aspirations... as we work together to welcome the world to our shores again.”

We’re encouraged by the positive initial response to Travel Insights with Google, and we’re looking forward to helping meet the growing need for data and insights across the region. 

UNWTO quote

In addition to the three new tools, the site will be a one-stop location for other industry resources, including skills training through Grow with Google, Digital Garage and Google for Small Business, and resources from the UNWTO. And we’ll keep expanding the site with new resources in months ahead. 


Since the pandemic first hit, we’ve been focused on helping businesses and sharing information so people feel safe when they travel. Now, as we head into 2021, we hope to work even more closely with the industry as borders begin to open up, domestic travel increases, and international travel becomes possible again. No matter how quickly or slowly that recovery takes place, we’re committed to supporting global travel and tourism and the many people and businesses that depend on it.

A more inclusive global digital economy

Editor’s Note: The following is adapted from remarks delivered by Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google and Alphabet, at the Singapore FinTech Festival today on the need and opportunity to build a more inclusive global digital economy.


Thank you to the Monetary Authority of Singapore for the invitation to speak today—and for hosting this important event. While I hope we can have these big conversations in person again soon, I am grateful for all the ways that technology has kept us connected during the pandemic.


We’ve seen this year how online has been a lifeline. In Southeast Asia, 8 out of 10 people said that technology helped them navigate the pandemic, whether it was families searching for the latest COVID-19 information, small businesses using digital tools to reach new customers or students continuing to learn remotely.


Being helpful in these moments is at the core of Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. We’re proud that users turned to products like Search, YouTube, and Maps to help people get through uncertainty, and that tools like Meet and Google Classroom helped keep people connected and businesses productive in these times. 


Southeast Asia’s digital transformation


COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of digital tools and trends by years. As a result, the Southeast Asian internet economy is on the verge of a massive transformation. A recent report we did with Temasek and Bain & Company shows that more than 40 million people in the region connected to the internet for the first time in 2020—that’s four times as many as the year before. In addition, one in three digital service consumers were new to a service, like virtual learning or buying groceries online. And 90 percent intend to continue using that service post-pandemic.


These digital trends aren’t just happening in cities. In places like Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, more than half of first-time users were from outside metropolitan areas, which shows huge promise for closing the urban-rural digital divide.


While COVID has accelerated the use of digital tools, it’s also exposed how many people  are still left behind: from the 1.7 billion people around the world who are still unbanked, to the huge portion of African households without access to broadband, to millions of women entrepreneurs who lack the same access to opportunity as their male counterparts.


A more inclusive global digital economy


So the question is: how can we use this moment to reimagine a more inclusive digital economy? One that brings the benefits of the internet to everyone?


The answer is two-fold: First, by accelerating progress in closing the digital divide, which means expanding connectivity, financial inclusion, and digital skills. Second, by deepening partnerships between governments and business, which means  building on the new collaborations we’ve seen during COVID.  


Connectivity as the foundation


The question of inclusion and opportunity is deeply personal to me. Growing up in India, I didn’t have much access to a computer, or a phone. To make a call, I had to wait in long lines to use a shared phone with everyone else. So when our family finally got our first rotary phone, it changed our lives for the better, and it set me on a course to help bring technology to more people around the world. 


Today, an internet connection is the single best way to make technology available to more people. At Google, we are focused on the infrastructure—like the subsea cables we’re building between Western Europe and the West Coast of Africa, as well as the affordable, low-cost devices that can transform digital access—something our Android teams are working on with Jio Platforms in India.


Increasing financial inclusion with Google Pay


Of course, it’s not just about connecting to the internet that’s important, it’s about what people can do with that connectivity. One of the most exciting advancements is financial connectivity, which ensures that everyone can participate in the economic system.


That idea is what inspired us to launch Google Tez, now Google Pay, our first digital payment platform, in India in 2017. At the time, my home country was still largely a cash-based society. Since then, digital payments services have helped reshape how transactions are made. They’ve increased financial inclusion by making payments simple and seamless for over a hundred million Indians.


This historic shift has changed what’s possible for business owners like Vijay Babu, who runs a laundry shop in Bangalore. Two years ago, Vijay would have had to pay $100 for a credit card terminal, worry about printed receipts, and wait days to get paid. 


Today, with Google Pay, and a little help from his daughter, Vijay is able to keep better track of his transactions, accept payments remotely, and build relationships with his customers.


There are many others like Vijay. People are using Google Pay to do everything from send money home to their families and split the check for dinner. Kirana store owners are using it to pay their business expenses, as well as receive payments from their loyal customers.


All told, people in India complete more than three billion digital transactions a month, two thirds of which are taking place outside India’s biggest cities. Digital payment transactions across Southeast Asia are set to almost double to $1.2 trillion by 2025.


Now, we’re using the same technology to improve Google Pay globally, starting in Singapore and the U.S., with more to come. And we’re partnering with organizations like the Gates Foundation, Omidyar Network, the Rockefeller Foundation and others to drive Mojaloop, a nonprofit creating open-source tools any country and organization can use to develop its own digital payments system.


Bringing digital skills and tools to more people


Connectivity is the foundation of a more inclusive digital economy. The next layer is ensuring that everyone, including small businesses, have access to digital skills and tools. One example is the work that the Asia Foundation is doing, with support from our philanthropic arm Google.org, to train 200,000 small business owners and workers across Southeast Asia. 


This program means local nonprofits can help people like Lakela, an avocado farmer from Thailand who used YouTube to learn how to grow other types of fruit, and create new revenue streams for her business.


We’re also investing in the innovation ecosystem, including entrepreneurs and start-ups, to ensure digital economies are sustainable.


Power of partnerships


We can’t do any of this alone. That’s why partnerships are the second part of our agenda.


We have good models to build from. One of the bright spots in this year has been the strong partnerships forged between companies, governments, and NGOs, working together toward shared goals. Building a more inclusive digital economy will require this same spirit of collaboration.


A place to start is digital trade. In Southeast Asia alone, it’s estimated that expanding business and trade through technology could add $1 trillion to overall regional GDP by 2025. And it will help entrepreneurs grow across borders, leading to more jobs, better services and new opportunities.


Unlocking those benefits requires the right frameworks. Singapore and the Asia Pacific region are pioneering new approaches. New digital economy agreements could provide a template for other parts of the world, alongside broader trade deals like the new Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.  By maximizing these digital agreements—and creating new ones—we can pave the way for a stronger, more inclusive digital economy. 


From closing digital divides to forging new partnerships, our goal for the post-COVID world is to ensure the benefits of technology can be shared as widely and equitably as possible.  


If we can do that, 2020 will be remembered not as the end of the world we knew, but the beginning of a world that works better, for everyone. We look forward to building that world alongside all of you.