With the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution and the rapid spread and adoption of cloud computing, cutting-edge technological solutions are now widely available around the world.
But to effectively tap this tech-driven potential, Asia’s emerging economies must pursue new ways of educating and training present and future workers – including women and girls who too often languish at the bottom of the employment pool with few educational opportunities.
“Ultimately it is the matter of human capital and developing relevant skills,” Arnold says. “That is currently a big constraint in many countries. So, we see this as an area of importance and priority.”
Breaking down and replacing long-held institutional and bureaucratic practices and barriers are high on the list of must-dos as well. It also happens to be a mantra that has been internalized by the Foundation, which has itself embraced technology to do its work better. Arnold sees the Foundation’s own internal digital transformation dividend as being a sort of microcosm of where the region should be heading.
Established by forward-thinking business people, academics, and U.S. government officials in 1954, The Asia Foundation is a non-profit international development organization committed to improving lives across the region. It works both at the high-end of public policymaking and at grassroots levels with local communities. It has an effective, integrated strategy to help Asian countries promote good governance, empower women, expand economic opportunity, boost education, increase environmental resilience, and promote international cooperation. It fosters deep, long-term partnerships with local organizations and individuals and relies on support from governments and a myriad of donors.
In short, its goals are high, its reach wide, its challenges big and complex, and its stakeholders demanding. So, to boost its impact it embraced change.
For most of its early life, the Foundation was a largely paper-based, administratively disjointed, highly siloed and decentralized operation that stretched from its headquarters in San Francisco across a network of offices in 18 Asian countries.
Ken Krug joined its ranks in 2011 to become Vice President for Finance, Chief Financial Officer, and a champion for digital transformation. “We were in the Middle Ages as far as technology was concerned,” he recalls.
Previous attempts to create in-house IT solutions had been unsuccessful. But about five years ago, the Foundation adopted “OneTAF” – a cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 solution named for the abbreviation of The Asia Foundation.
Now all sorts of files and knowledge are linked and made accessible across the Foundation’s diverse geographic footprint. One can imagine the unique challenges of being stretched from Colombo to Kabul and from Ulaanbaatar to Jakarta, and how much freedom and ease can be derived from sharing information and materials in real time.