At Techsauce Global Summit 2017, a panel made up of former politicians, founders, venture capitalists and an accelerator discussed how the government can support entrepreneurship and how policymakers can open the space to allow for innovation and digital tech advancements.

The panel was made up of:

  • Korn Chatikavanij, former Minister of Finance in the Thai government and current Chairman of the Thai Fintech Association
  • Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, a longtime Thai politician and Chairman of the Future Innovative Thailand Institute
  • Esther Loewy, CEO and Founder of Upround Ventures
  • Samer Karem, Chairman of Seeqnce Accelerator in Lebanon

The moderator was Mike Ducker who is the Director of Tigers@Mekong.

What perspectives are needed by governments?

According to Korn Chatikavanij, “Good government exist to serve the people; good startups do the same, or they won’t survive.” Good governments in the future will need to look at how to support startups to help government do their job. The situation today, however, is for the government to ask themselves whether they are the reason that innovation is slowed down. Startups are always optimistic, always thinking that everything is doable until they run up against government departments. Another problem for startups is the fact that the average age of a government employee is 55 years of age and not innately tech savvy. The employee demographics of governments translate into a lack of understanding about what tech innovation is and what the purpose is. The government also needs to address the way they do business; they need to be more open to collaboration with startups to deliver innovation in ways that translate well for the government and the public.

Dr. Surin Pitsuwan believes that a change in mindset is necessary; people need to be open and curious about technology and how innovation can help. Governments don’t have the answer to everything, but if they have enough humility and recognize the problems, they will be able to solve this problem once they open up to innovation. However, often governments do not have the people with the sense of curiosity or experience to address these problems hence the need to open up to companies that can assist in resolving the problems. Further, the government will need to open their data to people who have the expertise and passion for coming and helping. Unfortunately, the government is authority-driven and not always willing to open up to collaboration and participating in innovative, driven solutions.

Esther Loewy believes that the answer to changing mindset about technology lies with education. It starts with empowering by education, to teach children to question and to think creatively from a very young age. “Teach the youth that the process is just as important as a result, these qualities will lead to new ideas, innovation, and creation,” she says. Also, tap into resources that are not recognized as resources, for example, immigrants. Immigrants can contribute experience, skills, and assets to the ecosystem where the collective sum is greater than its parts. The government can benefit from this if they embrace this diversity and the contribution that immigrants can make.

According to Samer Karem, find out what the interest of the politicians are and align your objective with theirs. “Find a way to make a politician happy, and you will get what you want,” he laughs. After a lengthy presentation to a politician, the Lebanon government agreed to create a sovereign fund that can invest in startups through VCs and accelerators, etc. Lebanon created this sovereign fund by selling treasury bills at a discounted rate which resulted in the creation of $600 million almost overnight. Lebanon also created the biggest tech conference in the Mediterranean region using the sovereign fund.

Ultimately all the panelists agreed that to change the government's mentality of how startups and innovative technologies are viewed, startups and companies need to create solutions where the people benefit and demand the product or service. In that way, it will force the government to embrace innovations and open up regulations to allow for the companies to operate in the same government spaces. For example, some companies like Airbnb and Uber created the demand and now work alongside politicians to work in heavily regulated industries. Also, startups and businesses should not only embrace the role of disruptors but rather deliver benefits and efficiencies to the people. Companies should create the demand from the bottom up and then force the government to enact change.

In closing, Mike Ducker summed up the discussion as follows:

It is time for startups to lean in to affect government policy and also find common interest, such as political interest. Take the time to find out each other’s interests. Governments need to do the hard things, like education, creating the right culture and creating a place where immigrants want to work.  All these factors will affect the ecosystem in positive ways.  Also, it is hard for governments to move forward by holding on to past ways. If you continue to hold on to past way, others will pass you"

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