Facebook SMB – helping small businesses grow across Southeast Asia
Sarita Singh, Director of Small and Medium Businesses (SMB) Southeast Asia at Facebook, discusses supporting businesses and communities with their digital transformation across such a diverse region
“Curious about tech” is how Sarita Singh, Director of SMB (Small and Medium Business) at Facebook for the expansive Southeast Asia region, describes herself. As such, she has pushed herself to build a career in the industry across various functions at some of the leading global players. “Technology’s a genius industry,” she comments. “There are just so many different elements – I’m always constantly trying to push myself and learn the different parts.”
Following roles at Salesforce and Google, Singh chose to settle at Facebook last year, and is visibly comfortable in a role that reflects her personal goals as well as her insight and experience. “I love Facebook; we are first and foremost a very mission-driven company. Every day, we’re living and breathing the mission of this company, which is incredibly motivating as we focus on building and supporting communities.”
Singh’s works with a vast scope across 13 countries in the region – all at varying stages of economic and digital development. “It’s a big responsibility, but it’s also highly, highly motivating to be able to work in growth economies. By definition, when you work with SMBs, you’re working with companies that are digitally innovative – they’re doing new things. They are forging new paths. It’s an incredible privilege to be part of a community’s or country’s digital journey.”
As a multinational making a splash in almost every corner of the world, Facebook must both nimbly adapt to a variety of markets while remaining consistent in its quality and global expertise. “From big economies like Indonesia and Singapore, to more traditional emerging markets, the needs of businesses and communities are incredibly different. We’re serving digital natives as well as those who have been more traditional and are now beginning their digital journey.”
An economically and geographically diverse region like Southeast Asia is particularly needful of the expertise Facebook can bring in terms of its technology, communication and marketing know-how. “The biggest stage of any challenge is how do you serve a fragmented group of communities and businesses in a way that you can do it at scale but it still feels personal and relevant to their own journey. I think technology that is transformed brings people together and builds communities – but you always have to be really thoughtful to make sure everybody can participate as equally as possible,” she adds.
On Facebook’s mission to bring together such an array of communities through their small and medium enterprises, collaboration is key. Singh states that many approaches must be brought together to leverage insight and ensure Facebook is benefitting SMBs. “Small businesses are so vocal about what’s right for them and their digital journey – what is right for their ecosystem. These three elements help determine the best way forward, and that balance is how we get the whole scale versus personalisation happening,” says Singh.
Aside from the vital advertising services and general analytics Facebook is renowned for offering SMBs, Singh emphasises that for Southeast Asian enterprises and communities, a much broader benefit can be reaped. “We’re giving businesses a kind of IQ,” she explains, “with insights across geography and devices, and how people use their time.”
Another key to helping businesses be proactive in a fast-paced market is allowing them to expand within and even outside their community by ensuring they can be seamlessly connected with the right people. “Facebook makes sure people can grow domestically but also in their surrounding countries and expand into much bigger international markets such as with the recent Made by Malaysia program we launched to help SMEs grow internationally. My team helps clients think at a scale they haven’t been permitted to think at before,” Singh explains, adding that if Southeast Asia was a country, its 680mn-strong population would make it the third largest in the world.
Much of Southeast Asia comprises emerging markets which have come from a low digital penetration rate and leapfrogged legacy systems, bypassing clunky desktops to become mobile-first. “When you’ve got markets that are 50-60% under the age of 35, you’re talking about whole generations that have gone from traditional, paper-based systems to smartphones,” comments Singh, adding that smartphone use is even more pervasive in Asia than in other markets. “It’s everything – it’s my office, home, TV, etc.
“I would say technology, especially mobile, is a real enabler in these markets, and I think people trust this enabler because they see the impact it has on their own lives and communities. It tends to be a really positive experience for users in these markets.” Indeed, Singh’s depth of insight and understanding of the communities she serves is clear, and this is something Facebook more widely can bring to Southeast Asia above and beyond other platforms.
“What we develop, how we develop it, testing and the guardrails put in place are all aimed at serving communities,” says Singh, coming back to her important mission. “We’re also very aware of the risks – recently we’ve done a lot of soul searching and thought about how we need to protect users and businesses – our scale means great responsibility and we’re working very hard to keep our platform and services safe,” she adds.
Another key challenge within the region is a lack of skills, training and capital for SMBs. As such, Facebook offers training such as Facebook Blueprint. “We put millions all around the world into digital education – and the programmes we have are all community building.”
Financial systems and logistics are also elements Facebook can help with – if not necessarily by providing physical lorries and trucks, then by connecting businesses to the right partners. “These challenges generally exist for SMBs, and are particularly acute in an emerging market – not just across borders, but businesses in the Philippines or Indonesia have to navigate islands. Just the sheer challenge of getting your product for one place to another can be difficult. From a Facebook point of view, we think about how we can build services, or partner with organisations, to reduce friction for SMBs when they go to market.”
Looking to the future, Facebook will continue its tremendous expansion across Southeast Asia and the wider world, but with perhaps a more measured approach. “The company generally is growing – we’re very thoughtful about how we grow. There are 13 countries of various majorities, and as mobile penetration continues to explode, so too will we have to develop the infrastructure to support these communities and countries.”
Seo JungJin: Who is EY’s World Entrepreneur of 2021?
Seo JungJin, founder of biopharma firm Celltrion, which most recently developed an antibody treatment for COVID-19, has been named the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2021, becoming the first South Korean in the award’s 21-year history.
Regarded as one of the world’s most prestigious business awards program for entrepreneurs, the EY Entrepreneur of the Year celebrates visionary and innovative leaders from across 60 countries who are transforming the world and fostering growth.
JungJin, who is now honoroary chairman of Celltrion Group, was up against a worthy cast of entrepreneurial competitors, taking the crown from among 45 award winners across 38 countries and territories.
Speaking during the virtual event, JungJin described his own interpretation of entrepreneurship as something that brings together “a group of people toward a common vision, embracing challenges as opportunities and committing oneself to contribute to the greater good”.
Why was JungJin crowned King Entrepreneur?
A South Korean native and now 63 years of age, JungJin founded biopharmaceutical firm Celltrion in 2003. In the nearly two decades since its founding, Celltrion has lived up to its goal of advancing health and welfare for all by developing ground-breaking drugs to treat autoimmune disease, various forms of cancer and, most recently, COVID-19.
The company, which JungJin started with just US$45,000 and five of his colleagues, has since growth to more than 2,1000 employees with sales permits in more than 90 countries and revenues exceeding US$1.69bn.
According to the panel, JungJin’s story is a shining example of the power of an unstoppable entrepreneur to change the world with the pandel moved by both his incredible story and his purpose-driven leadership, innovative mindset and entrepreneurial spirit.
Described by the chair of the EY judging panel Rosaleen Blair as “representing everything an unstoppable should be” from taking on the world’s biggest health care challenges to consistently creating long-term value for his company, JungJin’s story is one of incredible tenacity and perseverance that the judging panel felt most represented the entrepreneurial spirit.
“He’s taken breathtaking risks, both personal and professional, to found Celltrion and grow it into one of the world’s leading biopharmaceutical companies,” says Stasia Mitchell, EY Global Entrepreneurship Leader. “His passion for creating affordable, life-saving health care and flair for tackling global problems has led to many treatments that have helped millions of people worldwide and was especially evident this past year through the creation of a COVID-19 antibody treatment.”
How did JungJin get there?
JungJin's entrepreneurial journey started at an early age when he worked as a taxi driver to get himself through Konkuk University in Seoul, South Korea. After studying industrial engineering, he rose through the ranks of Daewoo Motor Co. before losing his job amid the carmaker’s financial troubles following the 1997 Asian economic crisis.
Following this, JungJin started collaborating with colleagues to explore business opportunities in different industries, though none delivered lasting success. The turning point came after he attended a talk hosted by renowned scholars, which inspired him to focus on the biopharmaceutical sector.
And so he founded Celltrion with just US$45,000 of his savings. The launch of Remsima, credited with being the world's first antibody biosimilar, quickly moved Celltrion up the ranks of the country's fairly underdeveloped pharmaceutical sector. Celltrion followed this success with the launch of drugs for breast cancer and lymphoma that today are being used worldwide.
With ambitions to be the world’s first in different areas, Celltrion has pioneered numerous uncharted areas to great success over the past two decades, most recently responding to the global pandemic by successfully developing an antibody treatment for COVID-19 and working to ensure a timely supply of the safe and effective treatment.
“When I first started, my vision was to help patients gain access to safe, effective and affordable medicines and thereby enhance the quality of people’s lives,” explains JungJin. “The success of Celltrion has enabled me to expand on this while finding new ways to fuel my entrepreneurial drive.”