Facebook SMB – helping small businesses grow across Southeast Asia

By Olivia Minnock

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.”


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