Digital transformation for sustainable development

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FINEX Folio -- Reynaldo C. Lugtu, Jr.


The jampacked room in the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) was in full silence when I slowly highlighted key figures for the Philippines:

• The Philippine economy loses of more than P357 billion ($7 billion) yearly on average from crime, corruption, and tax evasion.

• Metro Manila’s notorious traffic jams cost the Philippine economy at least P3 billion ($64 million) a day or close to $1 billion a year.

• The Philippines is 3rd biggest dumper of plastics in the world.

• The average age of the Filipino farmer is 57 years — who’s going to feed us in the future?

Then I asked the question: How can we use digital technology to address the social issues we face? The audience, mostly millennials wanting to start their own enterprises, eagerly waited for my answer during the Spark Think Camp event of AIM.

My response was – digital transformation. A succinct definition from CIO Magazine says it is “the acceleration of business activities, processes, competencies and models to fully leverage the changes and opportunities of digital technologies and their impact in a strategic and prioritized way.”

With advances in digital technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, nano-biotechnology, internet-of-things, and others, digital transformation creates value impact to society in four areas, as outlined by the World Economic Forum:

• Industry impact through value addition from new products and services and value migration from shifting profit pools;

• Labor impact through net job creation, income growth, income disparity, injuries and accidents avoidance

• Consumer benefits through time savings and cost savings

• Environment and society impact through lives saved, reduction in carbon emissions, prolonged life expectancy, and physical and food security

How digitalization can benefit society is through startups and enterprises that innovate on products and services to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Several of them have already created value impact to the SDGs, namely:

• Zero hunger- KDC Agribusiness, a U.S. company founded in 2015 uses patented technology which can convert over 15 tons of fresh food waste into liquid, organic fertilizer and animal feed in just three hours, enabling a sustainable food production and security,

• Good health and well-being- A local startup, Medifi, provides online consolations on-demand by connecting to doctors at the convenience of one’s home,

• Quality education- another local startup, is a social enterprise in the education technology sector that connects students to education opportunities through an online platform and promotes career awareness among the Filipino youth.

• Affordable and clean energy – San Francisco-based startup, Angaza offers a comprehensive Pay-As-You-Go platform which is used by manufacturing and distribution companies around the world to sell transformative renewable energy products to the next billion off-grid consumers.

• Clean water and sanitation – OptiEnz Sensors, a U.S. firm, has developed breakthrough technology for making real-time decisions with biosensors based on a combination of enzymes and fiber optic technology providing real-time continuous measurement results for use in waste water treatment, and other manufacturing

• Responsible consumption and production, industry innovation, and climate action – startup Sponge Inc, developed a reusable, carbon based material that is super hydrophobic and oleophilic which repels water and absorbs any oil based contaminants allowing it to be used for the clean-up of all types of water including an effective solution for deep sea cleaning.

• Peace, justice, and strong institutions – local company, MyLegalWhiz, is a platform that provides ready and on demand legal resource for individuals, institutions, and enterprises

• Life below water, life on land – Jaguza, uses a livestock monitoring app based on artificial intelligence and IoT that aims to improving livestock production in Uganda.

These are just some of the startups and enterprises that use digital technologies to address social issues and contribute to the sustainable development of nations. Digital transformation is a compelling national platform to create social impact.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of FINEX. The author may be emailed at

Reynaldo C. Lugtu Jr. is the Managing Director of The Engage Philippines, digital marketing and customer engagement solutions company.  an information and communications technology firm. He is the Chairman of the ICT Committee of the Financial Executives Institute of the Philippines (FINEX). He teaches strategic management in the MBA Program of De La Salle University. He is also an Adjunct Faculty of the Asian Institute of Management.