Social protection

Unlocking the potential of digitalization for inclusive social protection in Asia and the Pacific

Opportunities and challenges offered by digitalization of social protection systems highlighted at major event.

News | 13 November 2023
Digitalization of social protection systems and access through devices such as smart phones can benefit millions across Asia and the Pacific. © Shutterstock
BANGKOK (ILO News) - Digitalization offers huge opportunities to enhance social protection coverage and delivery in the Asia-Pacific region yet major efforts are needed to ensure that marginalized and vulnerable populations, including those in informal employment and the gig economy do not miss out on its benefits, participants at a workshop in Bangkok heard recently.

Organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) from 7 to 8 November 2023 with the support of the Republic of Korea, the event brought together some 50 government, employers' and workers' representatives from ASEAN countries along with experts from Korea and Europe as well as ILO specialists.

During the workshop participants discussed and identified best practices and innovative approaches to adapt and enhance social protection systems to meet the demands and embrace the opportunities of the digital era.

Speaking at the event, ILO Social Protection Specialist Markus Ruck said, “It is imperative that we collectively examine how digitalization is influencing social protection systems in the Asia-Pacific region. Our goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of digital technologies on social protection, including labour markets, employment practices, and access to social security.”

The workshop also highlighted the need to bridge the digital divide so the benefits of digitalization could benefit all groups of workers and members of the public.

“We must acknowledge the implications for marginalized and vulnerable populations, including those in informal employment and the gig economy. They must be included in this process and cannot be left behind,” Ruck said.

During the discussions a wide range of topics and best practices were discussed including digital wage payments, IT architecture and data security. Participants recognized that the foundation of any meaningful transformation in social protection begins with policy. Therefore, technology should not be seen as a replacement for policy but as a powerful enabler to achieve policy objectives. Representatives of workers' and employers' organizations also highlighted the importance of dialogue and collaboration to ensure that their voices are heard and concerns and recommendations addressed.

“Going digital is the way forward, there is no other way to move,” said Kaima Via Velasquez, Executive Director, Employees’ Compensation Commission from the Philippines. “The sooner we embrace it the better so we can reap maximum benefits. The biggest challenges are infrastructure and budget as we need to roll this out in rural areas and to be more inclusive. Planning wise we are there. The next big step is execution.”

However, participants also recognised that mastering new technology was not always the biggest obstacle to successful digitalization of social protection systems and that getting responsible agencies to work together was still a major challenge.

“When people come together it can work,” one participant noted.  

Despite many Asia-Pacific countries prioritizing the extension of social protection over the past decades, only 44.1 per cent of the population has access to at least one social protection benefits. Although the region is recognized as a global economic engine and has made significant progress in some areas, social protection coverage still lags behind other parts of the world.
Participants at the workshop, Amari Bangkok Hotel, Thailand, 7-8 November 2023. © ILO