Women, Asia & Innovation – The perfect Storm of Creativity
Women, Asian & Innovation

A few days before South By Southwest (SXSW) opened in Austin, Texas, ogilvydo caught up with two of Singapore’s most dynamic female entrepreneurs and agents of social change

Grace Clapham

Grace Clapham is a self-described Changepreneur, the Founder of Change Ventur.es and Co-Founder of Secret {W} Business – a network and community for women entrepreneurs and changemakers across SEAsia.

Bernise Ang

Bernise Ang is a consultant in behavioural insights and innovation, and co-founder of Syinc. Together, they’ll be bringing some much-anticipated global perspective to the traditionally US-focused tech event.

What can we expect to learn from your talk ‘Co-Creation by Design: Asia, Women & Innovation’?

Grace: “For me, co-creation is about culture, it goes across regions – how do you collaborate with other people in order to make your impact greater and make change happen faster.”

Bernise: “I’m looking at it from the perspective of urban innovation and neighbourhood transformation and I’ll be talking about projects we’ve been running here in Singapore, combining a few disciplines like anthropology, data analysis, and design to develop solutions around local economy, social capital and employment. I’ll also share how we collaborated with an unusual breadth of partners like Google, the Singapore Government, the United Nations Development Program, social services agencies and of course, the people in the community itself.”

How would you describe the state of ‘innovation culture’ in Asia?

Grace: “I’m seeing that it’s still very early stage. We’ve progressed a great deal in the last three to five years, particularly in terms of entrepreneurialism, but maybe less so in terms of innovation. One of the challenges is that the business culture is a lot more relationship-based in many Asian markets, when compared to the west.”

Bernise: “There’s also a generational change, where we see people in Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Manila and so on, who are studying overseas, or even in their home countries, and then stopping to ask ‘What do I really want to do with my life?’ rather than automatically going for a stable job with a corporation or the government.”

Where do companies and brands sit within this landscape of innovation and Asia?

Grace: “A lot of brands are starting to build innovation hubs, partly because they aren’t able to generate that sort of innovation internally, so they’re looking outside to the entrepreneurial space and then the question becomes, how can the two work together? So we’re seeing people here in Asia trying to bridge the gap between big brands and the startup scene.”

Bernise: “I think there’s both a tension as well as a symbiosis between brands and innovation. Even though traditionally there’s been some distance between large corporations and communities of like-minded people on the ground, amongst the more progressive corporations they want to be part of the conversation that’s happening on the ground in Asia, they want to be in touch with their consumers. From the perspective of people who are creating stuff, the makers, there is a growing recognition of the power in business, and there are opportunities for good partnerships. So there is more appetite for collaboration now than in the past.”

Is your talk evidence that SXSW, as an audience, is becoming more interested in stories and voices from Asia?

Grace: “Even at last year’s event, when there was some content on Asia, the view from the US seemed to be that Asia equals China. So there is appetite for learning more about this part of the world, but the view is still rather limited. We wanted to try and open up the conversation to include a broader view of innovation across Asia.”

Bernise: “Yeah, I think so. That’s also because of the context of SXSW, which has traditionally, so I’ve heard, been more US-centric. There’s actually the potential for it to go the other way, where a similar type of festival could happen somewhere in Asia in the near future. I’m particularly interested in how we could showcase different forms of thinking that are from here, from this region, because so much is changing here. It’s a very, very dynamic place in the world right now.”

SXSW 2014 runs from March 7 to 14. Check in regularly for the highlights.

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