This blog is part of of the series South Asia Youth Voices on regional integration. The views expressed are those of the authors.
The 21st century world lives on optical fibers, and with an active base of 1.49 billion monthly users, Facebook would today be the most populous country in the world. The digital revolution presents an opportunity to transcend geographical borders toward greater regional integration in South Asia. And youth, empowered by internet and the smartphone, can override traditional boundaries and historical prejudices.
Social media has already enabled direct people-to-people interactions bypassing mainstream nationalist media narratives. The digital infrastructure can also be extended to sharing best practices in e-governance, bridging the rural-urban connectivity divide, and allowing leaders to communicate to people. On the policy front, the need for greater cooperation is reflected by the fact that, while India has agreements with over 25 countries in the IT field, none such exists with any South Asian country.
Potential ideas of cooperation in the private sector include facilitating e-commerce/e-marketplace and design/innovation joint ventures between IT players in India and manufacturing partners in other South Asian countries. Such business initiatives would require the drive of youth entrepreneurs as well as relevant regional policies to help technology start-ups access capital and incubation grants, especially from globally renowned Indian incubators at reputed educational institutes like IITs and IIMs.
With one-fifth of the South Asian population between the age of 15 and 24, education provides great learning opportunities, and given South Asia’s shared culture, region- focused MOOCs can be of great help for students across the region. Similarly, initiatives such as the Indian government’s regional language tools to spur grass-root internet access, currently available in 22 languages, would find a huge audience in other South Asian countries. And in such areas as disaster management, this shared knowledge base can add value to communities across countries.
The digital connect can help leverage the youth and demographic potential and create digital stakeholders across borders. This represents the economic and interpersonal foundation for the South Asian century.