The co-founder of a socially influential tech startup has warned the government against over-regulating technology in the country.
“A lot of us are concerned about over-regulation,” Connected Women CEO Gina Romero said in an interview with Business & Politics, which is hosted by Manila Times chair Dante “Klink” Ang 2nd and aired Saturday on SMNI night.
“Because this is a thriving opportunity for this country, over-regulation could cause it to shrink. We don’t want to lose our potential there.”
Romero, a 2022 recipient of TOWNS (Outstanding Women in National Service) Empowering Women through ICT, emphasized that “technology allows us to reach more people and create greater scale.”
Turning to the tech space, Romero stressed that the challenge is to build trust and relevance at every level.
“People are nervous about technology, especially new technologies like AI (artificial intelligence),” she said. “There are a lot of different conversations, so it’s really important that the person making the decision really talks to the experts.”
Romero, who has been an advocate for women’s empowerment for 17 years, noted that the Philippines has “some truly top-notch world-class data scientists” who study the challenges of technology around the world, its potential and its dangers.
“We have so much innovative talent in the Philippines. We really need to consult with them and make sure they are included,” she said. “In order to build that trust and relevance, there needs to be a lot of conversation, otherwise we risk making decisions that negatively impact large numbers of people.”
Romero said the government could start by talking to groups like Connected Women.
She said her team is focused on people who are not left behind.
Romero said that while the Philippines is now seen as a potential tech hub, it will only happen if the government and the private sector continue to upskill and support socially impactful organizations like Connected Women.
“us [social-impact organizations and entrepreneurs] It needs to be taken as seriously as a start-up because the potential for commercial and impact returns is huge,” she said.
Romero lamented that they struggled to find funding to scale up and develop skills.
Social impact business is a relatively new concept, especially in Asia, she said.
“The model of social enterprise is that you can make money, but you can also incorporate good things into your business,” Romero said.
The country is full of entrepreneurs with social impact, but many of them tend to shy away from technology, she said.
“It’s a real shame. We need to encourage more entrepreneurs to take advantage of technology because they can amplify their impact and help more people,” Romero said.
That’s why education is also very important, especially when it comes to developing technical skills early, she said.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have any knee-jerk reactions around this topic because we now have an opportunity to really see what we’re teaching kids,” Romero said.
“Let’s remember that the jobs of the future, we don’t know yet. We can’t rely on education now to provide all the talent and skills we need in the future,” she said.
“This is a great opportunity to look at how technology can support education and how it can support the future of work,” she said. “We need a lot of different people to be in the conversation because if we just get educators to do education, we won’t be able to build for the future so far.”
Romero also sees the importance of “continuing the push for digital infrastructure” in the country.
“Even in a very large and fragmented country outside the Philippines, there are many layers of complexity,” Romero noted, “and it’s amazing that we’re making the progress we’re making.”
“When I got back I was really pleasantly surprised. I thought I’d heard it was worse, but the connection wasn’t that bad,” said Romero, who has lived in the UK since she was six months old and recently returned. Go to the Philippines to establish Connected Women.
Launched in 2010, the organization provides online skills training, development and remote work opportunities for Filipino women.
Its flagship project Elevate AIDA (Artificial Intelligence Data Annotation) aims to equip women from grassroots communities with market-ready AI industry data annotation skills.
These skills include tagging, classifying, and manipulating text and images for AI applications.
Connected Women’s clients and partners include Meta, PLDT, Union Bank, ScaleHub, Aboitiz and Smart.
“Many women come to us without any educational background or experience in technology or artificial intelligence. After they graduate from our training, we offer them the opportunity to work remotely and flexibly and ensure they receive decent wages and opportunities Upskill,” said Romero, whose mother was one of the pioneering domestic workers to travel to Britain in the 1970s.
She said she wanted to dispel the misconceptions that social enterprises are poor, small and philanthropic.
“Social enterprise does well because the benefit is built into the business model, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be profitable…a mindset should be changed,” Romero said.
She said Connected Women is not only a showcase project in the Philippines but also globally when it comes to developing skills for the future.