Micro-vlogging platform TikTok held its Southeast Asia (SEA) Impact Forum last June 15 where it pledged to support the region’s micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) with a $12.2-million investment and partnerships with various government agencies and nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
According to Shou Zi Chew, TikTok chief executive officer, the platform’s investment is part of its larger plan to invest billions into the region over the next few years.
The investment, though, is earmarked towards supporting more than 120,000 MSMEs and entrepreneurs transition their businesses online and participate in the digital economy over the next three years.
More specifically, the investment will back TikTok’s Support Local program in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. The program fosters youth entrepreneurship through the app’s partnership with the Asean Foundation, as well as expand access to education and self-improvement initiatives across the region.
Chew emphasized the app’s potential for businesses by pointing out “TikTok is so special in the way that we allow people to discover… If you have good content, you can be easily discovered on TikTok. This [element of] discovery has allowed many great entrepreneurs to build their businesses on our platform… some are new startups, some are 20-year-old family businesses, [but all of them] sell through our platform today.”
“We are lowering the friction and the barrier for brands to be able to communicate their information to their users,” Chew added.
When describing TikTok’s plan to tackle this diverse region, Chew stated: “We need to make sure we are building this global platform for interoperability, while at the same time, investing more in deepening the local context.”.
In line with their need to be both global and local, TikTok’s Support Local program includes projects tailored to each SEA nation’s local needs and contexts.
For instance, they can range from improving Internet access and digital skills training in Indonesia to launching a livestream series on TikTok Shop that promotes the regional products of Vietnamese farmers, craftsmen, and small businesses.
In the Philippines, TikTok’s Support Local program is being implemented in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture and PLDT-Smart Foundation.
Together, TikTok and these organizations are debuting the Buy Local Bazaar program where select Filipino farmers and fisherfolk are given connectivity support and taught to take full advantage of TikTok shop through regular training sessions.
“Our content is deepening and diversifying,” stated Chew. “A few years ago, there was a lot of dancing and performing and singing in our platform — which is great and I love it, it’s joyful — but increasingly, we see other verticals… taking off on our platform. The usefulness of Tiktok is evolving.”
In fact, TikTok’s focus on SEA small businesses is linked to the app’s growing impact on MSMEs.
In a report commissioned by the company and released during the forum, the MSMEs polled increased their revenue by nearly 50% through selling their products and services on TikTok, and 79% of businesses transitioned from offline to online marketing channels using the platform.
Moreover, in April 2023, TikTok reported that 15 million businesses use the platform monthly.
“Our promise is to cultivate a safe, diverse, and inclusive platform that fosters self-expression and authenticity. We believe that together, we can make a meaningful difference and contribute to a more vibrant and connected Southeast Asia,” said Chew during the forum.