CEO Anthony Tan says Grab is partnering with Microsoft to re-skill drivers

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Singapore-based Grab—one of Southeast Asia’s largest services-on-demand apps—is partnering with Microsoft to run several tech training programs in Singapore to reskill its ride-hailing drivers so they can find new jobs in the digital economy.

“We’re offering a train-in-place program to help interested drivers train and switch to entry-level software development roles,” Grab CEO Anthony Tan said at the Fortune Global Forum on Tuesday.

The initiative also aims to “boost digital literacy” for up to 5,000 of Grab’s drivers and train 250 “students” in A.I. skills for job positions that Grab expects to make available. Tan says the purpose of the initiative is to spread the benefits of the growing digital economy to more people as Singapore “upskills.”

Singapore has been on a “digitalization” drive for six years, ever since Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong launched a “smart nation” initiative. The government-led scheme is similar to Germany’s ‘Industry 4.0’ campaign in that it seeks to upgrade the city’s manufacturing industry.

But Singapore wants to weave technology into every corner of its economy and, to that end, Grab has been pivotal. The multipurpose app, which started as an Uber-like ride-hailing platform, now provides payment, sales and financing options to millions across Southeast Asia, where roughly 75% of people are unbanked.

Tan says that Grab has brought “income opportunities” to over 9 million owners of micro businesses—companies with fewer than five employees— by providing either financing or a platform on which to facilitate transactions.

Tan says he hopes the app can help bridge Singapore’s “income divide.”

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare the city state’s wealth inequality. Initially, observers hailed Singapore’s containment of COVID-19 as exemplary with case numbers kept in the hundreds. But in April, news reports revealed that the government’s coronavirus response largely had ignored the thousands of migrant workers that drive Singapore’s manufacturing industry.

COVID-19 spread unchecked among the migrant community, which lives in cramped dormitories. The outbreaks ignited a citywide epidemic that prompted the government to enforce even stricter lockdown provisions. As of Tuesday, Singapore’s accumulated case numbers totaled nearly 58,000, with 28 deaths.

“This has been a very unequal crisis and we, collectively, need to respond,” Tan says. “What we choose today—to help or not—will have a multi-generational ripple effect.”

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