Facebook co-founder sees opportunities in healthcare, education

Eduardo Saverin believes the next big thing in Internet will come from the two industries, while others say the definition of innovation in Asia needs to be adapted.

SINGAPORE--Healthcare and education are two bedrocks for innovation on the Internet, says Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, who points to the need to enforce real-name identity to support development in these markets.

Healthcare and education will be two cornerstones of innovation.

Speaking at The Wall Street Journal's Unleashing Innovation conference here Thursday, Saverin said: "If you look at world priorities, healthcare  and education are definitely two critical cornerstones. I do hope that from an innovation perspective, these are tackled next because it's our livelihoods."

For healthcare, he suggested the use of real-name identity in Facebook could help ensure accurate health-related information is shown to the right person.

In the education sector, in markets where English language is not widely understood, he said technology is needed to translate English-language information which is updated in real-time, to the native language so more users have access to knowledge.

Saverin's views were echoed by Ronnie Screwvala, founder and trustee at Swades Foundation. In a separate panel, Screwvala said social issues such as the billions of illiterate people in the world, lack of health resources, and lack of food remain unresolved in some emerging markets.

Addressing such problems requires innovation that can scale, said Screwvala, adding that innovative technology should be redefined to aid quick problem-solving.

Asia to bring new definition of innovation
Screwvala said innovation is currently defined by technology created out of Silicon Valley in the 1990s and in new media. He believes Asia will drive a new definition of innovation due to the different problems which need to be solved.

Tarun Khanna, director at the South Asia Initiative at Harvard University, who was on the panel with Screwvala gave an example. His students developed a new low-cost technology to test for diabetes using a mobile phone camera. The innovation behind it was sparked by the desire to aid India's battle with the disease , where nearly 50 million people in the country were diabetic in 2012. The use of mobile phone was apt as mobile penetration in India is high, Khanna noted.

The country's mobile penetration was at 72 percent , said GSMA in a December report, but it noted that unique mobile subscribers uptake was at 25 percent as many users owned multiple SIM cards.

Saverin, who has lived here since 2009, said he decided to move to Asia because the region is the center of growth for Internet and mobile users. The Facebook co-founder is now an angel investor and early-stage investor for startups.

When asked by a member of the audience about his decision to renounce his U.S. citizenship, he denied it was an attempt to dodge taxes which would have been imposed with Facebook's IPO (initial public offering).

Instead, Saverin said he had been interested in Asia before there was any inkling Facebook was going public. He said he remains an investor of Facebook, although he is not involved with the company's daily operations.