The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund with partners FMO, Visa and the Government of Canada are pleased to announce the winners of the Women Enterprise Recovery Fund. The 10 winners, which include technology providers, FinTechs and commercial banks, will receive financial and technical support over the next 12 months to pilot and test their innovations.  The solutions developed by the 10 winners will support women entrepreneurs to access and use digital solutions and finance technologies which support business recovery and growth.

While COVID-19 has impacted every economy in the Asia-Pacific region, the economic fallout for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) has been particularly devastating. It has led to declines in income and employment, and increased inequality and poverty rates. ESCAP estimates that the pandemic could push 150 million people into poverty in 2021, resulting in a significant regression in the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Women entrepreneurs have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, women entrepreneurs faced challenges relating to informality, ability to meet collateral requirements, small cash holdings with limited record keeping, and limited digital and financial literacy, all of which impacted their ability to access formal financial services. Since the pandemic, these challenges have been exacerbated and compounded with additional burdens such as added household care responsibilities.

“The pandemic has exposed the continuing inequalities in our region and laid bare the need to build back better with inclusivity, resilience and sustainability,” said ESCAP Deputy Executive Secretary Kaveh Zahedi. “To achieve this, we must in particular bridge the digital and financial divides that women MSMEs face. ESCAP is proud to be collaborating with UNCDF, Visa, the Dutch Development Bank FMO and our financial partner the Government of Canada, to support such digital technology and digital finance solutions specifically for women entrepreneurs who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”

“Over its 50-year existence, FMO has worked to empower entrepreneurs across and within emerging markets. The current economic crisis has proven to be a tremendous challenge on so many levels, and for so many. We are proud to have partnered with ESCAP, Visa and UNCDF on this deeply needed fund, ensuring that women-led and women-owned enterprises in South-East Asia not only survive but thrive,” said Andrew Shaw, Capacity Development Manager of FMO.

To support the economic recovery and digitalization of these enterprises, ESCAP and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) launched the Women Enterprise Recovery Fund earlier this year. The fund seeks to support the development and expansion of digital business models and solutions to alleviate financial and other constraints impacting women enterprises in South and South-East Asia.

Of the 83 applications received, 17 were shortlisted to move to the final round of decision making. Shortlisted applicants were provided mentoring and pitch preparation assistance in order to strengthen their business models for potential funding.

“The last year has been exceptionally difficult at the personal, communal, and economic level for so many people. As we look to the recovery phase, it is critical that the global financial architecture intensify its support to accelerate achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically in frontier markets,” said UNCDF Executive Secretary Preeti Sinha. “The UN Capital Development Fund has a unique role to play in supporting innovative solutions that can support those most at risk of being left behind, notably women-owned and women-led enterprises in last mile markets. Digital transformation is essential to these enterprises’ ability to rebound, recover, and become more resilient. We are proud to partner with ESCAP, Visa and FMO through the Women Enterprise Recovery Fund to support the development and expansion of digital solutions that alleviate the constraints suffered by women enterprises affected by the pandemic.”

“Visa is committed to helping small and micro businesses thrive, and we believe in the power of women entrepreneurs to drive economies everywhere. In the wake of Covid-19, our focus on empowering and uplifting women is more important than ever as we seek ways to contribute to an equitable economic recovery. Alongside our global commitment to digitally enable 50 million SMBs by the end of 2023, we are privileged to be a partner in the WERF to advance digital solutions for women entrepreneurs in the region,” said Nate Low, Senior Director, AP Social Impact, Visa.

The winners of the Women Enterprise Recovery Fund:

  • AgUnity (Indonesia) will rollout its digital mobile platform for coffee farmers in Indonesia, enabling users to perform and record transactions, improve the productivity of their agricultural practices, and connect to service providers. The AgUnity solution which uses smartphones and QR codes allows users to record transactions in their digital wallets, access learning materials, and organize to sell and buy marketplace items.
  • ASYX Holdings Pte Ltd/PT ASYX Indonesia – ASYX Hoori (Indonesia) will provide various digital solutions, equipment financing, and training support to women-owned, managed or led MSMEs to promote and upscale digitized Supply Chain Financing (SCF) solutions for firms in the Indonesian garment/fashion and agriculture industries.
  • Boost Capital (Cambodia) will provide an end-to-end digital microfinance platform that allows women-led MSMEs to apply for a digital loan, and will also provide accessible local-language financial education modules to strengthen customer’s financial knowledge.
  • BRAC Bank Limited – SME Bondhu (Bangladesh) will pilot a one-stop digital solution for MSMEs in Bangladesh for seamless set-up of online stores, including access to digital tools for their businesses, such as an integrated logistics facility and payment gateway solutions.
  • CROWDE – Radhia Tani (Indonesia) will create a fintech lending platform that digitizes the agricultural process by prioritizing education for farmers in technology and financial management while providing cashless financing for agri-entrepreneurs.
  • CVC Finance Limited – Digital Un-divide (Bangladesh) will develop a digital platform focusing on retail micro-merchants, enabling them to keep a digital track of their transactions through a mini ERP/m-POS App allowing them to order inventory and access finance.
  • Himalayan Innovations (Nepal) will connect rural smallholder women farmers in Nepal with urban markets through a blockchain enabled e-commerce platform, while providing them with foundational digital literacy and access to finance through the young digital managers from Himalayan’s Girls4Rurals network.
  • Khmum Technology Co., Ltd. (Cambodia) will train and onboard women entrepreneurs onto their e-commerce platform, while allowing women MSMEs to build a dashboard of their business health for financial institutions to facilitate lending.
  • Kiu Global (Viet Nam) will implement its Business Management Platform (BMP) and Mobile Applications to support women-owned or led MSMEs in Viet Nam, by providing (m)SMEs with digital tools for record-keeping, which allow them to connect with financial institutions to offer financing using the (m)SMEs transaction history.
  • Reach52 Pte. Ltd. (Cambodia) will introduce affordable micro-insurance and health products to rural populations in Cambodia through recruiting and equipping women entrepreneurs as community agents, conducting training on business strategies, product knowledge, digital literacy, and provision of the reach52 access e-commerce platform.

Note to editors:

The Women Enterprise Recovery Fund is supported by the Dutch Entrepreneurial Development Bank (FMO), the Government of Canada and Visa. The Fund is jointly implemented by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship programme in partnership with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), under its ‘no-one left behind in the digital era’ strategy. The Fund is hosted by UNCDF’s Fund Facility Investment mechanism, through the SHIFT in ASEAN programme, which is supported by the Australian Government.


The Initiative is set to expand in phase 2, applications are open

Women from underserved and marginalized communities made up 65 percent of 80 000 trainees in the first phase of ITU’s Digital Transformation Centres (DTC) Initiative. The Initiative, launched in September 2019, saw the ITU partner with technology conglomerate Cisco in nine countries to help strengthen the digital capacities of their citizens, particularly in underserved communities.

ITU has opened applications for the second phase of its DTC Initiative, aiming to close the persistent gap in digital skills worldwide. Interested eligible institutions can submit their applications by 31 August 2021.

“We want to leverage the momentum we gained in phase one, during which over 80 000 people from underserved and marginalized communities received digital skills training through nine DTCs. The popularity of this training has far exceeded what we anticipated, and greatly encourages us. Clearly, the pandemic has made everyone more aware of the need to be equipped with digital skills. ITU wants to expand the DTC network, but at a pace which will ensure that the quality of training is maintained,” said ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao.

In the first phase, DTCs were established in nine countries in Africa, Americas and Asia Pacific. The individuals who signed up for DTC courses received training in basic and intermediate digital skills.

“Closing the global digital divide is consistent with empowering people and communities, improving lives and livelihoods, and promoting sustainable development,” emphasized the Secretary-General. “Empowering people with essential digital skills is a key part of this – a challenge we are proud to tackle together with partners from the private sector.”

Doreen Bogdan-​Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “The pandemic underlined that digital skills are key to inclusion and leaving no one behind in today’s digital world. The lack of these skills is becoming the main barrier to digital participation, particularly in developing countries. ITU’s network of Digital Transformation Centres plays a crucial role in bridging the digital skills gap and ensuring that no one is left offline. That is why we are expanding the network to increase the number of DTCs globally. We are continuously engaging with new potential partners to collaborate with us in this Initiative.”

Application criteria

The second phase is open to applications from any eligible national institution that commits to being an active partner in the network.

Applying institutions must have the mandate, or the support of their national government, to foster digital capacity in their respective countries, as well as a proven track record in delivering digital skills training at basic and intermediate levels to local communities.
Selected DTCs become part of a global network that aims to accelerate digital uptake among citizens and boost the capacity of young entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to succeed in the digital economy.

Any proposed DTC requires a network of fully equipped physical training centres, along with sufficient resources to deliver digital skills training. Detailed criteria are available here.

The second phase of the DTC Initiative will commence operations from January 2022.

Going forward, more DTCs will be able to join the global network in order to reach a critical mass of people with digital skills training in countries and thus allow them to meaningfully participate in the digital economy.

Further information on how to apply to become a DTC is available here.

Benefits of participation

Institutions that become part of the DTC network will receive free access to training materials developed by ITU, Cisco, HP, and other partners at the global, regional and national levels; access to train-the-trainer programmes under the DTC Initiative; networking opportunities through DTCs worldwide; use of ITU and Cisco branding for promotion and marketing of DTC courses; authorization to award internationally recognized certifications to local citizens; and the chance get access to resources that will allow them to scale their national activities.

The first phase of the Initiative runs from January 2020 to August 2021, with nine DTCs: four in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia), two in the Americas (Brazil, Dominican Republic), and three in Asia-Pacific (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines).

The courses offered are designed both for people who have never used a computer, as well as those with basic digital skills and those looking to enhance their entrepreneurial skills through information and communication technologies (ICTs).

ITU has promoted wider partnerships to support the Initiative with both financial and material resources. In November 2020, the Government of Norway joined the Initiative financially supporting the implementation of training through the DTC network. Going forward, ITU aims to mobilize more partnerships in the second phase of the Initiative, widen the network of DTCs and scale the number of training activities through a systemic engagement with partners both at national and international levels.

More information on partnership opportunities is available here, while interested parties can also write to


Heathertex, a medium-sized clothing company in Egypt, has experienced a loop of challenges and adversity to keep their business open.

Director Alaa Hamdy explains that in March 2020, when the COVID-19 virus hit Egypt, she knew that the impact would not only relate to health and the economy, but that it would also affect women and vulnerable communities socially.

Established in 2018, Heathertex employs around 350 people, 80% of whom are women. “Being a woman myself, I understand women’s needs and the responsibilities they carry on their shoulders. More than ever, our company had to be a strong and reliable employer,” says Hamdy.

She explains that since the COVID outbreak, they have not dismissed or reduced the salary of any of their employees, “on the very opposite, we are planning to build a nursery on our premises, so all mothers have a safe place to leave their child. A small but crucial service that will have a major, positive impact on their personal and professional lives,” Hamdy proudly emphasizes.

Heathertex production comprises knitted and woven wear like scrub tops, bottoms, work uniforms for men, women and children. The company exports 100% of its products, mainly to America as well as to Italy and Greece in Europe. “In our two first years, we have achieved impressive results selling our products to famous international brands,” comments Hamdy. The director argues that despite all the challenges, 2020 was surprisingly a positive year for her company. “We restructured our production and operations to respect all health and safety measures. Our sales increased by 23% during the pandemic,” says Hamdy.

With the support of the International Trade Centre (ITC), the Alexandria-based company has progressed thanks to the initiatives led by the Global and Middle East and North Africa Textiles and Clothing Programme (GTEX/MENATEX).

For Alaa Hamdy, receiving support through the GTEX/MENATEX project made a real difference during COVID-19. She explains that the increase in export is related to reducing the company’s lead-time, a methodology they learned at a training.

“The GTEX/MENATEX project brought insightful ideas and know-how to our company. We are currently implementing the techniques we learned in the Lean Manufacturing and Material Sourcing training courses,” says Hamdy. She also explains that Heathertex will apply environmental management measures designed during the resource efficiency and circular production coaching (RECP), as well as add more sustainable practices in their production.

“We are looking for green solutions in our electricity and water consumptions. In addition, we plan to improve our resource efficiency and enhance our waste management to increase our profitability.”


Yasmine Helal, GTEX/MENATEX National Project Coordinator for Egypt, emphasized the dedication of the participating companies and their achievements.

“In 2020, despite the pandemic, many companies were eager to learn and adjust with the new trends and norms. Eleven companies made massive changes to their digital presence following the digital marketing and access-to-market coaching the ITC project provided, including three who developed their online stores,” says Helal.

The national coordinator also highlights that five companies reported improved operations and lead-time. “They increased the efficiency of their operations by 10% to 15%, following the lean manufacturing training. Another five companies reported receiving export orders from new international buyers as a result of the funded participation to virtual exhibitions with others in progress and/or in negotiation phase,” concludes Helal.

GTEX/MENATEX Egypt plans for several activities and training courses including a boot camp on access to finance for textile and clothing companies in July. The two-days event will provide companies the opportunity to improve their knowledge on finance and accounting, as well as acquiring skills and confidence to design and pitch a project to financiers through role play and matchmaking sessions. Following national health authorities’ guidelines, the event is expected to take place in Cairo in a hybrid format.

The Global Textiles and Clothing Programme (GTEX) and the Middle East and North Africa Textiles Programme (MENATEX) are implemented by the International Trade Centre until December 2022. They are co-financed by the Swiss and Swedish governments, respectively.


New Policies Can Ignite Online Trade, Economic Growth and Inclusion

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the GSMA today called on Central Africa’s 11 governments to adopt policies to accelerate e-commerce, including better access to digital services and public-private collaboration.

Mobile internet use in Central Africa more than doubled in the past decade to 42% at the end of 2019. Women and entrepreneurs increasingly use e-commerce platforms to grow their businesses, according to the joint GSMA-ECA report titled “Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications”. The report makes the potential for economic development and social inclusion clear.

E-commerce is growing quickly in Central Africa and mobile connectivity and payments are key to gaining momentum. By the end of 2020, there were 16 live mobile money services in ECCAS[1], serving nearly 50 million registered accounts.

The report shows that while the retail e-commerce landscape is dominated by global players, such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba, domestic and regional players are leveraging local knowledge to compete. Jumia, is an example of this and is Africa’s largest e-commerce company with operations in 11 countries across the continent.

Insights from the report outline how social commerce, the use of social networks for e-commerce, is also gaining traction. Facebook’s 14 million users in the sub-region make an attractive marketplace and the preferred platform for many e-commerce entrepreneurs.

Despite this progress, all 11 countries in Central Africa are falling behind when compared to their peers. The infrastructure, investment and skills necessary to fuel online shopping rank in the bottom third of the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s Business-to-Consumer E-commerce Index of 152 countries.

The report makes clear that mobile telecom operators are a vital part of the solution. They provide connectivity for online activities, including e-commerce, enable digital payments and, support e-commerce by way of APIs and sales agents to address challenges in the sector.

“Central Africa is budding with economic potential and e-commerce can accelerate that growth,” said Angela Wamola, the GSMA’s Head of Sub Sahara Africa. “The GSMA is proud to partner with the ECA on this report bringing our knowledge of how digital technologies can propel sustainable development to the work. We hope it will inspire action from policymakers and stakeholders in the region.”

In Central Africa, as many as 264 e-commerce start-ups operate in at least 23 countries. The employment potential is significant with online marketplaces are set to generate 3 million jobs by 2025.

The region can progress quickly if governments enact policies to accelerate digital and e-commerce services, specifically:

  • Enhance digital and financial inclusion
  • Take the right approach to data regulation
  • Address key challenges in the business environment
  • Leverage stakeholder collaboration

“Mobile network operators must play a critical role to accelerate digital inclusion, economic diversification and sustainable development,” said Antonio Pedro, Director of ECA’s Sub-regional Office for Central Africa. “If governments act now, Central Africa can be more competitive and collaborative for the benefit and inclusion of all citizens.”

Please go here to download the report: Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications.

Watch an explanatory video here: Mobile Services for e-Commerce in Central Africa (new GSMA-ECA report)


What is the Generation Equality Forum?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted more than 25 years ago, in 1995. Promises had previous been made to close the gender gap. However, previous goals have not been complemented by successful implementation, and women worldwide are still facing discrimination in many fields, ranging from economic participation to public leadership, as reiterated by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report 2021.

The Generation Equality Forum (GEF), convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, represents a unique opportunity to change the status quo. Why? Because of its inclusivity and focus on practical results, financing, and bold commitments.

First, the forum gathers not only international organizations, foundations and governments, but also stakeholders that have often been excluded by international treaties and agendas, such as civil society organizations, the private sector and feminist movements. In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, “The Generation Equality Forum marks a positive, historic shift in power and perspective. Together we have mobilized across different sectors of society, from south to north, to become a formidable force, ready to open a new chapter in gender equality”.

Second, the goal of the forum is ambitious, yet concrete and achievable: to catalyze collective actions through strong pledges and drive increased investments. How? The Forum is organized into six Action Coalitions (AC), which represent six categories of pivotal issues to be addressed: (1) Gender-based Violence; (2) Economic Justice and Rights; (3) Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; (4) Feminist Action for Climate Justice; (5) Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality; and (6) Feminist Movements and Leadership. The leaders of the coalitions, after a year of comprehensive negotiations and research, have established a set of actions and tactics that will be implemented in the next 5 years.

The Forum culminated in July in Paris, where the action-oriented agenda proposed by the six ACs was received so favorably that governments, philanthropic organizations, civil society groups, youth organizations and the private sector made commitments worth more than $40 billion to advance the agenda’s operationalization. This pledge demonstrates a major step-change in the path towards women’s empowerment; the lack of dedicated financial resources is commonly recognized as the major reason for slow progress in implementing the Beijing Conference agenda.

UNCDF’s role in and commitments to the Generation Equality Forum

In 2020, UNCDF was chosen as global leader of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Women’s Economic Justice and Rights (EJR). UNCDF also plays a pivotal role in supporting the work of the Technology and Innovation Action Coalition (T&I). The operational approach of UNCDF is rooted in strengthening local systems, capacities, policies, and institutions to address persistent systemic gender inequalities through technology, innovative forms of financing, technical assistance, and product design. To do so, UNCDF values strong partnerships with international organizations, civil society groups and the private sector organizations, these stakeholders are all members of the GEF. In turn, there is a strong alignment between UNCDF’s mission and the agendas of the EJR and T&I ACs.

As highlighted by UNCDF’s Executive Secretary Preeti Sinha in her remarks provided at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, UNCDF’s vision is to create Equal Economies by working to achieve two sets of commitments: Gender Finance Gap Zero; and Red Tape Zero. Through the first commitment, Gender Finance Gap Zero, UNCDF pledges to narrow the finance gap that contributes to unequal opportunities for women’s advancement across societies and economies. The second commitment, Red Tape Zero, represents UNCDF’s commitment to address the deep-rooted systemic biases as well as market and agency constraints for women that often serve as literal and figurative “red tape” to inclusion and participation.

Moreover, UNCDF is strengthening its programmatic approach and partnership by joining two collective commitments. First, UNCDF has joined the 2X Collaborative, through which we will promote gender lens investing in emerging markets using innovative blended finance solutions and partnerships with capital providers to develop new financing mechanisms to support women-led and gender responsive SMEs. Second, UNCDF joined the Digital Literacy Equity Outcome Fund in partnership with the Government of Finland, UNICEF, and Volta Capital, through which we will continue our work to advance innovative financing as a means to close the gender digital divide.

How do we move from commitments to action?

UNCDF’s unique mandate to bring public and private sector capital to the world’s least developed countries positions us well to support the blueprints of the EJR and T&I Action Coalitions, as well as several collective commitments. You can find highlights of the areas of focus for both Action Coalitions below the graphic.

Now, as we move towards implementation of the agreed Global Acceleration Plan for Action Coalitions, the most urgent next steps for UNCDF are to effectively and robustly connect our assets – innovative financing mechanisms, financing capability, technical expertise, in country presence – to the work of other partners to help realize the ambitions of the Generation Equality Forum in order to catalyze change and accelerate the closing of the gender gap.

Our work will support partners in the emerging and less developed regions around the world in their ambitions to lift millions of women and men out of extreme poverty. Our actions will specifically contribute to addressing discriminatory practices and reducing gender inequalities by promoting women’s economic empowerment. UNCDF aims to support this work by focusing on the following key priorities:

Gender Gap Finance Zero ( UNCDF will specifically contribute towards actions that will increase the volume of financing available for gender equality commitments in target LDCs.

  • Serve as the United Nations’ flagship financing agency for the LDCs to co-create innovative financing solutions to overcome the barriers to gender equality
  • Leverage UNCDF’s loans, guarantees, grants, blended finance instruments and technical assistance to increase investments in women-led businesses and gender responsive local economic development projects.


Red Tape Zero (addressing the deep-rooted systemic biases as well as market and agency constraints for women that often serve as literal and figurative “red tape”)

  • Co-lead of “Reaching Financial Equality for Women” A 10-point Action Plan for Reaching Financial Equality was launched through a partnership between the Better than Cash Alliance, UNCDF, UNSGSA, UN Women, Women’s World Banking, and the World Bank for governments and businesses to rebuild stronger after COVID-19 by prioritizing women’s digital financial inclusion. The associated advocacy campaign featured 20+ CEOs and Ministers committing to one or more of the 10 actions to advance women’s digital financial inclusion.
  • Address gender based discriminatory practices and norms, as well as strengthen economic policies, budgets, plans and governance structures by providing technical support to local partners through the use of the comprehensive training course for local governments on WEE.
  • Utilize toolbox on WEE financing to support a comprehensive bottom-up approach using gender responsive local economic assessments to promote WEE that cuts across policy and regulatory support and local financing solutions. Measure the inclusiveness of digital economies, especially for women in digital economies through the Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard in 20+ LDCs and addressing the identified market constraints for gender equality with the help of the Inclusive Digital Economy & Gender Playbook
  • Implement with the G7 Partnership for Advancing Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa, policy and advocacy support to increase women’s digital financial inclusion and women’s leadership in the financial sector in 15+ African countries.


Both our Gender Gap Finance Zero and Red Tape Zero commitments will help us make Women Builders of Inclusive Digital Economies in 28 countries as well as build Inclusive Cities by transforming urban areas into spaces of equal opportunities for everyone, especially those who are vulnerable and marginalized.

As Executive Secretary Sinha concluded in her remarks, these commitments will “impact women and their families in the LDCs, allowing them to have equal access, equal agency and equal leadership in their societies and economies.”


Countries across the globe are continuing to move towards a seamless and efficient trading environment, within and beyond national borders, by simplifying and digitalizing formalities in international trading, helping to sustain international trade despite the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a survey released today by the United Nations regional commissions.

The United Nations Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation is produced biennially by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean (ECLAC), the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).

The Fourth Survey covers not only the trade facilitation measures in the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, but also digital trade facilitation measures supported by the numerous recommendations and electronic business standards of the UNECE-hosted United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT). The Survey also pays special attention to sectors and groups with special needs, such as the agricultural sector, small and medium enterprises and women traders. A new module on trade facilitation during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic was integrated this year.

Many developing countries and countries with economies in transition have made rapid progress in streamlining trade procedures, particularly in Asia and the Pacific. The Survey, covering 143 countries, shows the global average implementation rate of trade facilitation and paperless trade measures at 65 per cent. For 128 countries, this is an increase of 5 percentage points from an average of 61 per cent to 66 per cent in the last Survey in 2019. In 2021, developed economies have the highest implementation rate (82 per cent), followed by countries in South-East and East Asia (75 per cent). Pacific Islands have the lowest implementation rate (44 per cent).

In the UNECE region, average trade facilitation implementation increased from 73 per cent in 2019 to 76 per cent in 2021. Higher progress has been recorded in Central Asia (16 per cent increase), followed by North America (6 per cent), the Caucasus and Turkey (5 per cent). Despite the significant progress made since 2019, Central Asia is still lagging, as is Eastern Europe and South-Eastern Europe at around 64 per cent while the other four sub-regions (the Caucasus and Turkey; EU, UK, Norway and Switzerland; North America; Russian Federation) reached close to 80 per cent or higher implementation rate. The Survey results for the implementation levels of trade facilitation measures in times of crisis and pandemic vary widely across the region with an average of 46 per cent. The UNECE 2021 Survey includes 44 countries with the addition of two new countries – Andorra and Luxembourg.

The categories that have lower levels of implementation and vary significantly across the region are Paperless trade and Cross-border paperless trade. These are all digital measures, therefore presenting challenges related to ICT infrastructure and digital skills, amongst others. Several countries in the region have reached over 90 per cent implementation in these categories, but countries in Central Asia, Eastern Europe and South-Eastern Europe are far behind in these categories.

“While the world is grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and its socioeconomic impacts, digital trade facilitation measures are of paramount importance to keep supply chains operating smoothly and to accelerate the sustainable recovery needed for the 2030 Agenda”, said Ms. Olga Algayerova, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of UNECE. “UNECE stands ready to support its member States, including countries with economies in transition, to further strengthen digital trade facilitation, harnessing UNECE’s normative tools and policy support.” The UNECE-hosted UN/CEFACT trade facilitation recommendations and e-business standards are key instruments in this regard, and are available free of charge to countries globally.

“Implementation of cross-border paperless trade remains a challenge everywhere, even though the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how useful it can be to exchange documents electronically to reduce physical contacts and the spread of the virus,” according to Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. “I encourage all leaders to take advantage of all available global and regional mechanisms to make progress, such as the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement and the Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific.”

2021 UN Global Survey on Digital and Sustainable Trade Facilitation_UNECE region_chart


The results are available at The global and regional reports, including the UNECE report, covering 44 countries across the Pan-European region, and detailed data analysis, will be published later this year.


The air transport industry is not only a vital engine of global socio-economic growth, but it is also of vital importance as a catalyst for economic development. Not only does the industry create direct and indirect employment and support tourism and local businesses, but it also stimulates foreign investment and international trade.

Informed decision-making is the foundation upon which successful businesses are built. In a fast-growing industry like aviation, planners and investors require the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and reliable data. ICAO’s aviation data/statistics programme provides accurate, reliable and consistent aviation data so that States, international organizations, aviation industry, tourism and other stakeholders can:

  • make better projections;
  • control costs and risks;
  • improve business valuations; and
  • benchmark performance.

The UN recognized ICAO as the central agency responsible for the collection, analysis, publication, standardization, improvement and dissemination of statistics pertaining to civil aviation. Because of its status as a UN specialized agency, ICAO remains independent from outside influences and is committed to consistently offering comprehensive and objective data. Every month ICAO produces this Air Transport Monitor, a monthly snapshot and analysis of the economic and aviation indicators.


World Results and Analyses for April 2021

Total Scheduled Services (Domestic and International)

Passenger traffic

Revenue Passenger-Kilometres   –   RPK

World passenger traffic fell by -65.4% in April 2021 (compared to 2019), +1.8 percentage points up from the decline in the previous month. Recovery in air travel continued alongside the decline in new COVID-19 cases at the global level. Nevertheless, wide disparities exist between regions as a result of the varying pandemic situation and travel restrictions, particularly the emergence of new variants in certain parts of the world. Domestic travel remained the driving force for recovery with both domestic traffic of China and the Russian Federation surpassing the 2019 levels.

International Traffic vs. Tourist Arrivals

International passenger numbers fell by -86.8% in April 2021 (compared to 2019), +0.3 percentage point up from the decline in the previous month. International travel remained unchanged with strict border restrictions due to the concern of surging new variants. Asia/Pacific and Europe were the slowest recovering regions. The international tourist arrivals also remained stagnant and followed a similar trend as international passenger traffic.


Available Seat-Kilometres   –   ASK

Capacity worldwide fell by -54.5% in April 2021 (compared to 2019), +2.3 percentage points up from the decline in the previous month (-56.8%). With the ongoing improvements, capacity is expected to increase in May 2021 to -52.1% down from the 2019 level.

Load Factor  

The passenger Load Factor reached 63.3% in April 2021, +1.0 percentage point higher than the previous month. The domestic load factor picked up notably and reached above 70%. As air travel demand fell faster than capacity, the April LF was -19.5 percentage points lower than the rate in the same period of 2019.

Freight Traffic

Freight Tonne-Kilometres  – FTK

World freight traffic reported a growth of +12.0% in April 2021 (compared to 2019)+7.6 percentage points higher than the growth in the previous month. After one month of moderation, freight traffic rose sharply with double-digit growth. Several factors have been contributing to the strong air cargo demand such as the strengthening in global economic activity, trade, and rise in consumer spending including e-commerce. All regions showed improvements in freight traffic, except for Latin America/Caribbean which was the only region that remained below 2019 levels and further deteriorated in April. Africa and North America continued to lead the growth chart, expanding at over +30% and +20%, respectively.

Top 15 Airports (Ranked by aircraft departures, passengers, and volume of freight)

Note: Figures include total scheduled and non-scheduled services

April 2021  –15.2%, -27.7%, and +20.7% (vs. 2019) in terms of aircraft departures, passengers and freight for the Top 15

In terms of aircraft departures, the Top 15 airports reported a combined fall of -15.2%, compared to 2019. The Top 15 list consists of ten US and five Chinese airports. Atlanta remained 1st with a decline of -23.4%Long Beach continued to increase double-digitally, followed by Chengdu (+7.7%) and Shenzhen (+6.9%), respectively.

In terms of passengers, the Top 15 airports posted a total fall of -27.7%, compared to 2019. Same as departures, only US (8) and Chinese (7) airports ranked within the Top 15. Guangzhou retained the 1st position with a -11.5% decline. Overall, Chinese airports showed smaller contractions with Chengdu and Hangzhou posting positive growth at +4.6% and +2.3%, respectively.

In terms of passengers, the Top 15 airports posted a total fall of -27.7%, compared to 2019. Same as departures, only US (8) and Chinese (7) airports ranked within the Top 15. Guangzhou retained the 1st position with a -11.5% decline. Overall, Chinese airports showed smaller contractions with Chengdu and Hangzhou posting positive growth at +4.6% and +2.3%, respectively.

Top 15 Airline Groups (Ranked by RPK)

April 2021:   –54.9% (vs. 2019) in terms of RPK for the Top 15

In terms of RPK, the Top 15 airline groups accounted for 60.9% of the world’s total RPK in April 2021 and declined by –54.9% compared to 2019This decline was 10.5 percentage points smaller than the fall in the world’s average RPK. While global passenger traffic improved, the recovery pace remained uneven among regions. Airlines in countries with large domestic markets continued to lead the growth chart.

All Chinese airlines recorded faster recovery compared to other airlines in the Top 15. China Southern maintained the 1st position with RPKs at -17.7% below 2019 levels. Air China overtook China Eastern became 3rd, and Hainan Airlines kept the same position. Spring Airlines continued to be the only airline posting positive growth and expanded strongly at +11.3%.

US airlines demonstrated solid improvements. American and Southwest showed relatively faster recovery than other US airlines in the Top 15. American ranked 2nd and recovered to over half of the 2019 RPK levels. DeltaUnited, and Southwest stayed at the same positions as in March.

Recovery of airlines in Europe has been weak. Lufthansa and KLM continued to post the second and third largest contraction from 2019 levels. Aeroflot and Turkish Airlines showed slightly better performance at -48.7% and -60.5%, respectively.

Airlines in the Middle East also experienced slow recovery with Emirates posting the largest contraction from 2019 levels, at -84.9%.

Worldwide capacity contracted by -54.5% in April 2021, compared to 2019All regions saw slight improvements in capacity compared to the previous month, except for Africa and Latin America/Caribbean which experienced larger declines. Capacity offered in North America and Asia/Pacific showed the smallest decline from 2019 levels, while Europe continued to record the slowest capacity recovery.

Click here to download the Monthly Monitor June PDF version.

For any queries for further information, please contact the ICAO Economic Development (ECD), Air Transport Bureau

Acronyms: ACI: Airports Council International; ASK: Available Seat-Kilometres; IATA: International Air Transport Association; FTK: Freight Tonne-Kilometres; LF: Passenger Load Factor; OAG: Official Airline Guide; RPK: Revenue Passenger-Kilometres; UNWTO: World Tourism Organization; YoY: Year-on-year; YTD: Year-to-date.



The Dominican Republic will improve connectivity to boost access to digital services as well as people’s adoption and continuity of such services with help from a $115 million loan approved by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The project will finance investments to expand broadband infrastructure, including the expansion of backbone, aggregation and access networks in order to improve connectivity for the country’s citizens.

The operation will include private sector participation and support the deployment of infrastructure in areas that would not be economically profitable on their own, thus ensuring resource optimization. With this approach, both the public and the private sectors will contribute to reduce the digital gap and foster the sustainability of this type of infrastructure in the country.

In addition, the IDB’s project will endorse moves to improve broadcasting services, paving the way for transitioning from analog to digital television and enhancing digital abilities and competencies. One key aspect of the project is its promotion of policies that support digital dividend spectrum auctions in order to boost universal access.

It will also finance courses to train people how to use equipment and technology with a gender perspective to help citizens develop their digital skills, stepping up access to digital services and fostering their adoption and continuity of use. These digital abilities will be crucial for the implementation and productive use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), benefiting some four million low-income people, with a strong emphasis on women.

Enhanced connectivity will reach some 108 municipios that either lack or have only one wired internet service network, benefiting more than two million people. An additional 56 municipios that are home to 8.1 million people will get improved broadcast services, including the implementation of digital TV.

The IDB is financing the project with a $115 million loan for a 25-year term, a 6.1-year grace period, and interest rate based on LIBOR. The project is expected to help raise annual GDP by 1.46 percent, boost productivity by 1.2 percent, and generate 33,000-plus jobs.

About us

The Inter-American Development Bank is devoted to improving lives. Established in 1959, the IDB is a leading source of long-term financing for economic, social and institutional development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The IDB also conducts cutting-edge research and provides policy advice, technical assistance and training to public and private sector clients throughout the region.


As online platforms are global in nature, more regional and international cooperation is needed for effective enforcement of competition law in cross-border cases in the digital economy.


Authorities in developing countries face several challenges in enforcing competition law against digital platforms, participants heard during an UNCTAD experts meeting on competition law and policy held from 7 to 9 July.

An UNCTAD survey found that the major challenges include definition of the relevant market and determination of dominance in digital markets.

The survey report maps several areas of challenge. It says the dynamic structure of digital markets, zero-price services, network effects, market tipping, lock-in effects and multihoming are among the factors that require careful consideration when defining markets and determining market power.

Multisided platforms pose a challenge

“Another challenge is related to the collection of data in competition investigations involving multisided platforms,” the report says.

This is due to the multiplicity of parties on these platforms – sellers on one side, consumers on the other and advertisers on another.

It especially weighs heavily on developing countries, where large platforms don’t have a physical presence and whose markets may not be considered as significant, despite consumer uptake and demand.

Even when data can be collected, the report states, it’s difficult to analyse digital market data, which requires special skills and expertise.

Cooperation necessary for success

During the meeting, UNCTAD called for regional cooperation within existing regional economic frameworks. This could help member states find collective solutions to common challenges, particularly among developing countries.

“International cooperation is key to effective competition law enforcement in the digital economy due to the global nature of many of the larger online platforms,” said Teresa Moreira, UNCTAD’s head of competition and consumer policies.

Competition cases against digital giants are ‘generic’

“Digital platform cases are generic and not country specific,” said Frédéric Jenny, chair of the competition committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and professor at ESSEC Paris Business School. “For instance, Apple treats its users in the same way everywhere.”

Mr. Jenny said the challenges may be even more problematic for small jurisdictions with fewer resources. “First, it’s extremely costly to bring a case against a technology giant. Second, there’ll be a significant waste of resources if all jurisdictions bring the same case.”

According to him, it would be useful to develop new protocols for competition authorities to adopt and rely on findings of their counterparts who have investigated similar digital cases elsewhere, to save resources.

“Competition authorities are concerned about bringing cases against technology giants because the latter may threaten to leave these markets,” he said. “This happens even in bigger economies.”

For example, in Spain, Google News terminated its services at the end of 2014 following the adoption of a copyrights law, which requires news aggregators such as Google to pay for a license to use news content. Google made a similar threat in Australia.

Antidote to power of digital giants

The antidote to this, Mr. Jenny said, is collaboration between competition authorities to open similar cases at the same time. “Technology giants can easily threaten to leave one market but cannot afford to leave 15 markets.”

He said such collaboration would protect smaller jurisdictions from the discontinuity of digital services in question.

For UNCTAD, this and other innovative ideas need to be fully explored to ensure open, competitive and fair digital markets for developed and developing countries.


In the framework of a new agreement focused on inclusive financial solutions and the digital transformation of the Post, the UPU and Mastercard kicked off a series of executive roundtables to leverage the combined expertise of the industry’s leadership.


The first roundtable, “Enabling and Evolving the Postal Ecosystem,” sought to explore the role that the Post plays in fostering trade, financial, social, and digital inclusion, leveraging its unique universal service and proximity capabilities as well as actual and potential performance.

“The digital transformation of the postal network started years ago, but the pandemic has further triggered the modernization of our business model. It is really an important moment for the postal sector,” said Mr. Pascal Clivaz, the Deputy Director General of the Universal Postal Union, at the event opening on 7 July 2021. Mr. Clivaz emphasized the importance of building solid partnerships and integrating the know-how of key industry players like Mastercard in order to remain relevant and meet the evolving customer needs. According to Mr. Clivaz, opening up of the postal sector, which will be in focus during the 27th Universal Postal Congress in August 2021, would allow the UPU to reach its strategic objectives of sustainable development, populations’ welfare and the postal economic model growth.

Apart from inclusive approaches within the sector, the challenges of digital and financial inclusion on a wider scale have been highlighted. Mr. Mike Froman, Vice Chairman and President, Strategic Growth at Mastercard, who shared the floor with Mr. Clivaz at the opening fireside chat, said: “Reaching rural and remote communities is our shared priority. Posts are capable to deliver the last-mile service – the most difficult one in times of crises. We are here to ensure that this is complemented by basic financial services”.

The productive discussion has benefited from the insights of senior executives and experts from the UPU, Mastercard, postal operators from Europe, Latin America and Africa, business, and academia. Reflecting on the challenges presented by digital transformation, Mr. Siva Somasundram, UPU’s Director for Policy, Regulations and Markets, stressed the need to replicate the trust enjoyed by the Post in the physical world into the digital sector. On the opportunity side, Mr. Paul Donohoe, UPU’s Digital Economy and Trade Programme Manager, added “in a digital age, the right combination of technology and partnerships can advance growth for the whole sector”.

Mr. Sifundo Chief Moyo, PostMaster General of Zimbabwe Post, leading the transformation of Zimpost to be a digitalized entity, spoke of the essential role partnerships with the government and private sector played in implementing projects such as community information centres and e-commerce platforms for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Mr Jorge Solano, CEO of Correos de Costa Rica, and leader of the company’s digital transformation process over several years, shared the key actions undertaken to enhance skills, structures, and strategies to digitally enable and diversify Costa Rican postal services. During these difficult times of pandemic, a key result has been an increase in e-commerce inclusion for SMEs and consumers outside the urban areas of Costa Rica.

In the coming months, this inaugural event will be followed by two more virtual roundtables that will look into concrete case studies, success factors, and key enablers for preparing future-proof operating models for the Post in the digital economy. The event series is open to attendance for postal operators, postal industry actors and partners, and other interested stakeholders.

Mastercard Worldwide operates one of the world’s leading payment processing networks, connecting consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments, and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories. The purpose of the new strategic cooperation between the UPU and Mastercard, which are both partners within the eTrade for All initiative of the United Nations, is to enhance the postal networks capability to support the e-commerce payment environment and to promote innovative and inclusive electronic payment solutions via the Post across the globe.


Over a year into the pandemic, we have witnessed how a sweeping infectious disease and lockdown measures quickly deepened inequalities, hindering the progress that many have fought for years to achieve. One of the most striking examples is the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women.

The pandemic is not gender-blind: Women are doing more domestic chores and family care than men. They have been more likely to lose jobs than male counterparts, and sectors that employ a higher share of women have been especially affected by the crisis.

A recent World Bank paper reveals that women-led businesses were also unequally affected by the crisis when compared to businesses led by men.   This is the case particularly in sectors that were hit hard by COVID-19, such as the hospitality industry, as well as in microbusinesses.

Since the onset of the pandemic, the World Bank has been conducting surveys with about 45,000 firms in 49 mostly low- and middle-income countries, to grasp the impact of the crisis on companies. To understand specifically its effects on women-led enterprises, we decided to look at survey data gathered from April to September 2020—arguably the most challenging months for many businesses around the globe. The results of this study—the first global assessment of gender differences in the impacts of COVID-19 on enterprises—were sobering.

For instance, in the hospitality industry, while men-led companies exhibited a 60 percent year-on-year drop in anticipated sales, those led by women estimated a 68 percent decrease (controlling for size, income, and the severity of the shock). Similarly, women-led businesses faced greater financial risk, with many reporting having less cash available to cover their costs than their male counterparts.

Despite the challenges, women-led businesses are responding to the COVID-19 crisis with resilience and innovation. In fact, our survey found that women-led small and microbusinesses were much more likely to increase the use of digital platforms compared to those led by men.   While firms globally are turning to technology to cope with the pandemic, it was encouraging to see that women-led microbusinesses are leading the charge.

In addition to asking businesses about the impact of the pandemic, we were curious to find out the extent to which they benefited from public support programs enacted by governments around the globe. Here, the gender gap remains. On average, women-led businesses were 2 percentage points less likely to report accessing public support compared to companies led by men.  This shows a need for policy makers to raise awareness among women-led businesses of the available support programs, as well as to better inform women managers and owners on how they may benefit from these policy measures.

The COVID-19 crisis is still evolving every minute. While vaccination campaigns across the world have helped businesses reopen and recover, it is vital for policy makers and the global development community to keep track of gender-disaggregated data on the impact of the pandemic on companies, especially those in hard-hit sectors. This information will be crucial as countries work to build a more equal and resilient economy.


The Inclusive Digital Economies & Gender Playbook is a practical how-to guide on leveraging the market system development approach to decrease the digital and financial divide for women and girls, use technology to improve women’s economic opportunities, and to help to transform women into builders of emerging digital economies.

It contains a wealth of research on the common constraints faced by women in least developed and emerging economies, and concrete examples of interventions that can address those constraints.

The playbook brings together research and practice by many of the leading organizations working to achieve financial inclusion and gender equality.

The Playbook highlights decades of expertise and learning shared by development organizations, and draws on UNCDF’s experience using a market development approach to identify market constraints to gender equality, with a focus on women’s digital and financial inclusion.

The aim of this version of the playbook is to serve as a handy reference that lays out the market constraints for women and the potential interventions to address them. The playbook highlights interventions, or plays, that can be used individually or together to address constraints. It combines innovative new approaches with tried-and-tested methods that can be replicated in new markets.

It is intended to be a living document that evolves with experience. It should serve as a starting point for dialogues, programme design and planning at the country and programme levels. This should be regarded as a working draft and further feedback is welcome.

The Inclusive Digital Economies & Gender Playbook was developed by Nandini Harihareswara, Senior Advisor on Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment, UN Capital Development Fund, with assistance from Anushree Deb and Rose Payne. This tool was produced through the Women As Builders of Inclusive Digital Economies approach within UNCDF.

Read Full Publication HERE.


Competition in digital markets has become a key issue at stake for governments and competition authorities around the world. Recent developments show the proactive efforts made by competition authorities and governments to restore competition and maintain markets open and accessible to rivals in the digital economy. In this session, experts explored recent competition cases and initiatives in this sector, and discussed how to complement competition law and regulation to achieve fair competition in digital markets and ensure that these markets are fair, open and accessible to new entrants.

The session opened with an overview by UNCTAD on the rapid increase of digital platforms during the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in the evolution of digital markets. The capital market for “big tech” firms reached a 71% growth between 2020 and 2021. It was emphasised how the digital markets expansion poses several challenges from a competition law and policy viewpoint. In particular, two specific challenges were highlighted: (i) competition authorities are often equipped with inadequate tools to identify unfair practices; and (ii) accurately defining digital markets becomes increasingly difficult due to their dynamic nature.

From the discussions, it arose the need to regulate digital markets ex ante as they develop and expand worldwide. Amendments to existing competition laws and the creation of new regulations based on market studies are the necessary step to address the rapidly developing arena of digital markets. Panellists underlined that the effective regulation of competition in digital markets is closely linked to an inclusive recovery as well as to consumer protection law.

The discussions led to address the important connection that there must be between competition authorities, policy-makers, and regulatory agencies in order to update digital markets’ related competition law. Such connection is necessary to overcome the versatility of digital platform and their lack of specific links with single markets.

The panel continued underlining the challenges that developing countries face when bringing competition cases against important digital platforms. Panellists suggested more collaboration between countries with common problems to limit the cost in terms of finance and time. It was pointed out that may digital platforms and markets are international in nature and as such competition challenges can be face multilaterally minimizing the costs and leveraging against influential platforms.

To conclude, experiences and regulations form various countries and regional organization were shared together with the warm encouragement to continue sharing to overcome the barriers that digital markets pose on competition law.

On the panel were Mr. Babatunde Irukera, Chief Executive Officer, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, Nigeria; Mr. Alexandre Barreto de Souza, President, Administrative Council for Economic Defense, Brazil; Mr. Lefu Xu, Deputy Director, State Administration for Market Regulation, China; Mr. Pierre Régibeau, Chief Competition Economist, Directorate General for Competition, European Commission.


This week I had the opportunity to participate in a session of the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development—the United Nation’s central point of discussion of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This was a timely opportunity to discuss paths towards a sustainable recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. We need the Internet in this endeavor.

It’s difficult to imagine living through the pandemic without the Internet. Researchers would have faced even greater challenges both in working to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and collaborating on the development of vaccines. It also had a profound impact on the lives of people who had access, giving many the option to work from home and continue their education.

But the first year of the pandemic has left lessons that cannot be ignored. Nearly half of the world’s population lacks Internet access. This exacerbating digital divide is caused by various reasons that range from lack of infrastructure to lack of affordable services or the necessary digital skills to take advantage of the opportunities the Internet offers.

The Internet is a critical enabler for sustainable development. It unlocks human capabilities and provides the platform upon which an emerging digital economy can thrive. As the Internet and digital technologies become more essential, it also becomes more urgent to connect the people who are being left behind. The SDGs take that into account, having called for universal and affordable access in least developed countries by 2020—a goal that we are still far from reaching. If we don’t take action now, we face the risk of the current digital divide deepening several other divides, such as economic and gender inequalities.

Growing the Internet

At the Internet Society we believe the Internet is for everyone. In our efforts to grow the Internet, we echo the people-centered approach of the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. We see this taking shape as communities around the world are finding innovative ways to be online and to empower themselves. Critical infrastructure such as local networks and Internet exchange points are being built locally, to support local needs.

In rural Zimbabwe, a recent partnership to develop a community network between community members, a local Internet service provider, and government agencies was able to connect 80 schools in the region, expanding their access to education and resources to a global level. It was also able to connect healthcare professionals to their counterparts globally, making the regional hospital one of the best in the country. UNICEF and the ITU Development Sector local staff were at the recent launch event along with the Zimbabwean Ministry of Communications, the regulator, POTRAZ, and the Internet’s Society’s Zimbabwe Chapter. They witnessed what’s possible when partners work together.

Through the years, we have learned that efforts need to be multistakeholder, bottom up, community based, and incremental. This is key for economic and social progress to be sustainable.  And, this is key for stakeholders to test, learn, and adapt as they build infrastructure together.  We need to allow initiatives such as this to happen, foster partnerships between different stakeholders that can propel them forward, and create the conditions to help them scale.

Our call to governments is simple: create an enabling environment that allows government stakeholders, civil society organizations, businesses, and members of the technical community to work together for new and innovative solutions to further our path toward universal access.

This means recognizing local community-led solutions as legitimate complementary ways of connecting those who want to be connected, and updating outdated regulations that don’t take these new actors into account. Both will ensure they can become part of the communications ecosystem. It also means fostering initiatives that focus on the development of digital skills and local technical communities, empowering them to take action and scale their efforts.

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals requires collaboration and partnerships. The Internet is a fundamental enabler. We must consider approaches that take into account the many different realities we face.

Learn more about our work to Grow the Internet.

Booksie was born from Edem Torkornoo’s idea to make high-quality books written by African authors accessible to children, from newborns to young adults. Booksie is the first pan-African online children’s book shop in Ghana. It is also a book subscription service and a literacy canter.

Edem has always been a bookworm. Once her sister and friends started to have kids, she realized how important it is to educate children about their heritage. However, finding books written by African authors was not easy. To be able to find them, she decided to create her own website, on which she delivers a careful curation and offers sales of high-quality books.

While selling books worldwide, Booksie is not a mere e-commerce platform: it is also a space where children are celebrated and where Edem teaches children to read so that they “can fall in love with books”.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Booksie has experienced a continuous growth in sales. This is mostly because of its readiness to sell online and mastering social media as a tool to connect with customers and build brand awareness. WhatsApp has also been a key element in the owner’s survival: the company has used it to assist customers, clarify offers, answer questions and promote events.

Tips for digital entrepreneurs

Edem participated in the International Trade Centre’s Facebook Live series “E-commerce Tips from Peers” where she provided a series of tips. For Edem, social commerce has been key.  She encourages other entrepreneurs to explore social platforms and implement innovative techniques.

“Some of my customers just prefer to have a direct contact. WhatsApp or Instagram messages are a good way to be more approachable and meet the need of your customers. Moreover, you have the chance to carry on the conversation instantly”, says Edem.

However, Edem has also experienced a series of obstacles in logistics. Distribution prices remain quite high, and delays can still happen. The key is to have a smooth customer service system, inform customers about delivery times and be as transparent as possible.

Edem also suggests that entrepreneurs build a quality network of people operating in their respective field. Thanks to being part of an author’s associations, she has partnered with other businesses in Africa to tackle the high prices in deliveries. Only when joining forces, they managed to obtain discounts from one of the biggest delivery companies operating worldwide.


The UNCTAD-led eTrade for Women initiative is creating regional networks to help women digital entrepreneurs access the resources needed to succeed and contribute to sustainable development.

By connecting women digital entrepreneurs, UNCTAD is building communities where they can find the support and resources they need to capitalize on e-commerce opportunities.

More than 100 entrepreneurs in over 20 developing countries around the globe have joined eTrade for Women communities, which since November 2020 have been launched in southeast Asia and east and west Africa.

“Being an entrepreneur is a very lonely adventure, especially for women, who often lack a network to lean on or learn from,” says Sonia Nnadozie, who leads the eTrade for Women community-building activities.

“The multitasking whirlpool they often face as they try to grow their business while taking care of the family creates very specific challenges.”

250 million fewer women online
Other hurdles, such as less access to the internet and finance, make it more challenging for women entrepreneurs to seize the opportunities offered by the digital economy.

Globally, 250 million fewer women than men are online. And women-owned startups receive 23% less funding than men-owned businesses, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“Traditional banks and investors are often reluctant to invest in digital startups,” says Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics. “And women digital entrepreneurs face even more skepticism.”

“Many of our members have said they had to bring a male relative to their meetings to help ease potential investors’ ‘concerns’ about women-run businesses,” she added.

Beyond training
The communities serve as the regional chapters of the global eTrade for Women initiative, which boosts visibility for women leaders in the digital world.

It also helps women digital entrepreneurs build the capacities they need to succeed and offers opportunities for inclusive policy dialogue on issues related to e-commerce and the digital economy.

Since 2019, the initiative has trained 88 women entrepreneurs in 21 countries through masterclasses led by the initiative’s advocates – a cohort of highly successful women digital entrepreneurs from developing and transition economies.

While the classes equip women entrepreneurs with the tools they need to thrive, success in the digital economy requires much more than the right knowledge and skills.

“There’s a need to go beyond training,” says Ms. Nnadozie. “Women are held back by much more than a lack of skills.”

The hurdles include the lack of financial resources, marketing skills, poorer access to business networks and role models.

It takes a community
In November 2020, the organization launched the first community, bringing together graduates of the masterclasses from the west African nations of Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Chad.

This was followed by the creation of a community in southeast Asia (Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines) in January 2021 and east Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania) in March 2021.

A fourth community for the Balkans will be launched in July 2021.

Beatrice Armelle Koffi, who runs Ora Technologies et Multimedia in Côte d’Ivoire, says the communities are “a space where we can interact as women entrepreneurs and support each other in good times and especially in difficult times.”

“For me,” she says, “the community is an opportunity to belong to a group of like-minded entrepreneurs, a space where we can share our experiences, develop our skills and inspire and motivate each other.”

COVID-19 made the digital transformation even more critical
Global e-commerce sales, which were already worth $26.7 trillion in 2019, have surged during the pandemic, according to an UNCTAD report.

Bunkered down at home, global consumers have shopped more than ever online, raising e-commerce’s share of global retail trade among major economies from 16% in 2019 to 19% in 2020.

Inspiring and supporting women entrepreneurs striving to succeed in the digital space has thus become even more critical since the outbreak.

“Aspiring women entrepreneurs increasingly have no choice but to embrace the digital age,” says Patricia Zoundi, the eTrade for Women advocate for French-speaking African countries.

“Part of my role is to show them it’s possible – that they can succeed as a woman digital entrepreneur in a developing country, that they can succeed against all odds.”

Ms. Zoundi, who has founded several successful companies, including Quickcash and Canaan Land adds that empowering women through digital entrepreneurship is a way to help them gain autonomy and contribute to the creation of an environment that gives equal opportunities to all.

Four main objectives
The eTrade for Women communities have four main objectives:

  • Build: After a masterclass, to create and nurture communities of women digital entrepreneurs all around the developing world with the potential to become digital leaders of tomorrow.
  • Empower: To help entrepreneurs to grow by providing access to resources and support to develop their businesses and inspire future generations of entrepreneurs.
  • Connect: To enable members to expand their network by interacting with like-minded women digital entrepreneurs, sharing experiences and best practices that will help them overcome the barriers they face daily.
  • Impact: To reduce gender inequality by bringing female digital entrepreneurs to the decision-making table, leveraging their presence in policymaking processes to shape a more sustainable and inclusive future.

To achieve these objectives, the communities create a safe space where women digital entrepreneurs can:

Promote their businesses, network and share their best practices.
Benefit from trainings and skill-building activities provided by UNCTAD and its partners, and engage in dialogues with policymakers about how to create more inclusive ecosystems.
UNCTAD launched the eTrade for Women initiative in 2019. It’s funded by the Netherlands and Sweden and implemented in collaboration with the eTrade for all partners.


The 1 July meeting of the Council on Trade in Services addressed the WTO work programme on e-commerce and the operationalization of a waiver from WTO rules that allows members to offer more favourable market access for service providers from least developed countries (LDCs). Members also reviewed services-related notifications submitted by a number of WTO members and addressed several services-related trade concerns. They also discussed issues related to services domestic regulation and the role of maritime transport in the post-COVID-19 recovery in separate meetings of the Council’s subsidiary bodies.


Operationalization of the LDC Services Waiver

The Council chair, Ambassador Ángel Villalobos Rodríguez of Mexico, reported on the 2-3 June webinar organized by the Council on “Least developed country services export performance and facilitating implementation of preferences notified under the LDC Services Waiver”.  WTO Director-General, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chad’s Minister of Trade Ali Djadda Kampard and Uganda’s Commissioner for External Trade Emmanuel Mutahunga gave welcome remarks at the webinar.

The chair said he believed the webinar offered plenty of food for thought.  A number of members welcomed the event and said they found the discussions constructive, with some calling for further efforts to ensure more effective operationalization of the waiver. Several members noted the sharp drop in LDC services exports during the COVID-19 pandemic due to their dependence on the travel and tourism sector, while others cited the need for improved data on LDC trade in services.

The LDC Services Waiver allows governments that so wish to grant more favourable treatment for LDC services than what is given to all other members. Adopted at the 2011 Ministerial Conference, the waiver exempts members from their obligation to grant services and service suppliers from all WTO members the same access to their markets, also known as the “Most-Favoured Nation” obligation.

The purpose of the waiver is to enhance the participation of the world’s poorest countries in world services trade. A total of 36 WTO members are classified as LDCs. To date, 51 members have granted preferences in favour of LDCs.

E-commerce Work Programme

Members continued their information-sharing exercise related to electronic commerce, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chad, on behalf of the LDC Group, noted some services-specific challenges for LDCs in the utilization of e-commerce, particularly related to online payment services.

The Republic of Korea and China reported on the sharp increase in online retail sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A couple of members reiterated the need for strengthening the work programme in order to fully understand the implications of e-commerce on matters such as competition, transfer of technology, data storage, and the impact of automation on traditional jobs and low-income workers.

A few members also reiterated their well-known and divergent positions regarding the WTO’s e-commerce moratorium. At previous Ministerial Conferences, members have agreed not to impose customs duties on electronic transmissions. The current extension of the moratorium runs until the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) scheduled for late 2021.

Services trade concerns

Members raised five specific trade concerns previously addressed at the Council for Trade in Services. Japan and the United States reiterated concerns about cybersecurity measures of both China and Viet Nam; China sought further clarifications about Australia’s 5G measures and raised concerns regarding services trade measures of India. The US repeated its concerns and sought clarifications about Russia’s software pre-installation mandate.

In regard to a previous concern, China noted the revoking of relevant executive orders by the United States on prohibited transactions with Tik Tok WeChat, and other Chinese applications, which China said was a positive step in the right direction.

The United States raised a new concern regarding requirements for the localization of customer services in Saudi Arabia. The US said the decision, due to enter into force on 31 July, will impose significant difficulties and costs for many companies with major investments in Saudi Arabia and hinder the ability of these companies to serve their customers in the Kingdom. The European Union echoed the US concerns. Saudi Arabia responded that the decision fully conforms with the Kingdom’s WTO commitments and will not change existing market access regulations and requirements.

Negotiations on domestic regulation for services

Five delegations expressed concerns, at a meeting of the Working Party on Domestic Regulation on 30 June, with the talks on domestic regulation for services taking place between a group of 63 WTO members, otherwise known as the “Joint initiative on Services Domestic Regulation”. The working party is one of the Council for Trade in Services’ subsidiary bodies.

The concerned members mentioned a risk of undermining the consensus-based nature of the multilateral trading system and amending or diluting existing rules of the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Disregarding existing multilateral mandates could have negative consequences on other negotiations like agriculture or development, including by pushing them into the background, they said. As difficult as these negotiations may be, they remain critical for the multilateral trading system. This leaves members with only two options:  either remaining outside the  domestic regulation talks  or discussing issues inconsistent with their levels of economic development and priorities.

While each member has the right to add additional commitments to its schedule (pursuant to GATS Article XVIII), it cannot dilute or amend any GATS provisions and these new commitments should not concern matters that fall under Part II of the GATS entitled “General Obligations and Disciplines.”

Re-emphasizing the open and transparent nature of the talks, the chair of the joint initiative, Mr Jaime Coghi of Costa Rica, reiterated that the group remains available to engage with any interested member. An outcome on services domestic regulation will benefit services suppliers from all members — developed and developing countries alike — and will facilitate trade with markets of members currently covering over 70 per cent of world services trade, he said. In line with the objectives of the disciplines developed under the initiative, many developing countries are already engaged in domestic regulatory reforms to cut red tape in services regulations, recognizing the economic benefits that this would bring to their own services markets.

Some participants in the initiative explained that they have launched the process to reach an outcome in services domestic regulation, recognizing that progress at the multilateral level was not feasible because of the opposition of some members. They reiterated that the multilateral mandate from GATS Article VI:4 remains intact and that the disciplines under discussion in the initiative will improve participating members’ existing commitments under the GATS, creating new rights for all members.

The chair of the working party, Ms Verónica Bogarín Closs of Paraguay, noted that “previous failures to finalize work in the WTO have led to doubts as to what the Working Party on Domestic Regulation would be able to achieve.”  She encouraged delegations that see scope for developing disciplines in the working party at this stage to engage with other members and identify areas where multilateral disciplines might be viable.

Implementation of commitments under the GATS

Members examined the implementation of GATS commitments at a meeting of the Committee on Specific Commitments on 29 June. This exercise started in 2020 based on a proposal from the United States.  The proposal seeks to review members’ “conditional” commitments, under which the entry into force, implementation or updates of specific commitments is conditional upon national legislative actions or policy reviews. Members are undertaking the review on a voluntary basis, with a view to improving the transparency and legal certainty of their specific commitments. The Committee on Specific Commitments is a subsidiary body of the Council for Trade in Services.

Role of maritime transport in post-pandemic recovery

Maritime transport accounts for over 80 per cent of world trade in volume. It has played a critical role in keeping trade flows open and supply chains intact during the COVID-19 pandemic. A swift and equitable post-crisis recovery will need to consider policies that facilitate maritime transport and allow economies to reap the full benefits of maritime trade growth. This was the focus of a webinar co-organized by the WTO’s Trade in Services and Investment Division and the International Chamber of Shipping on 29 June as part of the “Simply Services” series . Under discussion was a recent quantitative study entitled “Protectionism in Maritime Economies

Experts from national maritime authorities, international organizations, as well as from the shipping industry and the trade community shed light on the evolution of the maritime transport sector before, during and after the pandemic. They also stressed how maritime transport can support economic recovery and pointed to the role of the world trading system in facilitating maritime transport and strengthening supply chains.


A new publication by the subregional headquarters in Mexico includes a cross-cutting gender analysis and addresses the innovation capacity of rural companies in this sector.

The Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) dedicated to tourism in the member countries of the Central American Integration System (SICA) recognize the importance of digital tools for attracting tourists, attaining visibility and selling, and they show great willingness to engage with them. However, they still only make basic use of these technologies for communicating and promoting their business, missing opportunities to improve their competitiveness, productivity and sustainability, according to a new document published by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

The publication entitled Tourism in Central America and the Dominican Republic in the Face of Digital Technologies: Challenges and Opportunities for MSMEs, produced by officials from ECLAC’s subregional headquarters in Mexico, reveals that the main gaps hindering progress on the digital transformation revolve around three issues: (i) use; (ii) access; and (iii) time.

  1. Companies are connected to the Internet, but they only use tools like social media and messaging platforms in a basic way. The limited digital capacities lead to a lack of familiarity with new technologies, difficulty for outsourcing and supervising digital services, and basic use of business management tools.
  2. There are different types of access barriers, mainly the quality of the broadband in relation to its cost in remote areas, as well as the cost of digital equipment and services such as digital marketing or data analytics. In addition, there are very limited capacities for sustaining ongoing investment in digital products and services.
  3. The companies analyzed tend to be family businesses or microenterprises where many diverse tasks are distributed among only a few people, so there is little time available to innovate. Many of these conditions are exacerbated in rural areas, where the majority of the region’s tourist attractions are located.

Women, both in their capacity as workers and business owners, face additional challenges in the digital transformation process, the document indicates. Although tourism facilitates their economic empowerment, women occupy operational and administrative positions normally excluded from digital training programs; they face more financing restrictions; and they have less time available to innovate due to the greater burden they shoulder in terms of unpaid care work.

Innovation, facilitated by digital tools, has the potential to provide solutions to the most persistent challenges that MSMEs face: business management, access to financing, and professionalization and continual training, ECLAC’s publication underscores.

Finally, the text recalls the importance of managing communities that draw tourism through articulation in the territory, and the need to have institutional capacities so that public policies can adequately meet the diverse needs of each region.


Customs authorities in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) can leverage new technologies and innovations to boost their digital transformation and streamline foreign trade logistics. This, in turn, can help improve competitiveness and bolster the countries´ economic growth.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of trade and foreign trade logistics. In March 2020, COVID-19 transformed daily life as we knew it. Yet, trade has primarily withstood the disruptions caused by international transportation restrictions and social distancing policies. It has even grown substantially in some areas, such as e-commerce and online trade, for instance. According to an Amazon report, its international net sales increased by 28.3 percent between the first half of 2019 and the same period in 2020.

By shining the spotlight on the opportunities brought by digital transformation, the pandemic has put customs authorities and their response capacities to the test. The urgent need to clear the critical goods needed to respond to the health emergency while keeping regular trade flows moving forced authorities to transition to digital customs systems almost overnight.

Even before the pandemic hit, LAC was lagging North America, Europe, and Asia in implementing the commitments it had taken on under the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement, according to 2019 data. Therefore, the region needs to create efficiencies in its international trade logistics.

LAC’s economic recovery depends mainly on how its foreign trade logistics perform, which rests on the appropriate physical and digital infrastructure and related transportation services.

Innovating and transforming customs administration through technology 

In response to these challenges, the new IDB publication Logistics in Latin America and the Caribbean: Opportunities, Challenges, and Lines of Action discusses some of the technologies that the region’s countries could implement to innovate and transform their customs administration.

The optimization, automation, and digitization of customs and border processes are among the areas that new technologies address. These factors are the cornerstones of modernization and lay the groundwork for generating the high-quality data needed to implement robust and effective risk management systems.

For example, the ability of customs to obtain, process, and analyze large amounts of quality data is key to strengthen regional value chains and make them agile and secure. Automation also requires other innovative components, such as electronic signatures and authentication mechanisms for internal and external users.

Another ingredient in the recipe for effective and efficient customs is the traceability of goods. New technologies like radio frequency identification systems (RFID), the Internet of Things (IoT), geolocation tools, electronic seals for container and trailer doors, and OCR license plate readers make it possible to track cargo, vehicles, and the people driving them.

These systems can be deployed at critical points such as production centers, bonded warehouses, and road corridors that connect land border crossings, seaports, and airports. One example is the system developed in Brazil to track and trace cargo vehicles, packaging, and products by integrating this data with electronic tax documents. Likewise, physical traceability can be accompanied by digitally documented data from each transaction.

The data that customs authorities capture has immense value for customs and border risk management by digitizing and associating them with freight and transportation documents (cargo manifests, bills of lading, customs declaration data, and electronic invoices). Once the data is captured, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data tools allow the processing and analysis of large volumes of information to identify patterns and potentially risky or fraudulent operations.

Coordinated Border Management based on the use of new technologies

For the benefit of supply chains and foreign trade logistics, it is also essential that the use of new technologies is carried out in the context of Coordinated Border Management between customs and other authorities involved in border processes.

This coordination is streamlined with interoperability between authorities and economic operators through Single Windows for Foreign Trade (SWs) or Port Community Systems to reduce times and costs for operators and increase control capacities. For example, the adoption of a SW system in Costa Rica is associated with a 1.4 percentage-point increase in the exports of companies that used the system compared to those that did not.

There is also an opportunity to promote and strengthen regional value chains through interoperability initiatives between customs systems and other border entities. These include the Central American Digital Trade Platform (PDCC) and the CADENA application, which uses blockchain to facilitate  data exchange from companies whose reliability has been certified, such as authorized economic operators.

Finally, these components would not be effective without functional infrastructure at the entry and exit points of goods at land borders, seaports, and airports. Likewise, the effect would not be the same if the infrastructure did not include advanced technological entry, exit, inspection, and monitoring systems. The Mexican customs authority’s Customs Technological Integration Project (PITA) is an example of a comprehensive technology-based border infrastructure intervention. The customs authorities of NicaraguaCosta Rica, and Panamá are following suit and implementing border crossing reform processes that cover border facilities and include the use of cutting-edge technologies, with support from the IDB.

IDB support for the modernization of customs and border management

Through the Trade and Investment Division of the Integration and Trade Sector of the IDB, we support an innovative agenda of projects to modernize customs and border management in LAC. Two examples of these are the digital transformation and automation projects for the customs authorities of Colombia and Peru, including smart traceability plans for cargo and vehicles. We are also providing support for regional initiatives involving the use of blockchain to exchange data between eight customs offices in LAC and the application of artificial intelligence to improve customs risk management in several countries, among other projects.

LAC countries should embrace the availability of new technologies, the fast-track innovation induced by the pandemic, and the support of international organizations, such as the IDB, to expedite the digital transformation of their customs administrations.


With new European rules coming into force for e-commerce in July, small businesses are rethinking their options. An ITC event on 30 June unveils the report, and guides businesses on what they need to know.


As firms ‘go digital’ during the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding import conditions is more important than ever. Small businesses that sell products online enjoy the advantages of a global consumer base, but import conditions vary markedly in different markets. A new International Trade Centre (ITC) report offers help.

E-commerce at the Border: Understanding customs and indirect taxes for United States and European Union markets  helps these firms understand two of the world’s biggest markets, the European Union (EU) and the United States.

‘As small businesses build an international clientele via e-commerce, they may grow more quickly than their capacity to manage compliance in different markets,’ says ITC Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton. ‘Getting it wrong can lead to significant fines or closure of international operations.’

With the EU set to apply new rules from 1 July, small firms should understand how this may affect their online trade.  Low value thresholds, below which value-added tax (VAT) was not formerly payable, will disappear. Small firms can simplify VAT payments through an online “one-stop shop” – those from outside the Union will need the services of a local partner.

The online event unveils the report with a debate and a workshop that helps companies understand recent changes and weigh their delivery options.

Weighing outsourcing options

Even the most remotely-based microbusinesses can directly sell products to foreign markets now, using online marketplaces, electronic payments, and the services of global logistics partners. But when it comes to the responsibility for ensuring the payment of duties and taxes, it is the seller who is ultimately held to account.

Online sellers can deliver products in many ways. They can ship from their own stock or in bulk; have or not have a local presence in a target market; and handle trade compliance in-house, through a customs broker or a third-party logistics provider.

Among recommendations for outsourcing delivery, the report suggests: understand the customs process, know what customs clearance documents are required in target markets, compile an overview of low-value goods exemptions and keep records of all trade transactions and relevant documents.

It also explains calculations for value-added tax, sales tax and excise duties. It goes over preferential tariffs and exemptions that stem from customs unions or trade agreements, discusses trends in e-commerce policies that affect small firms and examines the World Trade Organization’s role in harmonizing tariffs.

To attend E-commerce at the border, please register here.

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