Women across ASEAN need increased and equal access to better skills, entrepreneurship opportunities, and leadership positions during this period of rapid acceleration of the digital economy. Going forward, the region must narrow the digital gender divide and work towards creating inclusive digital economies that also prepare female workers for an increasingly tech-savvy labour market. The Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) participated in the webinar on Women’s Participation in the Digital Economy, represented by Professor Akiko Yamanaka, Special Adviser to the President of ERIA and Former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Japan and Special Ambassador for Peacebuilding of Japan.
The ‘Webinar on Women’s Participation in the Digital Economy’ initiated discussions on women’s empowerment in ASEAN and inclusive economic growth. The webinar was a pre-Ministerial event organised by the government of Indonesia as part of the Fourth ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Women (AMMW) scheduled for 11 – 15 October 2021. Organised by the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, Indonesia and in collaboration with MicroSave Consulting, the event supported the ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW) – Indonesia’s action plan focused on women’s economic empowerment and achieving inclusive economic growth in ASEAN through financial inclusion and digitalisation.
Prof Yamanaka shared evidence and insights from recent ERIA research regarding women’s participation in the digital economy in ASEAN. She also participated in a panel discussion on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women across the ASEAN region. During the panel discussion, she explained that the majority of female entrepreneurs across ASEAN lead micro, small, and medium enterprises that are less likely to rely on advanced digital technology. Prof Yamanaka’s policy recommendations include strengthening the role of women in ASEAN’s digital economy which includes cyber-violence and gender discrimination prevention, incorporating gender balance principles in post-pandemic policy programmes, and promoting equal participation in business environments.
The Minister for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection, Indonesia H.E. Ms Bintang Puspayoga delivered her Keynote Speech highlighting the need to determine national strategies that support women and to provide women with better digital access. Enhancing access to the internet is of particular importance for Indonesia’s continued growth as it is ASEAN’s most populous member state and where over half of its women are in their productive years. H.E. Ms Puspayoga shared Indonesia’s commitment to supporting women’s economic empowerment by encouraging more women to be involved in entrepreneurial activities at the provincial level, reducing violence against women and children, eliminating child labour, and preventing child marriages. To achieve these objectives, the Indonesian government has applied a gender lens in its national financial inclusion strategy and as such, advocates women-led enterprises by offering low-interest loans and capacity building activities that promote digital skills.
Minister of Finance, Indonesia H.E. Ms Sri Mulyani Indrawati centred her Keynote Speech on achieving digital transformation to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Five concerning gender equality and women’s empowerment. H.E. Ms Indrawati believes that digital technology and digital financial services can narrow the urban-rural divide. It can also advance female participation in economic activities and improve the livelihoods of every woman. Indonesia has continued to implement policies and that support gender equality as evidenced by its ‘Ultra-Micro’ (Umi) national programme which mostly supports women-led businesses.
To reap the benefits of inclusive economic growth, H.E. Ms Indrawati shared four factors that must be addressed to foster financial inclusion and to increase the role of women in the digital economy: (1) Offer financial products and services that are accessible for women, (2) Provide online education on finance and financial literacy for women, (3) Establish a regulatory and policy framework that mandates equal treatment for men and women, and 4) Ensure adequate information and communication technology infrastructure in urban and rural areas. H.E. Ms Indrawati closed her remarks by encouraging greater participation from the public and private sectors to tackle the multiple barriers to achieving gender equality.
Other notable speakers included Ms Jamie M. Zimmerman, Gender Lead, Financial Services for the Poor Global Growth and Opportunity from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; Ms Lenny N. Rosalin, ACW Vice-Chair Deputy Minister for Gender Equality, Minister of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, Indonesia; Ms Cecilia Titonin, Statistic Specialist, UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific; and Ms Chandra Sugarda, Gender and Public Finance Expert moderated the discussions. Country Director of MicroSave Consulting Ms Grace Retnowati gave the Closing Remarks of the webinar.
THE PROGRAM’S DEMO DAY WILL TAKE PLACE DURING THE IX WEXCHANGE FORUM, TO BE HELD VIRTUALLY ON DECEMBER 1-2
WeXchange, the IDB Lab platform that connects women entrepreneurs in STEM from Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) with mentors and investors, and Google, have announced the 20 women-led startups selected to participate in the first edition of the LAC Women Founders Accelerator program.
Over 300 applications from 30 different countries were received from industries such as agtech, edtech, fintech, foodtech, healthtech, proptech, retailtech, mobility and delivery, ecommerce, SaaS, and business intelligence, among others.
The selected entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to pitch their companies in front of a group of venture capital investors, entrepreneurs, and key players of LAC’s entrepreneurial ecosystem on December 1st and 2nd, during the WeXchange Forum 2021. Furthermore, over 200 women entrepreneurs that applied to LAC Women Founders Accelerator will be invited to participate in WeXchange Ignite Program, a series of workshops on key topics to help ignite the growth of their startups.
The first cohort of the LAC Women Founders Accelerator program includes:
Alquilando (Argentina): a digital ecosystem for real estate rentals, which integrates services from brokers, insurers, and banks to provide a complete and innovative rental experience.
Apptim (Uruguay): a mobile experience infrastructure for the global app industry, providing mobile testing solutions and monitoring solutions for both app performance and end users.
Branddu (Colombia): a one-stop B2B marketplace that optimizes the merchandising buying experience.
Carinos (Brazil): a digital support network, and corporate benefits platform, for working parents and caregivers, that offers access to child development specialists and a concierge that addresses the daily challenges of childcare.
EatCloud (Colombia): a food surplus management solution that connects the food industries’ supply and demand sectors, such as restaurants and hotels with food banks and NGOs.
Getin (Mexico): a people traffic analytics system that provides data on the traffic circulating in physical stores, simplifying interpretation and providing analysis to inform strategic actions.
hiSofi (Uruguay): a human-centered debt collection startup that is making life easier for the millions of people with overdue accounts by providing them with financial education and helping them with debt collection management and financial re-inclusion.
ioio (Mexico): a p2p mobile app to rent everything from physical items, real estate, vehicles, professional services and talents for events, memberships, etc.
Kon3cta (Chile): a B2C platform that offers an affordable and comprehensive solution for companies to measure and improve the mental health of its employees and their close relatives.
MO Technologies (Colombia): a modular Credit as a Service startup that leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence to determine the financial worthiness of corporates, merchants, and individuals.
Muda Meu Mundo (Brazil): a platform that connects retailers with small farmers, generating a sustainable supply chain through the use of ESG data.
NeuralMind (Brazil): a solution that promotes an open space for creative and inspiring work in organizations, focusing on facilitating business decision-making and increasing security and transparency in the relationships between companies, partners, and suppliers through advanced artificial intelligence techniques.
Prometeo (Uruguay): an open banking platform that seeks interoperability in LATAM’s financial sector, allowing access to banking information, transactions, and payments across multiple financial institutions in Latin America.
Prosperia (Mexico): a social impact enterprise that creates solutions powered by artificial intelligence to massify early detection and treatment of chronic diseases in emerging markets.
Snap Compliance (Costa Rica): an all-in-one place software that transforms the ways in which companies manage risk and compliance.
TiendaDa (Peru): a platform that helps SMBs create their virtual store, efficiently, by offering simple and practical solutions at a fair price.
Tipti (Ecuador): a platform that facilitates the purchase and delivery of supermarket products and specialized stores by connecting teams of specialized buyers and consumers.
UpGirl (Chile): a C2C platform, exclusively for women, that connects female drivers and passengers establishing a safe transportation environment for women and children.
Vinco (Mexico): serves as a bridge between big employers seeking to upskill and retain their workforce, working adults who want to earn credentials, and education institutions looking to drive their online enrollment.
Wit Advisor (Argentina): a customer and employee experience management solution that uses AI to analyze, in real time, customer and employee satisfaction, thereby increasing productivity and rentability.
The WeXchange platform aims to facilitate women entrepreneurs with the opportunity to meet other entrepreneurs, connect with investors, and participate in training and mentoring sessions. This year’s forum is possible thanks to the support of Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi). The admission is free upon prior registration for entrepreneurs, investors, and those interested in the innovation ecosystem.
For more information and to register, please visit the WeXchange website.
How do you persuade a customer? How do you respond to their concerns or close a sales meeting positively? A salesperson needs to know and be able to use specific techniques if he or she hopes to achieve his or her objectives. Commissioned by the #FastTrackTech project, consultant Ndèye Khady Sall worked with five tech start-ups in Abidjan to strengthen their sales skills.
Ground-level support that makes you want to progress
For each of the five selected start-ups, Ndèye Khady Sall first conducted an in-depth audit of the business strategy and defined a personalised action plan. The expert in business strategies and digital marketing then provided online coaching sessions, before concluding her support with hands-on training. She explains: “I like role-plays because they create a collective emulation. By playing the customer, salespeople can project themselves into real-world situations and put their arguments to the test. Then we all debrief together.” Even the most experienced salespeople learn to interact better with their customers. Since the training, Idriss Marcial Monthe has been pleased with the changes in his company. The manager of CinetPay, an Ivorian company specialising in electronic money collection and transfer solutions, observes that his sales staff are more involved and motivated than ever: “The coaching has led us to rethink our sales organisation. We now have a team dedicated to key accounts and another one to online sales. Our sales staff are paid according to an attractive and transparent scale, which encourages them to give their best. Another new feature is that we re-evaluate our strategy and objectives every six months. In this way, we can tackle any difficulties and stay on course.”
Highlighting success factors and avoiding pitfalls
For the five selected companies, the personalised coaching combined with hands-on training has helped to build on their good practices and stay up to date. “I encourage managers to keep an eye on their performance indicators and to check that their products match the needs of the market. Regular reporting enables them to take the necessary decisions, set realistic goals and sustain the commitment of their sales staff,” states expert Ndèye Khady Sall. It will take a few months before the coaching effects can be measured in tangible ways. Idriss Marcial Monthe is already satisfied and optimistic: “The consultant helped us to simplify our processes. I experienced her support as an open dialogue that leaves room for debate, and not as a top-down procedure or a fixed plan to follow. Thanks to Ndèye Khady Sall’s advice, our strategic vision has become clearer. By 2022, CinetPay plans to conquer two additional markets, Niger and Congo Brazzaville.”
Financed by Canada, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands Trust Fund IV, the #FastTrackTech project is implemented by the International Trade Centre. Thanks to a targeted coaching and training offer as well as matchmaking with potential clients and investors, the #FastTrackTech project, since October 2019, is committed along-side digital entrepreneurs who aspire to international growth in Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Mali, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia.
For TalTech masters student Tam Abaku, long interested in digital sustainability in Africa, Estonian e-Residency sounded like the perfect solution. Just what was needed in a continent with a fast-growing population facing structural challenges. But to her surprise, her research in 2020 indicated that only 3% of the e-Residency population was based in Africa (compared with 55% in Europe.)
This motivated the researcher – originally from Nigeria – to explore further and shape her thesis on digital sustainability around this theme: exploring the structural and cultural obstacles for uptake of e-Residency for the African population. In her paper titled Digital Inequalities in Global South: The Perspectives of virtual migrants from North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa, Abaku stated:
“Through the lens of Estonian e-Residency, virtual migration has the capability of providing a solution to the digital nomad paradox, based on the State-backed eID that grants remote access globally to tech-savvy migrants who desire to leverage digital technologies that facilitate location-independence, and autonomy while working exclusively in the cyber space, thereby eliminating the strict physical border processes.”
So, with a highly mobile active and youthful population, many of whom are leveraging global educational content from international institutions to build their way to success, why were so few Africans taking advantage of e-Residency’s innovative route to business access?
“The biggest reason was simply physical, that there are 55 countries in Africa, and until recently just one pickup location for the e-Residency ID card, in Egypt,” she explained. With the combination of political complications and infrastructure challenges that Africa endures, these physical obstacles are huge. “One e-resident I spoke to from Tunisia found it easier to travel to France to get his ID, than to Cairo – which was extremely expensive.”
Even Egyptians she spoke to had low awareness of the scheme. For her paper she had sought out a range of entrepreneurial, digitally empowered citizens to interview, but even those who had managed to become e-residents had stumbled across the programme by individual chance. “They said it wasn’t promoted towards Africa, it wasn’t anything you could easily find out about online. Most people I spoke to had never even heard about it.”
Making it easier to obtain the eID
Two years on and much has changed.
In February, Estonia launched a new strategy for Africa for 2020-2030, covering foreign and security policy, economic relations and business diplomacy, development cooperation and humanitarian assistance, Estonians abroad and consular assistance. And the visit of Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid to Nairobi this September followed the recent establishment of a new e-Residency pick-up point in South Africa, finally offering sub-Saharan Africans a more accessible way to collect their digital ID cards and join the ranks of global e-residents.
Despite the geographical distance between them, Kaljulaid drew cultural parallels between the youthfulness of African nations and Estonia, and their mutual hunger for learning and growth.
Defying limitations from COVID to unreliable internet and even electricity, the African remote work and digital nomad scene is thriving in 2021, with the emergence of startups like AfriBlocks offering African gig workers a global platform, and the recent Future of Work Africa conference showcasing thought leadership in entrepreneurial thinking from across the diverse continent.
Supporting African entrepreneurs
The expansion of the Estonian e-Residency programme comes just at the right time to support the aspirations of a new generation of creative and resilient business exemplars.
Entrepreneur Christelle Sidoine, originally from Cameroon, moved to South Africa where she wanted to launch a new business. “There are so many difficulties here. If you are not a permanent resident – you must have a business partner that is South African, and banking is also problematic.”
With previous experience in the travel sector, Sidoine was one of the pioneers who discovered e-Residency through her own research, and found it well suited to her intended offering of freelance operations management – even though this involved a trip to Turkey to collect her digital ID at the time.
Since getting hold of the ID however, she found establishing her Estonian business Easy Assistant Co a straightforward process, in contrast to the previous launch of her tourism startup in South Africa:
“Starting the business [with Xolo] took about three working days, everything was done, straightforwardly. And I was happy to be approved by LHV bank, even with the COVID situation – I was able to provide all the documentation that they requested online, so my bank was opened online remotely.
“I did everything online, I use Xolo, PayPal, TransferWise [Wise] and all the online resources to manage all my clients’ projects.” With Africa still waiting for access to vaccines to suppress the Coronavirus spread, she is grateful to be able to operate her business – which also offers opportunities to other local project managers – “Completely remotely – I can do everything, without even putting one leg outside the door.”
Christelle’s remote setup has enabled her to maintain a thriving startup during challenging economic times locally, providing services in a global marketplace. “Operations management, digital marketing, social media, property management… Of course, I’m not doing everything myself. I have to delegate. To my clients I am an agency that provides services, everything that is needed by entrepreneurs in small businesses.”
Being able to operate in European currencies and markets is a great advantage in Africa, and the key benefit perceived by entrepreneurs like Sidoine. And with the new e-Residency pickup point in Johannesburg, it should be easier and easier for people to access the programme and all the advantages it brings.
New possibilities for emerging entrepreneurs
But even with the new pickup point in Johannesburg, there remains more that Abaku would like to see – pointing out that two collection offices nearly 9000 km apart does not adequately serve a whole continent of such dimensions. “We need one in West Africa. And more mobile-focused solutions.”
Having e-Residency tools and content available in French and Arabic would unlock access for even more new users, Abaku suggested.
Fortunately, e-Residency is already responding to these challenges. The programme is looking for new ways to connect with the African population by reaching out in new channels, as well as showcasing the journeys of existing African e-residents to inspire others.
According to e-Residency Head of Content Hannah Brown, this includes, “in the first instance, expanding our content and support resources to help new entrepreneurs from across Africa to understand the programme’s benefits and how to get on board”. So far, this has included developing a webpage in English tailored to African entrepreneurs and startups and publishing more articles on the blog focused on e-residents from Africa.
“We are also organising events and webinars to further explore the programme’s opportunities and challenges on the continent,” continues Hannah. E-Residency will be hosting a side event of Africa Business Forum and Nigeria Tech Forum at Expo Dubai 2020, with the intent of introducing the programme, as well speaking about it from the perspective of African e-residents Christelle and Fabrice Amalaman, founder of PayQin.
“E-Residency is also exploring where to open additional pickup points and how to provide more localised content and support on our platforms – tailored to both language and region”, says Hannah.
As the world adapts to the needs of a newly remote-enabled workforce, we can expect more and more Africans to discover the benefits of teleworking and remote entrepreneurship, and transnational digital identity programmes like Estonian e-Residency – which enable them to trade with and serve a global audience, bringing hard currency earnings into local economies which are urgently in need of a kickstart.
So just as Africa leapfrogged European and US adoption of fintech and mobile payments due to constraints of landline availability, the crucible of health inequality and political upheaval is forging a new generation of internationally oriented e-entrepreneurs, ready to take advantage of a new way to do business internationally.
As the e-Residency scheme grows in popularity and awareness, we’ll doubtless see a range of innovative and sustainable initiatives well-placed to serve the needs of new markets, in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.
The world is continuing to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and the significant impact it has had on people’s lives and the economy. The aviation sector is one industry that was hit very hard, with ICAO confirming that the decline of passenger numbers has been the worst in history. Indonesian Airports, managed by Angkasa Pura II, a State-owned Airport Operator, confirmed a passenger decline of 60 per cent with a 47.3 per cent loss of income in 2020.
In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Angkasa Pura II, which is responsible for 20 Indonesian airports, consistently provided the best possible service to the community despite the challenges. Soekarno-Hatta Airport advanced its position to become the 34th best airport in the world according to Skytrax. It furthers ranks number 6 in the world in the 20-25 million passenger Airports category and number 10 for best Airport Staff in Asia. This airport also received the 2021 Covid-19 Airport Excellence Award.
Air transport continued during the COVID-19 global pandemic despite the low passenger demand. Specific arrangements are required in public health emergencies, particular as the demand for air travel increases. Angkasa Pura II believes that their strength lies in their ability to bring innovation to air transport to make air travel easier for passengers. In order to respond to future challenges, Angkasa Pura II has launched a Digital Transformation project that will enhance their position as an airport enterprise leader in the region.
This transformation effort will be supported by an own developed ‘Digitally Ready for Operational and Infostructure Development’ model (DROID). The DROID Model consists of three main platforms: the Operational Excellence (OX) digital platform with the iPerfom application; the Customer Experience (CX) Digital Platform with a Travelin application; and the Ecosystem Exploration (EX) digital Platform with a Pocket Airport Collaborative Decision Making (ACDM) application.
The Pocket ACDM is a mobile application that establishes collaboration and synergy so airport stakeholders can share real-time operational information and create a single information data node for other airport stakeholders. This will enhance the operational decision-making process in an integrated, tactical, effective and efficient manner.
The Travelin application contributes to increasing customer/traveler satisfaction based on the Airport Service Quality Survey (ASQ Survey) held by Airport Council International (ACI). The average ASQ Survey score (on a scale from 1-5) at AP-II airports in 2016 recorded 4.68 in 2017, 4.76 in 2018, 4.87 in 2019 and 4.9 for Soekarno-Hatta Airport in 2020. This Travelin APP digitalized all COVID-19 test services at AP II airports (Airport Health Center).
iPerform is a special application for Angkasa Pura II employees to enhance daily operations in the midst of the pandemic and to sustain the level of efficiencies. Angkasa Pura II also recorded increased savings in the first quarter of 2021. Several processes are included in the iPerform APP to reduce employees physical mobility and competency programs are now carried out online. iPerform now monitors the optimization of airport facilities to ensure operational efficiencies. In the same quarter, electricity usage efficiency at Angkasa Pura II airport was reduced to 42 per cent and water usage to 52 per cent per month, when compared to similar periods.
The ACDM Pocket application enhanced collaboration amongst all airport stakeholders and improved flight predictability, on-time performance (OTP) and slot times. The implementation of ACDM in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic enabled Soekarno-Hatta Airport to provide required services for all stakeholders.
Angkasa Pura II technology infrastructure can now quickly support newly published pandemic regulations. The PeduliLindungi, an application developed to assist the relevant Indonesian government department in tracking the spreading of COVID-19 cases, helped to process passengers and flight departures. This application relies on community participation to share location data with each other whilst traveling to record tracing of COVID-19 infected passengers. Application users gets relevant notifications if they are in a crowd or are in a red zone – an area where COVID-19 infected people have been recorded.
The Autogate system has been integrated with the PeduliLindungi APP. Every passenger entering the airport terminal must show proof of the PeduliLindungi QR Code. The autogate system will only allow passengers to continue the check-in process if in possession of the correct vaccination card and COVID-19 test certificate.
To achieve strategic targets and monitor the transformation programme, periodic evaluations are carried out through the Program Management (PMO) Unit and the successfully tested dashboard monitoring system, iPerform application.
When Londoner Rich Mason signed up as a bicycle food delivery rider in 2017, he found the long hours, poor pay and lack of communication from management “jaw-dropping” – so he started his own delivery app instead.
One of his proudest moments was in June this year when his phone pinged with the first order on his Wings platform, which he says pays bicycle couriers above minimum wage, is an eco-friendly alternative to motorbikes and supports family-run restaurants.
“We wanted to create a model that is good for riders, good for society and good for the environment,” said Mason, 32, adding that he wanted to humanise the gig economy into a model that is worker-focused.
“Our brand is built on community,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a video call, adding that Wings also partners with local charities to deliver food to people in need.
The gig economy – where people pick up work in a flexible manner – boomed during COVID-19 lockdowns, as people around the world suddenly needed goods and food delivered to their homes and millions of newly jobless were looking for work.
By 2020, there were more than 777 digital labour platforms – from food delivery to web design – around the world, up from about 140 a decade earlier, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
But many people drawn to gig work for its flexibility have reported being exploited by companies paying low wages, and offering weak insurance policies and no sick leave while encouraging long hours.
Now social enterprises like Wings are trying to rejig the gig economy model by offering tech-driven, on-demand services that prioritise workers’ rights and ethical supply chains.
“It is always exciting to see communities taking ownership of digital tools for work and production in a way that is fair and inclusive,” said Kelle Howson, a researcher at Fairwork, a gig economy research project at the Oxford Internet Institute.
Planet and people
At the large companies that dominate the gig platform sphere, most delivery drivers are classified as “partners”, not employees, meaning they have flexible work hours but few to no benefits, such as healthcare or paid leave.
But some businesses are using elements of the gig economy – like reliance on tech, employment flexibility and direct-to-consumer orders – to create both profit and social change.
In 2014, Colombian entrepreneur Diego Benitez launched SiembraViva, an e-commerce platform that connects rural smallholder farmers with consumers while helping the farmers transition to organic produce through training and technical support.
The platform uses a WhatsApp chatbot to gather planting information from farmers to determine their ideal harvesting schedules based on customer demand, reducing waste and guaranteeing an income for the farmers.
“We work to make the fruit and veg supply chains sustainable, inclusive and efficient,” said the 40-year-old former banker, who hopes to expand into other countries in South America in the coming years.
Similar startups have sprung up around the world from Namibia to the United States, utilising technology and direct-to-consumer models to help small-scale, organic farmers hold their own against bigger grocery stores.
A core component of the gig economy involves door-to-door deliveries and Spanish courier company Koiki realised they could boost eco-friendly job opportunities for people at risk of social exclusion, like migrants or homeless people.
Koiki provides the technology, training and parcels for delivery people who are hired by partner charities or organisations, said marketing director Patricia De Francisco, adding that all parcels are delivered on foot or on bike to reduce the company’s carbon emissions.
Many of Koiki’s 150 couriers have physical or mental disabilities and they work out of delivery centres in their own neighbourhoods so that the routes are familiar to them, said De Francisco.
“They were the heroes of the pandemic, the only ones on the roads delivering medicine and food to people in need,” she said, adding that all workers are on fixed or flexible contracts aligned with the minimum wage.
“We realise we have to take care of the planet and people if we want to be here longer,” said De Francisco.
In East Africa, Kenya-based Digital Lions became the world’s first Fairtrade verified digital agency, highlighting the enterprise’s commitment to fair pay and environmental protection using solar power and emissions offsetting.
The company has trained 300 members of the largely pastoralist community on the shores of Lake Turkana in business and tech skills, helping them enter the international market as web designers, animators and more.
“We can create jobs in remote areas, empower and educate women and deliver quality service, that’s very hard to beat,” said co-founder Jan Veddeler.
Major gig platforms are beginning to take note of smaller players in the sector, with some incorporating their social impact goals into their own model.
In June European gig companies Delivery Hero, Bolt, Glovo, and Wolt announced the European Purpose Project – an online consultation inviting individuals to help draw up an inclusive gig economy code of conduct.
In India, businesses working with temporary staff like garment and construction workers have begun turning to LabourNet, a training and employment mediator for gig workers that has helped improve work contracts and social security benefits.
So far they have helped 8,000 people with the aim of reaching 15,000 in the coming year, said founder Gayathri Vasudevan.
Bigger corporates have also used their capital to fund ethical gig platforms – like Robinhood – launched by Thailand’s Siam Commercial Bank last year to help small food businesses that had taken a hit during lockdowns.
Launched as part of the bank’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative, the app does not charge merchants a fee for listing on the platform, and has drawn 150,000 small food vendors and more than 2 million subscribers.
‘Ready for ethical alternatives’
Co-operatives and enterprises like Wings and SiembraViva say consumer demand and decision making is a huge factor in rethinking the gig economy model.
Customers are getting more discerning about how online services use their money and their impact on communities and the environment, said Mason at Wings.
“People are ready for ethical alternatives … I hope we will have built up a loyalty in our community that will come through for us and stand with us if an Uber Eats tries to kill us off in a year or two,” he said.
But customer loyalty alone is not enough, said Howson, the gig economy expert.
“To enable (these) enterprises to succeed, we need changes in wider commercial, tax, supply-chain and labour policy settings … (regulation) should favour companies providing maximum social and economic benefits to local communities,” she said over email.
Social entrepreneurs like Benitez agree that the gig economy is not going anywhere, but that using elements of the gig model for good would make it both more sustainable and profitable.
“Success is not just about money. We can make money and capture carbon and create equitable supply chains for farmers … we can do it all, so that the next generation lives in a better place than we do now,” he said.
This story is one in a series supported by the World Economic Forum’s COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs co-initiated by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Ashoka, Catalyst 2030, GHR Foundation, the Skoll Foundation and Yunus Social Business.
As the pandemic underlines our vital use of technology, the UNCDF Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard (IDES) allows decision makers to set priorities for the digital transformation of their economies. Eight countries across the world have already started using this scorecard as way to identify gaps and opportunities. These insights feed the agenda setting and reveal pathways that can lead to the enhancement of digital economies. During today’s United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) side-event at the UN General Assembly, representatives of Burkina Faso, Nepal, Solomon Islands and Uganda explain how the scorecard helps in recognizing national priorities to ensure an inclusive digital transformation.
Data collected on how countries score on the building blocks of a digital economy are now made available through an interactive map. This map, that showcases the digital inclusiveness scores of 25 countries, allows users to deep-dive into country specific data and explore results on policy and regulations already in place, the status of mobile and digital payment infrastructure, the development of the innovation ecosystem and the participation of the public and private sector in digital and financial skills development.
IDES as a tool to safeguard narrowing digital divide
As the pandemic has fundamentally reshaped the role of technology in our day to day lives, there is a growing concern that the world’s 46 least developed countries (LDCs) might be left behind. During the COVID-19 response, many LDCs were not able to pivot their economies and education systems online and marginalized populations like women, youth, migrants, people with disabilities and smallholder farmers suffered and are still suffering the most. The IDES provides policy makers with a tool ensuring this digital divide decreases.
Preeti Sinha, Executive Secretary, UNCDF, puts forward that;
“We need tools that will ensure no one is excluded from the fourth industrial revolution, in the process supporting and advancing digital economies that are truly inclusive.
The IDES is an essential tool to understand where the financing gaps might be so that governments can funnel the right financing for the digital transformation, particularly when it comes to the infrastructure and the need for innovative and inclusive solutions.
I hope you will find the IDES inspiring and helpful in developing digital economies that leave no one behind.”
Visit the interactive map at ides.uncdf.org
The circular economy (CE) redefines the economy around principles of designing out waste and pollution by keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible. The primary focus to date has been on the role businesses and national governments play in driving this transition, yet it is becoming increasingly clear that no single country (or business) can go it alone. All countries, to varying degrees, are dependent on the trade of goods and materials through complex, globally integrated value chains which cannot be produced or sourced domestically. Multilateral solutions and international cooperation will be key for a successful global transition.
As an enabler of the circular economy, global trade facilitates access to the technologies and services countries (and businesses) need to engage in circular activities (repair, re-manufacturing or recycling) and to implement circular business models. Global trade enables economies of scale, which are essential if circular activities are to be economically viable, and allow the flow and aggregation of second-hand and end-of-life goods, secondary materials and waste to countries that have the necessary expertise to efficiently manage waste. That is, the global trading system is crucial for realizing a global circular economy.
Despite its decisive role in the transition to the circular economy, the global trading system has evolved in favour of the linear extract-make-throwaway economy, resulting in lock-ins and challenges that have made circular trade particularly difficult. For example, there is no global standard definition on what a ‘circular good or service’ is, which makes it nearly impossible to develop shared trade rules and customs duties. Moreover, the current trading system inhibits a circular transition because it is cumbersome and outdated, with poor supply chain transparency and complex red tape surrounding trade in secondary goods, materials and services.
This has ramifications for least developed countries (LDCs). LDCs often rely on low-cost imports of high-quality second-hand goods (such as cars and electronic goods) for reuse in their domestic market. According to UN Comtrade, the share of global trade in secondary raw materials and used goods to sub-Saharan Africa between 2000–2019 rose from 1 per cent to 16 per cent. Trade in such goods creates a significant competitive advantage for labour-intensive circular economy activities such as disassembly of products to reuse their components and parts their repair and recycling. Just like China is considered the manufacturing hub of the world, low-income regions could become the repair, re-manufacturing and recycling hubs of the world.
Given the inequalities Least Developed Countries (LDCs) face in terms of participation in global trade and their urgent need for social and economic development, the question should not necessarily be how to redesign the global trading system to accelerate circularity, but rather how it can be redesigned to accelerate a just circular transition – one that aims to ‘reduce waste and stimulate product innovation, while at the same time contributing positively to sustainable human development’.1
Technological trends that influence circular economy trade
The global trading system needs to be overhauled to realize a just circular transition. In addition to a revision of trade rules and regulations, a new generation of technologies must be harnessed. Three specific technological trends are set to have an impact on the role of trade in a just circular transition, namely: increasing supply chain transparency and product life cycle information; localized material sourcing and manufacturing; and enhanced product repair and secondary material recovery. If harnessed appropriately, each trend offers significant potential to re-wire global trade in line with just circular principles.
Trade and technologies to enhance supply chain transparency
The development and scaling up of digital and physical tracking technologies can help solve supply chain transparency problems by enabling real-time identification and tracking of products across their entire life cycle. Examples include digital watermarks, product passports enabled by computer vision, Internet of Things (IoT), radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and other advanced sensors. Product identification and tracking is supported by the development of data storage and retrieval systems via distributed ledgers on the blockchain, cloud computing and 5G.
The provenance of any product (and its components) can now be traced all the way across the supply chain. The current barriers to trade in CE material trade streams can thereby be overcome, as a clear differentiation and classification between secondary materials for reuse, goods for repair and materials for recycling can be made. This also increases barriers to illegal waste dumping in LDCs. It furthermore opens the opportunity for more equitable approaches to resource trade, such as raw material leasing, whereby an LDC can lease its raw materials to developed countries and track the flow of these materials throughout their lifetime.
Despite these advantages, there is a risk that these technologies remain confined to use in advanced countries (similar to the history of internet access), which have the necessary funds, institutional structures and skill base to deploy them. The competitive advantage of developed countries over LDCs will consequently grow, thus exacerbating trade inequalities.
Advanced CE material production and manufacturing technologies
The second observable trend is the development of advanced CE material production and manufacturing processes (including material science, AI design software, 3D printing and industrial biotechnologies).
These technologies offer LDCs a number of opportunities. LDCs typically rely on imports of high quality but affordable second-hand goods (such as cars, white goods, medical equipment and electronics) because they lack the domestic industrial base to produce them. One of the common problems LDCs face is that such imported second-hand goods often require either immediate repair or refurbishment or are increasingly becoming obsolete as the supply of spare parts to maintain them dries up. The combination of using locally available materials and advanced 3D printing could help create a flourishing local repair and re-manufacturing industry, and reduce LDCs’ costs in dealing with waste from imported obsolete or defective goods.
Demand for certain raw materials (as well as intermediary goods) exported from LDCs may also decrease as developed countries turn to sourcing local materials. Additionally, limited access to these technologies due to trade restrictions (export tariffs) or non-trade barriers, such as strict control of intellectual property, may prevent LDCs from reaping the benefits these technologies could potentially offer.
Repair and secondary material recovery technologies
The third trend is the development of technologies that facilitate repair, refurbishment, re-manufacturing and recycling activities. Many disassembly and recycling technologies offer promise, for example, Apple developed Daisy, the robot, which can dismantle over 200 iPhones per hour. iPhone components can be reused and the materials recycled. Other examples include chemical and enzymatic recycling technologies for textiles and plastics, ultrasonic waves for the recycling of electric vehicle batteries or computer vision equipment, enabling high precision sorting of mixed recycled materials.
Tariff-free trade of these technologies would allow LDCs to recycle end-of-life goods more efficiently and to capture critical materials for use in domestic industry or for export. In addition, advancements in real-time condition-monitoring sensors and the IoT open up opportunities for LDCs to export specialized condition-monitoring services to developed countries. This trend is already being observed in developed countries, which are increasingly outsourcing complex support services in addition to more traditional ones, such as call centres.
What needs to happen to harness technological innovation for a just circular transition?
If these technology trends are used to reinforce the global economy’s current power structure, they could serve to lock in and even accelerate the divide between the haves and the have nots. Just like the growing digital divide, we may witness the emergence of a circularity divide, with industrialized countries developing and using advanced technologies to gain a competitive advantage in supply chain resilience, productivity and trade efficiency, whilst leaving LDCs behind, trapped in an inefficient, uncompetitive and polluting linear economy. Concerted efforts are necessary to ensure a level playing field.
An increase in targeted investments in capacity-building in LDCs is necessary, both in terms of infrastructure and skills. Financing and technical support for the construction of infrastructure are needed to facilitate the establishment of a domestic circular economy (repair, re-manufacturing and recycling plants and waste collection systems) and to foster circular trade (including ports and digital trade systems). This requires stronger multilateral collaboration to embed the scaling up finance mechanisms for green trade development (one example being the G7 Build Back Better World initiative) as well as embedding circularity within the Aid for Trade (AfT) programme.
Environmental goods agreement (EGA) negotiations need to be revived to adopt a clear definition of environmental goods and services and to ensure tariff-free trade. This would help accelerate the transfer and uptake of CE technologies in LDCs. EGAs should be complemented with a redrafting of bilateral and plurilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with LDCs to promote trade in these technologies with a particular focus on reducing intellectual property and technology transfer barriers.
Senior representatives from government, business and civil society outlined their views on 29 September on how to make the WTO fit for purpose in today’s world of trade. Addressing the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change, making sure WTO rules are adapted to today’s digital economy and ensuring the benefits of trade extend to all were some of the themes which emerged at the Public Forum high-level session on strengthening the multilateral trading system.
The issue of WTO reform has been raised by the organization’s members in various WTO bodies in recent years, with many recognizing the need to update rules written more than a quarter of a century ago.
In outlining their priorities for reform, participants in the high-level session put forward a menu of issues requiring attention. These not only included tackling new issues like climate change, pandemic response and the digital economy, but also ensuring the WTO can better address matters that have been on its negotiating agenda for years, such as agriculture, disciplines on fisheries subsidies, and special and differential treatment for developing and least-developed countries.
John WH Denton, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Commerce, underlined the importance of restoring a WTO that operates effectively, something which is currently not happening, he said.
“For the WTO to be useful for us, it has to function, it has to be fit for purpose,” he said. “The issues it deals with have to be those of the 21st century. It needs to grapple with issues it’s been told to deal with because they’re relevant issues.”
“It needs to be dealing with issues related to the pandemic,” Mr Denton continued. “We need to learn from what’s just happened and prepare the organization to grapple with health crises in the future. It has to deal with the digital agenda. It needs to join up climate and trade … we can’t have functioning businesses in a planet that is actually not functioning.”
Carlos María Correa, Executive Director of the South Centre, stressed the need to overcome the current fragmentation in the international system of trade rules and called for a trade system that is focused on the needs and rights of people.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown the world the profound asymmetries that exist in many economic, social and health aspects, he noted. The post-pandemic reality should be an opportunity to create a new system based on equality and solidarity which is truly effective, he added. “The world should be different to the one that COVID-19 found.”
“The multilateral trading system needs to be part of a mechanism which promotes wellbeing globally,” he said. “Trade isn’t an end in itself but an instrument to pursue other superior objectives, including taking into account the interests and needs of the most vulnerable groups in the population.”
Yeo Han-Koo, Trade Minister of the Republic of Korea, highlighted the importance of the digital and high-tech economy to the WTO’s work. From being a country whose main export in the 1960s was wigs, Korea has succeeded in becoming one of the world’s leading exporters, starting with textiles and light electronics, and specializing in automobiles and semiconductors, he said.
The proactive role of the government, the promotion of public-private partnership and a firm commitment to digitalization was the formula for Korea’s success, which could be replicated by developing countries, particularly if WTO members were to finalize an agreement on electronic commerce, he said. “Digital trade rules could really pave the way to bring many other developing countries into this fast track of development.”
“If we keep our focus on innovation and sustain this strong will to turn a crisis into opportunity, then I think we will come out of this crisis stronger than before the pandemic,” he declared.
Otunba Richard Niyi Adebayo, Nigeria’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, said WTO reform should focus on the issues that are central to the interests of developing and least developed countries and that have been the subject of ongoing WTO negotiations for years.
“I believe honestly that there has to be reform which addresses the concerns and priorities of developing countries, particularly mandated issues which remain unresolved but which remain extremely important … strengthening special and differential treatment, agriculture issues such as domestic support, the special safeguard mechanism and public stockholding, these are crucial for addressing food and livelihood needs.”
Ensuring future digital trade rules allow sufficient policy space for developing countries, simplifying notification requirements, and reforming rules under the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement to strengthen access to innovation were also cited by the minister as important priorities. “I believe if these reforms are in place, it will go a long way to assisting developing countries,” he said.
The world needs a new approach to allow as many people as possible to access digital data across borders, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said on Wednesday.
This should help maximize development gains and ensure that they are equitably distributed, said the agency, launching its Digital Economy Report 2021.
A new approach should also enable worldwide data sharing, increase the development of global digital “public goods”, increase trust and reduce uncertainty in the digital economy, UNCTAD added.
The report stressed that the new global system must help avoid further fragmentation of the internet, address policy
“It is more important than ever to embark on a new path for digital and data governance,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in his preface to the report.
“The current fragmented data landscape… may create more space for substantial harms related to privacy breaches, cyberattacks and other risks” he added.
Digital data play an increasingly important role as an economic and strategic resource, a trend reinforced by the COVID-19 pandemic, the report says.
For example, sharing health data globally is of “critical importance” as it can help countries fight disease outbreaks, and for research purposes, in the development of effective vaccines: “The issue of digital governance can no longer be postponed,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan said.
“The global data economy calls for moving away from the silo approach towards a more holistic, coordinated global approach,” UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant added.
New data body
UNCTAD is proposing the formation of a new United Nations coordinating body, focused on assessing and developing global digital and data governance.
The body should seek to remedy the underrepresentation of developing countries and provide sufficient policy space to ensure countries with different levels of digital readiness and capacities, can truly benefit.
The report notes that now, there are widely diverging approaches to data governance, with three leading players – the United States, China and the European Union (EU).
In essence, the US approach focuses on control of data by the private sector, the Chinese model emphasizes control of data by government, while the EU favours control of data by individuals, based on fundamental rights and values.
“The absence of a global data governance framework hampers countries’ ability to reap benefits from the digital economy,” UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, Shamika N. Sirimanne, said. “It also hinders their ability to protect the privacy of people from both private sector and government use of data and to address concerns related to law enforcement and national security”.
The new approach would allow countries to better harness data for public benefit, agree on rights and principles, develop standards and increase international cooperation.
The report also highlighted that the governance of cross-border data flows is at an impasse due to diverging views and positions on their regulation.
The proposed new global data governance approach could contribute towards developing a middle-ground solution, it said pointing out that the current regional and international regulatory frameworks tend to be either too narrow in scope or too limited geographically.
The report warned that a data-related divide is emerging, resulting in many developing countries becoming mere providers of raw data to global digital platforms while having to pay for the digital intelligence generated from their data.
Only 20 per cent of people in the least developed countries (LDCs) use the internet, and when they do, it’s typically at relatively low download speeds and with a relatively high price tag attached, the report said.
It also noted that the average mobile broadband speed, is about three times higher in developed countries than in LDCs. And while up to eight out of 10 internet users shop online in several developed countries, only less than one out of 10 do so in many LDCs, it added.
US, China dominate
The US and China are the frontrunners in harnessing data, according to the report. They account for 50 per cent of the world’s hyper-scale data centres, the world’s highest rates of 5G adoption, 70 per cent of the world’s top artificial intelligence (AI) researchers, and 94 per cent of all funding for AI startups.
The two countries also make up about 90 per cent of the market capitalization of the world’s largest digital platforms, and during the pandemic, their profits and market capitalization values have surged tremendously.
The report warns that it has become increasingly difficult to consider regulations of cross-border data flows without also considering the governance of the digital corporations.
These platforms continue to expand their own data ecosystems and increasingly control all stages of the global data value chain.
The largest digital platforms, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Tencent and Alibaba, are increasingly investing in all parts of the global data value chain, the report said.
Amazon for example, has invested some $10 billion in satellite broadband, while Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, were the top acquirers of AI startups between 2016 and 2020.
Four major platforms (Alibaba, Amazon, Google and Microsoft) accounted for 67 per cent of global cloud infrastructure services revenues in the last quarter of 2020.
The report’s findings will feed into discussions during UNCTAD’s 15th quadrennial conference to be held online from 3 to 7 October.
Large power imbalances stalk the growing digital economy as major platforms reinforce their positions in the global data value chain.
The data-driven digital economy is surging. Recent estimates show that global internet protocol (IP) traffic – a proxy for data flows – will more than triple between 2017 and 2022, according to UNCTAD’s Digital Economy Report 2021 released on 29 September.
The COVID-19 pandemic has markedly increased internet traffic, as many activities have moved online. Global internet bandwidth rose by 35% in 2020, compared with 26% the previous year, the report says.
A growing part of data flows is related to mobile networks. With the increasing number of mobile devices and internet-connected devices, data traffic by mobile broadband is expected to account for almost one third of the total data volume in 2026, the report states.
“But the data-driven digital economy is characterized by large imbalances and divides,” said UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, Shamika N. Sirimanne. “As the digital economy grows, a data-related divide is compounding the digital divide.”
Developing countries in subordinate positions
In this new configuration, developing countries risk becoming mere providers of raw data to global digital platforms, while having to pay for the digital intelligence obtained from their data, the report warns.
Only 20% of people in least developed countries (LDCs) use the internet, and when they do, it’s typically at relatively low download speeds and with a relatively high price tag attached, the report says.
Also, the average mobile broadband speed is about three times higher in developed countries than in LDCs. And while up to eight out of 10 internet users shop online in several developed countries, only less than one out of 10 do so in many LDCs.
International bandwidth use is geographically concentrated along two main routes: North America – Europe and North America – China.
Digital giants reinforce their dominance
The largest digital platforms – Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Alphabet (Google), Facebook, Tencent and Alibaba – are increasingly investing in all parts of the global data value chain, the report says.
They are investing in data collection through user-facing platform services; data transmissions through submarine cables and satellites; data storage (data centres); and data analysis, processing and use, for instance through artificial intelligence (AI).
The sizes, profits, market values and dominant positions of the platforms have further strengthened during the pandemic as digitalization has accelerated.
Thanks to privileged access to data, network effects and economies of scale and scope, these platforms have become global digital corporations with planetary reach; huge financial, market and technology power; and control over large swathes of data about their users.
According to the report, Amazon has invested some $10 billion in satellite broadband.
Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft were the top acquirers of AI startups between 2016 and 2020.
Four major platforms (Alibaba, Amazon, Google and Microsoft) accounted for 67% of global cloud infrastructure services revenues in the last quarter of 2020.
By 2022, the share of global digital advertising spending by five major digital platforms – Alibaba, Amazon, Facebook, Google and Tencent – is expected to exceed 73%, up from 50% in 2015.
New global data governance approach needed
As cross-border data flows become increasingly prominent in the digital economy, UNCTAD has called for a new approach to properly regulate them at the international level.
Currently, entities that can extract or collect data are in a privileged position to appropriate most of the value.
“A new international system to regulate data flows is needed so that associated benefits can be more equitably distributed,” said Sirimanne.
She said the world should pay adequate attention to the current divides that characterize the global digital economy not only between countries, but also between states and enterprises.
Torbjörn Fredriksson, who leads UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy branch says that “the shortage of appropriate skill sets in governments can result in insufficient representation of technical and analytical expertise in legislative and regulatory framework development processes”.
This he says in turn hampers the ability of governments to identify opportunities that could be afforded by digital technologies and potential risks and threats that could emerge, as well as ways to regulate them.
According to the report, less-developed countries also suffer from losing their top talent to developed countries and have smaller representation in setting up the global policy discussion – contributing further to the growing global inequality.
While all countries will need to allocate more domestic resources to the development of their capacities to create and capture the value of data domestically, the report says, many developing countries may need international support due to their limited financial, technical and other resources.
The Government of the Netherlands and the International Trade Centre (ITC) signed today a four-year partnership agreement to support innovative projects to enhance the trade competitiveness of the services sectors in selected African countries, focusing on digital technology and agribusiness services…
COVID-19 has contributed to accelerating the global digital transformation. Boosting the development and provision of innovative and effective digital solutions can have a major impact on traditional sectors like agribusiness, improving efficiency, enhancing productivity and value-addition, providing traceability, and allowing stronger positioning in international markets.
Digital acceleration can also support building back better in an environmentally sustainable manner: digitalization enables better usage of resources through increased resource and energy efficiency, and circular economy.
The partnership, called the Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF V), will contribute to this structural transformation in agribusiness and related value chains. It will support thousands of small businesses and tens of thousands of jobs, thereby creating entrepreneurial opportunities for women, youth and poor communities. Through efficient agribusiness and support services, NTF V will ultimately contribute to increased trade, better incomes, and help reduce poverty.
NTF V, with a contribution of the Government of the Netherlands of $15 million, was signed by Steven Collet, Director for Sustainable Economic Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and Pamela Coke-Hamilton, the Executive Director of the International Trade Centre.
“The pandemic has shown us the importance of digitalization – and of the resilience of global and local value chains. With NTF V, we will be able to increase our focus on using innovative digital solutions to make value chains more resilient and to support small businesses operating within these value chains. With the generous support of the Netherlands, we will support countries that have been severely hit by the ongoing Covid-related crisis. NTF V will allow us to contribute to building back better and to support sustainable inclusive development where it matters most.”
Pamela Coke-Hamilton, International Trade Centre
Steven Collet underlined the importance of the renewed partnership, which builds on a long-lasting collaboration between the government of the Netherlands and ITC, going back more than 15 years.
“We have a long-standing, trusted and productive relationship with ITC. The last fifteen years of successive NTF programmes have delivered meaningful change, thanks to partnerships with Dutch development actors. In the next phase of our partnership, we need to up our game and enhance competitiveness of SMEs in African countries, focusing on digital technology and agribusiness services and the link between the two.”
Steven Collet, Director for Sustainable Economic Development, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands
The NTF V programme builds on the results achieved under the NTF IV programme (2017-2021), also funded by the Netherlands. NTF IV supported more than 8,000 jobs at beneficiary companies and generated more than $60 million in revenue in Guinea, Liberia, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Uganda. More than 1,600 small and medium-sized enterprises and entrepreneurs made changes to their business operations to enhance competitiveness, and more than 1,200 market linkages were created.
NTF V will draw on methodologies, partnerships and tools from two ITC programmes: Alliances for Action in agribusiness and the FastTrackTech initiative. Alliance for Action builds productive and commercial alliances between stakeholders to enable farm to fork transparency. FastTrack Tech works with small businesses in local tech ecosystems to ensure the benefits of technologies reach the widest possible number of beneficiaries.
We are excited to announce a round of grant funding to advance Internet access and connectivity through our Building Opportunities/Leveraging Technology (BOLT) program. In its first year, the BOLT grant program aims to support teams of creatives, technologists, researchers, and social/cultural workers to develop innovative solutions to Internet connectivity, particularly among communities where current technologies are unavailable or inaccessible. Grants of up to $200,000 will be awarded for projects lasting up to 12 months.
“Almost half of the world’s population lacks access to the Internet, “ said Sarah Armstrong, Executive Director of the Internet Society Foundation. “These grants aim to bolster the development of imaginative, relevant, and sustainable solutions that will promote greater Internet access and connectivity for communities around the world, supporting our vision of an Internet for Everyone”.
The UN Secretary-General’s address to the UN General Assembly last week made it clear: we “are on the edge of an abyss”, in his words. One of the six “Great Divides” he mentioned was that of climate, and with alarm bells ringing at fever pitch, he urged us to get serious and act fast.
The President of the General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, was somewhat more positive, noting “five rays of hope” based on witnessing “incredible acts of kindness and compassion that reaffirmed our common humanity and collective strength.”
Another ray of hope, in my opinion, is the application of information and communication technologies (ICTs) to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
This has been a priority of mine and something the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN specialized agency for ICTs, has advocated for nearly 15 years.
ITU enjoys a large membership of 193 Member States and, unusually for a UN agency, several hundred private sector companies, as well as academia and civil society – a truly international public-private partnership.
This increasingly diverse membership enables ITU to respond to contemporary challenges, including climate change.
It also facilitates close collaboration with industry-based groups like the Global Enabling Digital Sustainability Initiative (GeSI).
GeSI’s recently launched Digital with Purpose movement is gaining traction inside and outside the tech sector. More and more companies signing the pledge signals the increasing commitment of the private sector to both the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). I look forward to further strengthening such cooperation in the run-up to the UN climate change conference, COP26.
ITU’s experience holds valuable lessons for businesses on climate action partnerships.
Firstly, the development of international standards, a core ITU function, creates a universal language that unites people, businesses, and economies and societies. One new ITU standard, ITU L.1470, details the emission-reduction trajectories needed to cut the ICT sector’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent, in line with the targets set in the Paris Agreement.
Developed in collaboration with GeSI and other partners, these are the first ICT-specific targets approved by the Science-Based Target Initiative.
A testament to the power of collaboration, I am confident standards can help reduce the growing environmental footprint of ICTs and get the sector on a decarbonization pathway.
Secondly, we need smart, sustainable cities that digitally incorporate energy, buildings and mobility. Equally, we need to be able to measure progress. Right now, cities produce more than 70 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions. Moreover, last month’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned that heatwaves, flooding, sea level rise and other climate consequences may be magnified for cities. Key performance indicators set out by the ITU-led United 4 Smart Sustainable Cities initiative, based on an ITU standard aligned with the SDGs, are used in more than 100 cities around the world. These indicators provide a benchmark for best practices and a practical framework to assess each city’s progress towards net-zero emissions.
Finally, space is key for terrestrial sustainability.
Satellite earth observation and remote sensing systems are ever more vital as countries seek tools to address threats posed by extreme weather conditions and climate change.
Earth observation helps to measure progress related to multiple SDGs. The international Radio Regulations maintained by ITU constitute the only international treaty on radio spectrum and satellite orbits, allocating bandwidth and protecting radio and satellite systems from harmful interference.
When climate talks open in Glasgow on 31 October, expectations for ICTs could be high on the agenda – especially after what these technologies have achieved during the COVID-19 pandemic.
No one asks anymore, as they did 15 years ago, why ITU should publish a report on ICTs and climate change.
At the same time, we must be more ambitious to bridge the climate and digital divides. Tech remains still out of reach, unaffordable, irrelevant, unsafe, or too complicated to use for almost half the world’s population – 3.7 billion people.
As UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, the world now is on a catastrophic pathway.
Today’s digital transformation must deliver on the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
We must ensure it does so before it is too late.
I am encouraged to see the level of commitment in the Digital with Purpose Initiative, which promises real impact, not just nice words. As we look towards COP26, let us continue building on this commitment to pool resources for the common good.
Based on Malcolm Johnson’s keynote address at GeSI’s 24 September side event during the high-level segment of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly.
Over the years, access to digital technology has played a major role in empowering women to do businesses. The number of female entrepreneurs is flourishing in digital entrepreneurship and e-commerce, bringing enormous impact and contributions to economic development, as women represent one of the biggest demographic opportunities both as market makers and consumers. Moreover, SMEs (often led and managed by women) are powerful engines that provide the backbone for ASEAN economic growth. As the region expects millions of dollars of total revenue from the e-commerce sector in 2030, achieving this growth will require more involvement of female entrepreneurs to drive SMEs and local business onto the digital platforms. Whilst there is momentum to shape the women-led entrepreneurship landscape in the region, challenges remain as to facilitate access to finance, infrastructure, and assistance for women using e-commerce platforms. Furthermore, more needs to be done to debunk gender stereotypes and foster digital inclusion to achieve gender equality online and to inspire more women-led entrepreneurs to reap the benefit of going digital for their businesses. As ERIA research suggests, as digital commerce will continue to be an integral part in the region’s growth, empowering leading female entrepreneurs at the centre of the e-commerce sector has become critical for the post-pandemic recovery.
The 8th episode of ERIA’s Entrepreneurship, Start-Up, and Innovation (E-S-I) webinar series with the theme ‘Women in E-Commerce’ was held on 22 September 2021 and attracted more than 140 participants from the Asia-Pacific region.
Four entrepreneurs from ASEAN countries shared their personal journey on taking the lead in the digital entrepreneurial world:
- Lishia Erza, CEO of ASYX, Indonesia;
- Pennie Lim, CEO of Homa Sdn Bhd, Malaysia;
- Mel Nava, Co-founder & CEO 1Export, Philippines;
- Shanaz Winanto, Founder of Rorokenes; Member of eTrade for Women Community, Indonesia.
Ms Lishia Erza, CEO of ASYX, Indonesia shared her story on what inspired her to become a leading entrepreneur of ASYX, a sustainable supply chain financing company which aims to promote the scale up of SMEs and circular economies in Indonesia. Through her initiative, Melati Nusantara, she emphasized the importance of providing technical assistance for female entrepreneurs in learning digital and financial literacy. She further emphasized how the pandemic has accelerated the shift to online business and how women entrepreneurs have a good opportunity to utilize this market. To do so, Lishia underlined several important factors to support women entrepreneurship in going digital, such as: obtaining new knowledge on technologies and finance, navigating digital solutions for scaling up the business, and having a good sales track record.
Ms Pennie Lim, CEO of Homa Sdn Bhd, Malaysia, shared her journey from running her family property business to launching Homa, an online platform that offers building materials and home finishing products with a strong focus on sustainability, aiming to re-define the global home makeover community through people-centric, sustainable, and environmental values. Pennie highlighted how Homa was born by taking advantage of solving an untouched problem in the construction business. Moreover, she shared her perspective on being a female entrepreneur in a traditionally male-dominated industry, where the drive to push beyond boundaries and connect with like-minded people are needed for female entrepreneurs – as depicted from her favorite quotation of author Trina Paulus: You must want to fly so much, that you’re willing to give up being a caterpillar.
Ms Mel Nava, Co-founder & CEO 1Export, Philippines shared her experience in building online trade and services to connect thousands of SMEs buyers and suppliers across the Asia-Pacific and Middle East regions. Mel highlighted how the pandemic has affected SMEs exports as most brick and mortar retail is closed and have moved online. The pandemic has further pushed the shift of focus of her business from building the right product, sales, and revenues to growing a sustainable operation for the business. Furthermore, she underscored several important skills for women entrepreneurs that want to go digital as follows: listen to the costumers, grow the business sustainably as well as adapting to unprecedented scenarios, and think globally especially in serving consumers beyond local.
Ms Shanaz Winanto, Founder of Rorokenes; Member of eTrade for Women Community, Indonesia highlighted her entrepreneurship journey that focused on developing an Indonesian artisan bag business that is both sustainable and ethical, emphasizing good products while fostering the community’s prosperity and promoting gender issues. In her view, going digital is an important tool for women entrepreneurs as they will be able to access more data, networks, market analysis, branding with purpose, and upscaling the business sales into the region and international market. Furthermore, as a member of eTrade for Women, a community platform facilitated by UNCTAD, Shanaz shared how the platform has further connected her with 100 women entrepreneurs around the globe, allowing more collaboration and information exchange on resources. She then discussed her experience with eTrade for Women by sharing her knowledge and training lessons for community clusters that work with her company.
The webinar was co-hosted by Dr Giulia Ajmone Marsan, ERIA Director for Strategy and Partnership, Ms Lina Maulidina Sabrina, Programme Officer, ERIA and Mr TJ Ooi, Founder of Curated Connectors, a Singapore-based start-up. During the Q&A session, moderated by Ms Lina, speakers discussed the challenges of going digital such as digital infrastructure issues, learning what customers’ needs, as well as building trust and transparency for a good e-commerce ecosystem. The discussion also touched upon the role of universities and policy infrastructure as an accelerator to support women in running their e-commerce business.
ERIA’s E-S-I webinar series is organised under ERIA’s Strategy and Partnership Programme, funded by Australia.
Experts from various sectors and backgrounds gathered at the annual LKDF Forum to address the importance of digital skills in the midst of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and their role in social inclusion. Under the theme, Digital Skills for an Inclusive Future, the LKDF Forum 2021 provided a platform to generate action-oriented debates for viable solutions to reduce the job-skill mismatch, bridge the digital skills gap, and promote dialogue for future partnerships.
“As we gather at this year’s LKDF Forum, I call for all of us to work together stronger to build a demand-responsive skilled workforce, reduce the global job-skills mismatch, and more imperatively, bridge the digital divide,” said LI Yong, the Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) his opening remarks. “We must support each other in our global drive towards the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development … and the development of demand-oriented digital skills in the inclusive, gender-responsive and sustainable industry, ultimately contributing to a generation of equality.”
Also present at the official opening was Carin Jämtin, Director General of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), who said, “Life-long learning and skills development are key building blocks to productive development or productive employment. It is an important means for inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction.”
Nine high-level dignitaries took the floor to share their expertise in digital skills training and its role in closing gaps and promoting inclusivity during the following opening ceremony. The Forum carried on with a theme talk by UNIDO’s Cecilia Ugaz Estrada, HP’s David Hollands and UpSkill Digital’s Gori Yahaya, who discussed challenges women and marginalized groups face when accessing digital skills and the practices aiming to address digital inclusion.
Six sessions led by experts from businesses, inter-governmental organizations and academia covered topics ranging from skill needs anticipation, inclusive business innovation, digitalization in inclusive education, workforce with diverse needs, to re- and up- skilling investments, and the motivation for life-long learning.
At the closing ceremony, Andrea De Remes, co-founder of Erandi Aprende, and Anurag Saha Roy, co-founder of Wikilimo, reiterated the importance of making digital skills learning available and accessible, and brought forward the question of how the international community should come into assistance. Bernardo Calzadilla-Sarmiento, Managing Director of UNIDO’s Directorate of Digitalisation, Technology and Agri-Business, addressed the interventions made by the two young leaders and called for the international community’s action to pursue an inclusive future for all and contribute to the Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.
“Youth are the future and they should be the ones saying what is needed. We need to […] involve young people in the decision making in order to develop the training and the upskilling that they need. A strong involvement of all stakeholders is key if we want to make education and skills accessible to all.”
For more information about the LKDF Forum 2021, please contact:
Official recording of the LKDF Forum 2021 will be available in due course in the LKDF YouTube channel.
, creating better jobs for more people.
We could not have known how critical access to digital technologies was about to become before the advent of the global pandemic. But in its wake, we are stepping up our commitment to support Africa’s digital transformation.
The Digital Economy for Africa (#DE4A) initiative was launched in 2019 in support of the “African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy.” Since then, diagnostic reports have been conducted for 35 countries. These diagnostics provide snapshots of each country’s digital economy, examining five digital economy pillars (infrastructure, public platforms, financial services, businesses and skills), while managing the risks associated with digital transformation. The data from these evidence-based diagnostics inform current projects and potential future initiatives.
The projects are diverse and robust and help to narrow the digital divide through electronic identification and banking, mobile money services, family support, training, and mentoring through digital hubs and universities.
, including health education and e-commerce.
, using data from Nigeria, the largest mobile market on the continent. The percentage of households below the extreme poverty line drops by about 4 percentage points after one year of mobile broadband coverage, and about 7 percentage points after two or more years, in large part due to increased participation in the labor force during that time. Broadband infrastructure is a key driver of jobs and productivity, especially in rural and remote areas.
The development of digital technology accelerates socioeconomic development. It also connects their citizens to many more services and opportunities. Data and digital innovation are transforming the way governments operate, increasing transparency and service delivery.Mobile money is providing an easy and secure alternative to the traditional banking system while increasing financial inclusion.
Yet the pandemic increased the challenges for those who lack the access, opportunity or skills to operate in the digital world. Seven million university students in Africa could not continue their education in 2020 due to closures during lockdowns. The crisis also underscored emerging risks around privacy and cybersecurity, emphasizing the importance of promoting a safe, secure digital transformation.
As a response, countries have scaled up efforts toward universal broadband access. Through our work under the Digital Economy for Africa initiative, we are committed to helping countries increase bandwidth and manage congestion; ensure the continuity of critical public services; prevent and mitigate cyber risks; and power financial technologies as demand for services such as health care, mobile payments, food delivery, and e-commerce increase. We are developing robust regional and country action plans with tailored measures to increase access and adoption of digital tools.
At the World Bank, we are stepping up to this challenge. We look forward to collaborations that will help eradicate the digital divide, expand and strengthen connectivity and promote positive change across societies and economies.
View all episodes on our Tell Me How: The Infrastructure Podcast Series homepage
In this episode, we discuss the digitalization of maritime shipping focusing on the benefits in terms of faster and better service, the regulatory changes needed to advance digitalization, the types of jobs that would be created and importantly, the need for good cybersecurity measures.
This podcast series is produced by Fernando Di Laudo and Jonathan Davidar.
Roumeen Islam: This is the World Bank’s infrastructure podcast. Following on from our last episode, today, we continue looking at shipping, and our focus will be on digitalization. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Panama Canal. The canal spans 82 kilometers, an engineering marvel, and it took 10 years to build. It allows 14,000 ships a year to cross from the Atlantic, the Pacific Ocean, saving huge distances and untold weeks at sea.
Of course, each vessel also pays a hefty toll, a $50,000. In 2019, the Panama Canal and Maritime Authorities decided to upgrade to their new maritime single window, which relies on digitalization, and at one stroke removed about 300,000 pieces of paper and saved over 3000-man hours every year. That’s a lot of savings, and in the pandemic, digitalization has proved really important.
The more digitalization of ports and shipping can help reduce queues of ships, waiting to dock and unload across major ports faster we will get the goods we are waiting for. Let us find out how countries should approach this change.
Roumeen Islam: Good morning and welcome. I am Roumeen Islam, host of Tell Me How. And today my guest is Martin Humphreys, expert on issues of transport, connectivity, and regional integration, specifically on the maritime sector. Martin will be speaking about how digitalization is transforming ports and the shipping industry. Welcome, Martin.
Martin Humphreys: Hi, Roumeen. Thank you very much, indeed. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Roumeen Islam: Lovely to have you. Martin, could we start by getting an idea of why maritime transport is so important to the world’s economies and to economic development in our client countries?
Martin Humphreys: Yes. By all means let’s start with maybe the larger figures. It’s fair to say that I think four-fifths of global merchandise trade is now carried by the maritime sector. It’s been growing approximately 3 percent a year since 1970 and amounted in 2019 to about 11 billion tons. It’s projected to continue to grow. And although the pandemic has flattened the trend a little bit, the expectation is that it’s going to be close to doubling by 2050. In terms of how it affects our daily lives, one of the sorts of anecdotal comments that people make about the maritime sector is that the maritime sector carries 90 percent of everything. The clothes that you wear, the shoes that you wear, the food that you eat, the furniture you sit on, it’s usually traveled by container ship from somewhere to somewhere before it comes to your door.
And increasingly, as we’ve seen over the last 12 months, whenever you have friction within the maritime sector, it translates very quickly into shortages on the shelves. At the most serious end, that’s food insecurity and increased food prices in our client countries. At the more humorous end, one of the concomitance or outcomes from the Ever Given blockage of the Suez Canal was the risk that you might run out of toilet paper because China makes 25 percent of the world’s toilet paper. And apparently there were a number of large consignments held up at the entrance to the Suez Canal on the way to you. I was just going to add for our client countries, particularly, the maritime sector is a crucial avenue for their international trade, and the relationship between the maritime sector and the cost of that trade, whilst it isn’t entirely clear, there has been an awful lot of work to indicate that a reduction or an improvement in the efficiency of the maritime gateway will have a direct impact on the cost of the international trade and obviously GDP imports and exports, incomes, and prices within the countries. Let me pause there.
Roumeen Islam: Yes, thank you. I was going to say that it wasn’t just a shortage of toilet paper that was worrying us. There were all kinds of shortages. You mentioned food. There were medicines, protective equipment, all sorts of things that depend on these ships getting to the ports, and the goods, getting from there to us. And in terms of what you just said, transport costs have indeed been a very important factor in determining trade flows historically. So, as it’s so important to trade, both internal and external, I assume, there’ve been substantial innovations in technology, both for ships and for ports — they carry much more cargo. And so, I assume you also require constant improvement of the physical infrastructure, is that right?
Martin Humphreys: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. Probably the biggest change in the last 70 years has been the introduction of, what’s known in the industry as the standardized unit load, but outside the industry, it’s the container. This was introduced in the mid-1950s by an American inventor, an entrepreneur by the name of Malcolm McLean. And prior to their introduction, ports historically had been noisy, dirty, extremely labor intensive. And because of the piece rate nature of the work, had led to considerable poverty and deprivation. Ultimately, it led to unionization and the protection of the workers, and that engendered a new set of problems.
The port was usually at that time in the heart of the city. So, every major city of commerce would have, at its heart, a bustling network of narrow streets and vessels and longshoremen and stevedores carrying loads back and forth to the vessels, but also carrying loads individually, sometimes from the port to retail and wholesale establishments. The introduction of the container actually revolutionized all that and realized an emphasis on cost reduction that is ongoing. It allowed, for the first time, a very smooth interchange with other modes.
And just to give you an indication, I think in 1956, in New York, it took approximately 2.5-man hours of work to move one ton. And that every time you lifted it, so from the vessel to the pallets, it would be 2.5-man hours per ton. And then of course, if we’re talking about 10 tons, it’s 25-man hours. And the pallet gets lifted out and put on the quay, and it’s another 25-man hours. And now, that’s done in two or three minutes in one container.
Roumeen Islam: So, containers are much easier to pack than sacks and they can also be lifted by cranes now. So, you don’t need those same laborers?
Martin Humphreys: Absolutely. Yes, it can be done in three minutes. The same work that had taken half a day and 50 men is now lifted out in one container, put on a truck, and driven out of the port. And it actually led to the movement of ports from the city centers to large open areas with good rail and road access.
Roumeen Islam: And the shipping industry also became much more capital-intensive. So, are we seeing that trend continue? Everything is becoming more capital intensive, is that right?
Martin Humphreys: Absolutely. The first vessels or the first container vessels, when they were introduced, carried about 500 containers, and then slowly, and that’s in the early sixties. Twenty years ago, the largest vessels were carrying 6-to-8,000 containers or equivalent containers. We call them 20-foot equivalent units in the industry. Now the largest vessels carry 24,000 containers and are the length of four football pitches and almost one football pitch across. And to access and egress the main ports, that requires the ports to expand both the depth of water that’s available, the strength of the quay, the size of the crane, and the access infrastructure in order to shift those containers in and out of the port quickly. That places a considerable need for public investment in parallel to the investment in the vessel. And there is obviously a difficult calculation. Although it reduces the cost of international trade, does it reduce it enough to justify the investment in public investment terms that will essentially increase or reduce the cost margins for a private shipping line? And that calculus is not always done clearly by the port authority and in our client countries obviously that’s some way that we help.
Roumeen Islam: Is there an estimate of how much a country might gain from investing in its ports?
Martin Humphreys: At the level of the port? Yes. I think it’s much more difficult to come up, partly because the industry is notoriously secretive, on the rates of charges and how they vary from the premium routes, say between China and Europe, or China and the west coast in America. So those routes that essentially serve the smaller ports in our client countries, despite the fact that it’s a network industry, unlike a public mail service, which obviously is a public good and charges the same rate to deliver a first-class letter anywhere– that isn’t true of the shipping industry and our client countries are disadvantaged by distance and by volume. But what that disadvantage is, the lines are very cagey about revealing. Let’s put it like that.
Roumeen Islam: Right, let us go back to digitalization. Can you explain what that term encompasses here, and why is this so critical for the sector? What are the risks? And actually, could you also speak about the risks for our countries if they don’t move on this digitalization path?
Martin Humphreys: Let me just paint you the historical picture. And I think that provides a nice background if I may. When the vessel comes into a port, historically, the captain would have been required as soon as the gang plank is dropped. He will be met by a number of representatives from public agencies within the country and the port in which he’s calling. And he will declare what he’s carrying on the vessel. He will declare the crew that he has. He will declare whether they’re well or not. He will declare whether there’s any personal effects that the crew is carrying. He will declare whether there’s any hazardous materials. And he will also declare what he’s proposing to load and unload at that port. And all that was done by paper.
He would also be met by the agent of the importer, who for a range of different consignments potentially, would also have a piece of paper indicating what they were expecting to receive. And this took quite a long period of time. It could take days. And then, the vessel with the men employed themselves would then be berthed for anything up to a week, whilst that cargo was unloaded by the day workers, the longshoreman or the stevedores.
Digitalization, essentially in its simplest form, means the conversion of all that text and the paper-based transactions into an electronic format. This obviously brings significant savings. It can be done in advance. It reduces the amount of time required at the berth before you can start unloading, to potentially nothing. It also, I think, removes the possibility of error. It removes the need for all those representatives to be there when the gangplank is dropped, and it can be done in advance. Unfortunately, despite the fact that it’s mandatory, it isn’t something that’s done in all ports yet. The international maritime organization standardized the format of the transfer of information and it’s now mandatory that all ports have to be able to receive this information in electronic format from ships, by EDI, electronic data interchange. And that’s basically the first step in the digital roadmap.
Roumeen Islam: Sorry, you’ve already saved several days with that first step. And we know from just reading the newspapers, and how much it costs for the Ever Given to be stuck, that each day cost a lot to a number of different agents. Is that right?
Martin Humphreys: Let’s just look at it from the vessel itself. If we’re talking about a container ship, not a particularly large one here, let’s talk about one that carries maybe 5,000 containers, that’s $50,000 a day, every day, it’s sitting idle. Multiply that by the number of calls the vessels will make in a port. And if you have each vessel waiting two and a half days, you’re very quickly accumulating waiting time costs of up to quarter of a million dollars.
And we did a study in Tanzania in 2013, where we looked at the cost implications of ships waiting at Anchorage. And there, the annual estimate was $252 million, which is similar to what we see now, actually in some of the South African ports.
Roumeen Islam: Okay, these are large numbers. So, you mentioned this one aspect of efficiency improving with digitalization, the paperwork and the processes that you have to do, they’re done fast. Now, what about other advantages? Does it reduce corruption, rent seeking, because you have fewer people, fewer bureaucrats to deal with or agents?
Martin Humphreys: Let’s be kind and say in its purest form, it removes the possibility of errors in the duplicate papers. It certainly reduces the time; it reduces the risks associated with individuals not being able to make a particular time or appointment. The ship’s agent, if he’s not there, his consignment would not be unloaded. If the customs officer doesn’t get there, then, at a particular point in time, there would be a delay until the captain was cleared to start unloading. And at the time of, within a pandemic, moving over to an electronic system obviously removes all the risks associated with a breakdown, of availability of key staff at the quay. So, it improves the resilience of the system as well by moving over to a paper-based system.
Roumeen Islam: Could you explain a bit more what you mean by resilience? We’ve mentioned the pandemic, but are there other areas where it might improve other situations and where it might improve resilience?
Martin Humphreys: If you think about the number of paper-based transactions, obviously the government’s implications are removed by moving over to an electronic data interchange system or digitalization, a digital system. Moving over to a digital system, a digitalized system, assuming that you have consistent power supply, and assuming that you have understanding on the part of the operators, you essentially get a stronger system that is more efficient in terms of cost and time but is also more robust to interference.
The pandemic gives us an excellent example about how the resilience of a system can be tested by the unexplained or unexpected. Another unfortunate, recent tragedy was the explosion in Beirut port on August the fourth. Now, at the time, that halted all the operations in the port, because the container terminal was a little bit further away. They had an electronic system in place. They were able to get back up and running in some form within days.
Roumeen Islam: I see. And I assume then, you hedge your gains, any kind of risk, it could be weather related ones as well. You’re better able to manage.
Martin Humphreys: As long as your power supply doesn’t go down because of the cyclone or the hurricane, yes.
Roumeen Islam: That’s a very important point, indeed. So, I think our listeners might be interested in hearing about all the port and ship infrastructure that’s involved in delivering goods. Could you describe for us a logistical chain for some goods that we use every day?
Martin Humphreys: Yes, by all means. I jokingly mentioned earlier about the maritime sector carrying 90 percent of everything, but the illustration that possibly comes to mind most quickly, and this displays possibly my preferences in the evening when I’m relaxing after work, is let’s talk about a bottle of Pinotage, red wine from South Africa.
Here, the only thing that comes from South Africa to a certain extent is the wine itself. And the bottle: usually sourced in China. The corks, I think I’m writing saying 80 percent of cork production around the world comes from Southern Spain, Portugal and part of North Africa; and are dominated by Portuguese companies, so undoubtedly, the corks will come from there. The eco labeling that goes on most wines now, particularly those that are being sold at a relative premium comes from specialist producers in the United States. So, they are all taken by container, down to South Africa, and they’re taken out of the port of Durban up to Stellenbosch.
The vineyard loads its wine into the bottle, puts the American label on it, and the Portuguese cork, and sends it back in the container at the Stellenbosch. It comes back over from Stellenbosch, to possibly via Northern Europe, to Savannah, Baltimore, and then goes from Baltimore onto a train or truck to the wholesaler where it’s unloaded. And then from there, will go on another smaller distribution vehicle to Wegman’s or Whole Foods, and eventually, you or I will buy it one evening and enjoy a nice glass of South African Pinotage.
Roumeen Islam: That’s amazing. I did not realize that so many ships and ports were involved in that bottle of wine getting to me. So, when I see all these ships, they’re more than ships that pass in the night. They’re actively collectively doing something.
Martin Humphreys: Yes, absolutely. And there’s another famous example that economists often quote as an illustration of how global trade takes place. And that’s, I think there was a publication a few years ago that was well known, The Travels of a T-shirt in a Global Economy, essentially, it’s the same thing. The cotton is grown in Texas, it goes to China to be processed, comes back to the United States to have the graphic printed on it. And then it’s distributed elsewhere in the world from the United States.
Roumeen Islam: Very interesting. So, let’s go to some of the obstacles that there may be in a port or a country to commence its digitalization journey. Is there a logical sequence? How should we think about this?
Martin Humphreys: There is, and the complexity gets more difficult as you travel down the roadmap. We talked a little bit earlier about the mandatory requirements. And it’s possible for those mandatory requirements to be met to a certain extent by the port authority and the stakeholders within the port themselves. So, the EDI interchanges between the vessel and the port authority and the other public agencies, if it goes through one channel, if you like, then it’s known as maritime, single window. When you start linking that to the other clearance agencies via a port community system, then you need to ensure that all the agencies understand how it fits together. You need to ensure that there is trust and willingness to share certain amounts of information, but also no suspicion that information can be accessed by third parties. And there needs to be a willingness to work with the private sector because they’re a key part of that.
Now, often in some of our countries, there is a certain silo mentality between the port authority and the customs agency for instance. Or, between the customs agency and the feeder sanitary agency that precludes, based usually, on a limited understanding of how to work together, that precludes the introduction of the more appropriate and complex technologies as we go forward. So, you need political commitment, usually at the highest level to be above ministry level, to ensure that you have a clear commitment and a clear understanding on the parts of all, that this is the journey you want to embark on. And then, you need to ensure that the people within the different agencies have the capacity to implement, but also to understand what the technology is telling them, and what the technology could potentially allow them to do.
And as one example, the movement of ivory through the ports of East Africa is a known problem. And the international maritime organization requires all loaded containers to be scanned before they’re placed on the vessel. So many of the port authorities have been investing in scanners, but the problem often is that the scanner operator has no capacity to interpret the images on the scanners to look for the ivory that’s in the container, potentially hidden away in, you know, the commodity groups. So there needs to be quite a lot of capacity building in terms of the human capital. And then most importantly, you need a legal, regulatory, and policy framework at the national level, across the different agencies, across the different sectors, that would facilitate the introduction of an optimal system. And that’s quite a challenge.
Roumeen Islam: So, this system would ensure that data are shared across the different units that need the data. That’s one of the important aspects of the legal and regulatory framework?
Martin Humphreys: What if you go back to my earlier example about the group that’s meeting the vessel at the quay side? And now, potentially with a digital system that is appropriate, the customs officer wouldn’t need to leave his office. He can log into the system. He knows in advance what’s coming, and what’s going to be unloaded off that vessel. He can check that the agent has paid the duty and that he can push the button to say that consignment is cleared. Of course, that precludes him, asking the agent for a small gratuity in order to provide that clearance, which is a benefit, but potentially it’s much quicker if he understands that. To get to that point, you need to have the customs agency and the port authority working collaboratively to ensure that the system will allow access to both, but the communication between the vessel and the port authority, and the vessel and the customs.
Yes. Undoubtedly, that data has to be transmitted in a format that will be recognized by the port authority and the customs clearance body. And it has to be done to a standard that would allow that vessel to make that same communication in every port, to every customs authority on every juncture in its journey basically, every point of call on its route.
Roumeen Islam: I want to go back to something you mentioned about capacity development and human capital. So yes, obviously there will be some training needed, some capacity development needed both managerial and technical levels, but then there’ll also be displaced workers, I assume, because as you get more mechanized and more digitalized, I assume that there will be some unemployment or am I incorrect?
Martin Humphreys: No, you’re absolutely right that this is going to be a structural change in the industry. And I don’t think in the same way that the introduction of the standardized unit loads, the container, was a structural change in the industry. Prior to that, the ports would hire many thousands of day workers: stevedores, longshoreman. And obviously with container ships and container vessels, the numbers dropped dramatically. Now, you have one crane operator who can do the work of 500 men in an hour, basically. Digitalization is going to also lead to some structural changes, particularly when you move further down the path towards greater autonomy.
Rather than having a crane operator, now, the crane will be operating automatically rather than having somebody driving a straddle carrier or reach stacker, these are the mobile vehicles that would lift a container for the stacking; that could all be done by autonomous vehicles within the port area, because the port area is secure.
So, the educational requirements, if you like, or the skill level of the port worker on average will go up markedly and yes, the number of port workers required will go down. I wouldn’t say in our countries that you know, our client countries with certain exceptions, that we’re there yet. I think at this end of the spectrum, we’re starting to see this in your Antwerp, your Rotterdam, your Shanghai, your Singapore. I think probably over the next 10 or 15 years, we’ll see this in Dar-es-Salaam, Cotonou, and in places like this.
Roumeen Islam: Yes. I think it’s very important to be cognizant that these structural changes could have impacts on the human level as well in the labor market as well. And to understand that if countries also undertake additional investments in efficiency and structural change, then it creates opportunities for labor to be employed elsewhere. But this is how it is with every structural transformation. Now, you mentioned standardization of documents earlier on, and I guess this is an issue that’s related to interoperability of the various systems used by ships and ports.
Martin Humphreys: The example we can draw before we move on to the digitalization of the text and the paper-based transactions, is one of the reasons that the container has been so successful, is it’s actually standardized. With certain exceptions: we have 20-foot containers, we have 40-foot containers. We have some that are high cubes – a little bit taller, some refrigerated, but the vast majority fall into the two categories of being 20 foot or 60, can be loaded on a ship in one place and unloaded another. We know exactly the type of crane we need to load it. And then it can be lifted onto a lorry which needs no changes or train, and it can go on to its destination. And that container can be loaded or unloaded at any port. So, the technology is the same everywhere. It’s exactly the same with the digitalization aspects. What you need is to ensure that the data that is transmitted by the vessel is done to a similar standard in every port so that every port can receive exactly the same data, the essential data that it needs, and act on it.
But the systems that receive the data don’t need to be the same, but the data needs to be conveyed in a manner that can be responded to by each and every port authority. One of the aspects related to this is the software on the landside, of course. You have options between proprietary software and you have options with open-source software.
Now, some ports have chosen to go down the papaya tree route partly because earlier there was little opportunity to develop open-source software. I think for many of our client countries, particularly the small island developing states, some of the smaller countries, those are pretty expensive options.
The port authority is usually one of the most profitable parastatals. Some form of modular open-source system will probably suit them better. As long as that system can receive exactly the same data.
Roumeen Islam: Could you talk a bit about increasing cyber security risks as we go digital?
Martin Humphreys: Yes. And we may, as we may have, you may have seen on the news relatively recently, we have one of the largest container shipping lines in the world, CMA CGM, a French line based in Paris, it’s entire online booking system went down for five days.
Roumeen Islam: How much did that cost it?
Martin Humphreys: They, as a private company, they’re not going to reveal it, but it would have been a considerable amount of money, it’s undoubtedly, as with anything. As you move down the digital path, whether it’s Wi-Fi in your home, whether it’s your home security system, there’s a risk, and there’s a risk that system could be breached. And what we’re seeing is certainly a significant increase now in the number of cyberattacks. Between February and May of this year, one estimate was a 400 percent increase. In 2017, Maersk, which is one of the biggest container lines was subject to an aggressive cyberattack that involved a Trojan and asked for ransom. And at the time their answer wasn’t paid, but it certainly led to a significant awakening on their part, of the potential risks. And just to give you an indication of the scale of potential intrusions here at the port of Los Angeles, which I think it’s probably fair to say, is one of the leading ports within the world in terms of protecting itself from cyber security risks, has about 40,000 cyber incidents a month.
Roumeen Islam: Oh, goodness. That’s a huge amount. A huge number. Yes. I see. I guess the advice to our clients as they go toward being increasingly digitalized, at the same time, it’s really important to think about these cybersecurity risks. Now, can you very briefly define what a smart port is? I’ve heard this term before, but I’m not sure exactly what it means.
Martin Humphreys: I wouldn’t say that there’s a consistent definition. You can look, depending on where you look, you’ll find a slight variation. It’s the ultimate point in the roadmap that we have laid out, together with the international association of ports and harbors, in the digitalization roadmap. And, essentially, we’re defining it as a sort of automated port that uses data analytics to make the right business decisions and to run their operations effectively, one would expect a smart port possibly to be run along the manner that I described earlier. So, they will use artificial intelligence. They would use autonomous vehicles. All of the equipment within the port will be connected to the internet things. They will use fifth generation, 5G technology to communicate. And potentially, they will have a digital twin, where they could manage the port digitally through an online twin. When you see it, it is terribly impressive, but I’ve only actually seen at the moment, I’m aware of, one port that has a digital twin, and that’s the Port of Antwerp.
Roumeen Islam: What a concept, interesting concept. So, thank you, Martin, that was really quite instructive. And I’m just wondering whether you would like to add anything?
Martin Humphreys: I think the only thing I would add right at the end is, and we touched on this before, it’s that the iconic figure of the dock worker for those of us who like old movies was, the sort of colorful, muscular Marlon Brando figuring on the waterfront. And the 21st century dock worker is going to be very different. And I don’t think the awareness of that or the need for that has sunk in some of the port authorities in our client countries yet, where he’s more likely to have a PhD than he is to have large biceps.
Roumeen Islam: This is a very important point that we’re ending on. Actually, I think perhaps you want to mention the publication that you’ve recently worked.
Martin Humphreys: Roumeen, thank you very much for the reminder. Yes, I do apologize. The publication I referred to in my comments throughout was: Accelerating Digitalization, Critical Actions to Strengthen the Resilience of the Maritime Supply Chain. This was the first in the new mobility and transport connectivity series, which we prepared jointly with the International Association of Ports and Harbors and was released in December last year. And we’re now following up, I think with a subsequent publication specifically on the cyber security guidelines for port authorities in our countries. Certainly, the former is available online, and the latter will be when it’s released.
Roumeen Islam: Thank you very much. And thank you for that information.
Martin Humphreys: Thank you very much for me. It’s a pleasure.
Roumeen Islam: So, listeners, what did we learn today? Well, firstly, we learned that countries could gain substantially by increasing the efficiency of their ports and transparency of their services through digitalization.
Secondly, such a transformation will require a number of regulatory changes and better coordination between different public authorities, such as the customs and port authorities.
Thirdly, digitalization will go hand-in-hand with a lower demand for unskilled workers, and a higher one for skilled, educated workers, as of other technological changes.
Finally, it’s really important that proper cyber security measures are adopted as countries digitalize. Losses from successful cyber-attacks can be large. That’s all for now. Thank you, until next time.
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Global call for frontier technologies, impactful partnerships and collaborative financing approaches to unleash the power of connectivity
More than a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic, amid relentless global demand for broadband services, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development has reaffirmed its call for digital cooperation, innovation with information and communication technologies (ICTs), and collaborative approaches to secure universal connectivity and access to digital skills.
The Commission’s State of Broadband Report 2021, released during the meeting, outlines the impact of pandemic policies and calls for a concerted, people-centred push to close the world’s persistent divide. In the world’s least developed countries (LDCs), no more than a quarter of the population is online.
“Digital cooperation needs to go beyond access to broadband,” said H.E. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Co-Chair of the Commission. “We also need to close the gap in the adoption and use of affordable devices and services, in accessible content, and in digital literacy.”
More than 50 Commissioners and special guests, representing government leaders, heads of international organizations and private sector companies, civil society and academia, affirmed that people-centred solutions must be at the heart of building a sustainable path towards universal broadband.
Commission co-Chair Carlos Slim, Founder of Carlos Slim Foundation and Grupo Carso, added: “To achieve our universal connectivity goal, we need to work together. We need to build a digital future that is inclusive, affordable, safe, sustainable, meaningful and people centred. We need to support infrastructure and to deal with affordability and relevant content to ensure usage. For that to happen, it requires concerted efforts.”
Connectivity for sustainable development
The Annual Fall Meeting, held in a virtual format, underscored the need to accelerate digital connectivity to fulfil the United Nations Agenda for 2030, centred on 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
“The absence of digital skills remains the largest barrier to Internet use,” noted Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and co-Vice Chair of the Commission. “Digital education must therefore be as much about gaining skills as about developing the ability to think critically in order to master the technical aspects and be able to distinguish between truth and falsehood.”
“UNESCO’s Media and Information Literacy curriculum, launched in Belgrade, Serbia, in April, provided a key tool to boost skills,” she added.
A newly released Commission report on distance and hybrid learning cites the need to foster digital skills along with expanding broadband infrastructure.
State of Broadband 2021
Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and Commission co-Vice Chair, warned that the pandemic had further exacerbated the global digital divide.
“I’m concerned that digital technologies and services, which have proven so essential during the crisis, are still out of reach, unaffordable, irrelevant, too complicated to use, or not secure enough for far too many people around the world,” he said. “I was pleased to see that the State of Broadband report calls for additional investments to advance progress towards universal access.”
Commissioners – recognizing the increasing role of digital technologies in all facets of economic activity – shared current strategies to incentivize investment in digital literacy, connectivity, and skills. Discussions spanned joint actions, initiatives, and hands-on, replicable solutions to boost broadband connectivity, drive capacity and policy development, and address persistent disparities of access, affordability, adoption and use.
Need for targeted collaboration
Other key speakers included H.E. Minister Abdulla Shahid, President Elect of the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly; Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman and Founder of the World Economic Forum; and Maria Francesca Spatolisano, Interim Officer in Charge at the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Technology.
In view of the massive investments needed, the group exchanged views on collaborative and innovative financing approaches to make it “worth the risk” to fund universal connectivity.
In the world’s 46 LDCs, only 25% of the population is online, noted Courtney Rattray, Under Secretary General and High Representative for the LDCs, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS) and a newly appointed Commissioner. He urged the Commission to prioritize connectivity in in those countries ahead of the Fifth UN Conference on the LDCs, set to happen in Doha, Qatar, in January 2022.
The Commission heard progress reports from its current Working Groups on key topics:
– 21st Century Financing for Sustainable Development
– Epidemic Management
– Digital Learning
– Working Group on Virtual and Data-Driven Health
Newly launched Working Groups will tackle additional issues in the months ahead:
– Smartphone Access
– AI Capacity Building
– Data for Learning
New Commissioners welcomed at this fall session include the Honourable Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados, H.E. Eng. Majed Sultan Al Mesmar, Director General of the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority of the United Arab Emirates; Professor Mercedes Aráoz, former Vice President and Minister of Peru; and Dr. Rumman Chowdhury, Founder of Parity AI., as well as Courtney Rattray of UN-OHRLLS.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) announced today the launch of the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation in the world’s hardest-to-connect countries.
These include the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries, and Small Island Developing States – groups facing specific development challenges and designated for priority assistance in pursuit of the United Nations-backed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.
The world’s 46 least developed countries (LDCs) are struggling to extend connectivity to all their citizens – even as pandemic conditions push economic, educational, and social activities increasingly online.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the least developed countries in unprecedented, profound, and disproportionate ways,” said the ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao. “Through partnerships with UN agencies, ITU aims to support the LDCs in the face of this challenge, harness the power of digital technologies, and turn today’s digital transformation into a development transformation for all.”
While Internet coverage and affordability are gradually improving in some LDCs, only 25% of people across all LDCs have started using the Internet. Another 50% are theoretically able to access the Internet but are not using it, according to the latest data on Internet connectivity worldwide.
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, ITU has re-doubled its efforts to help countries rapidly expand connectivity to connect the 3.7 billion people who are still offline, along with the millions of communities around the world where connectivity is still too poor to offer meaningful benefits. Based on the principles of inclusion, partnership and SDG-focused digital development, the Partner2Connect Coalition can pave the way to the Global Digital Compact and the 2023 UN Summit of the Future.”
The compact and the summit are among the main milestones in the UN Common Agenda presented this month by the UN Secretary General, António Guterres.
“The new coalition recognizes that progress can only be achieved through a multistakeholder based approach,” Bogdan-Martin added.
Usage gap widest in LDCs
A new report, Connectivity in Least Developed Countries – Status report 2021, highlights the persistent digital divide within LDCs.
The report, released at the Digital Coalition kick-off, was produced jointly by ITU and the United Nations Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS).
“Many LDCs are losing out on opportunities associated with the digital economy – and they shouldn’t have to,” said Courtenay Rattray, UN High Representative for OHRLLS. “The reasons go beyond access to broadband connectivity. They speak to the critical issue of Internet usage, which has to do with affordability, skills and the amount of local content. Enabling more people to get online and to use the internet productively will help deliver massive payoffs, not only in e-commerce but everything from education and health to governance.”
Along with affordability, the root causes of the wide usage gap include low awareness about the benefits of the Internet, lack of access to devices, insufficient skills, low content relevance, and lack of appropriate regulation.
Working to drive digital transformation
The Partner2Connect Digital Coalition aims to create a platform for global leadership to mobilize commitments, resources, and partnerships, and to implement solutions and projects, to drive digital transformation. Leaders from government, international organizations, and the private sector, as well as youth representatives, gathered from across the globe in a virtual launch meeting, sharing their visions of advancing connectivity to drive socio-economic development.
Coalition actions will focus on four key areas: connecting people everywhere; empowering communities; building digital ecosystems; and incentivizing investments.
Each focus area will be supported by a working group.
In line with the UN Secretary General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition has received support from the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology.
The coalition will also coordinate closely with the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development.
Convened by ITU, the four working groups will meet on a regular basis to discuss issues, define key actions, and make recommendations to advance coalition aims in each focus area.
Committed to progress
The coalition will work through a pledge and commitment mechanism set to be launched in early 2022, proving a platform for governments, private sector companies, philanthropic entities, UN agencies, international or regional organizations, civil society, youth organizations and academia to make financial, policy, advocacy, and programmatic pledges.
A tracking system will be developed to monitor implementation and report on a regular basis on progress and impact achieved.
The coalition preparatory process, starting today, will help refine the governance and pledge models ahead of the Partner2Connect Digital Development Roundtable, set to take place next year on 7-9 June during the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC, 6-15 June 2022).
The Partner2Connect Digital Coalition builds on the outcomes of the first chapter of the Road to Addis discussion series, organized by ITU to build momentum towards the WTDC. The second chapter of the series looks at the four Partner2Connect Digital Coalition focus areas, with events planned between November 2021 and May 2022.
Highlights of the first chapter of the Road to Addis series can be found in an e-booklet, The Connectivity Road to Sustainable Development.