To borrow the words of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, information and communication technologies (ICTs) and connectivity have “great potential to accelerate human progress, to bridge the digital divide and to develop knowledge societies.”
They can open the door to innovative services, create new growth opportunities and help countries leapfrog chronic barriers to development.
Yet, many people in the world’s poorest countries are unable reap the benefits of these life-changing technologies.
Launched today, the Connectivity in Least Developed Countries: Status report 2021, co-produced by the International Telecommunication Union (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), reveals that despite 76 per cent of the population living in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is covered by a mobile broadband signal, only 25 per cent are online.
This means that some 50 per cent of the one billion-strong population who could use the Internet do not, otherwise referred to as the ‘usage gap’.
The report identifies the reasons for this wide and persistent usage gap in the LDCs and provides practical solutions to overcome them.
Achieving universal and affordable access to the Internet
Efforts to close the digital divide have been ongoing for many years.
SDG Target 9c sets two targets aimed at increasing connectivity in the LDCs with a 2020 deadline:
– at least 95 per cent of the population should be covered by a mobile broadband network,
– and mobile data prices should not exceed 2 per cent of monthly income.
Only two of the 46 LDCs met both targets within the 2020 timeframe: Bhutan and Bangladesh. Other countries have made significant progress: four countries met the 95 per cent coverage target and two others met the 2 per cent affordability target.
This leaves 38 LDCs where network coverage remains limited and Internet access is too costly.
But the Connectivity in Least Developed Countries: Status report 2021 notes that achieving Target 9c alone would not be enough to encourage the remaining 75 per cent or so currently offline in the LDCs to use the Internet.
In fact, the persisting usage gap – even among those countries which have achieved or partly achieved SDG 9c – reveals that coverage and affordability are not the only barriers to Internet use in LDCs.
Rather, a lack of awareness of what the Internet is by far the main reason those in the LDCs are not using it. In a survey conducted in eight African or Asian LDCs in 2017 and 2018, 78 per cent of respondents said they hadn’t known what the Internet was. In Cambodia, this figure reached 97 per cent.
The report also finds that the high prices of services for both devices and services, a widespread lack of digital skills, and a limited awareness of the Internet and its benefits are some other compelling reasons for this usage gap.
The report outlines ways to expand digital access and provides concrete policy recommendations to promote universal connectivity. It recommends raising awareness of online benefits, improving everyone’s digital skills, ensuring connectivity in rural communities, and making hardware and services more affordable.
Launched by ITU today, the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition aims to foster meaningful connectivity and digital transformation in hardest-to-hit countries, including Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.
The platform will encourage global leaders to mobilize commitments, resources and partnerships to implement solutions and projects across four focus areas: connecting people everywhere; empowering communities; building digital ecosystems and incentivizing investments.
Committed to leaving no one offline
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development pledged to “leave no one behind”. In an increasingly digital world, this also means leaving no one offline.
Two key development meetings next year aim to galvanize national and international action to boost LDC connectivity.
Organized by UN-OHRLLS, the 5th United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5) will be held in January 2022, and ITU’s World Telecommunication Development Conference in June 2022, will both showcase solutions, secure pledges and solidify commitments to a global sustainable development agenda with connectivity at the core.
We encourage you to attend and engage in these upcoming dialogues to help us close the digital divide and bring the benefits of digital connectivity to everyone in the LDCs.
Governments and enterprises in many parts of the world scaled up investments in innovation amid the massive human and economic toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Global Innovation Index 2021 showed, illustrating a growing acknowledgement that new ideas are critical for overcoming the pandemic and for ensuring post-pandemic economic growth.
Scientific output, expenditures in research and development (R&D), intellectual property filings and venture capital (VC) deals continued to grow in 2020, building on strong pre-crisis performance. Notably, R&D expenditures showed greater resilience during the pandemic-linked economic downturn than in previous slumps.
However, the impact of the crisis has been highly uneven across industries, according to to a new GII feature, the Global Innovation Tracker. Firms with outputs including software, internet and communications technologies, hardware and electrical equipment industry and pharmaceuticals and biotechnology amplified their investments in innovation and increased their R&D efforts. In contrast, firms in sectors heavily hit by the pandemic’s containment measures and whose business models rely on in-person activities – such as transport and travel – cut back their outlays, the tracker showed. The GII 2021 shows that technological progress at the frontier holds substantial promise, with the rapid development of COVID-19 vaccines being the greatest example.
“This year’s Global Innovation Index shows us that in spite of the massive impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on lives and livelihoods, many sectors have shown remarkable resilience – especially those that have embraced digitalization, technology and innovation”, said WIPO Director General Daren Tang. “As the world looks to rebuild from the pandemic, we know that innovation is integral to overcoming the common challenges that we face and to constructing a better future. The Global Innovation Index is a unique tool to guide policy-makers and businesses in charting plans to ensure that we emerge stronger from the pandemic.”
In its annual ranking of the world’s economies on innovation capacity and output, the GII shows that only a few economies, mostly high income, consistently dominate the ranks. However, selected middle income economies, including China, Turkey, Viet Nam, India, the Philippines, are catching up and changing the innovation landscape.
Switzerland, Sweden, U.S., and U.K. continue to lead the innovation ranking, and have all ranked in the top 5 in the past three years. The Republic of Korea joins the top 5 of the GII for the first time in 2021, while four other Asian economies feature in the top 15: Singapore (8), China (12), Japan (13) and Hong Kong, China (14).
- Switzerland (Number 1 in 2020)
- Sweden (2)
- United States of America (3)
- United Kingdom (4)
- Republic of Korea (10)
- Netherlands (5)
- Finland (7)
- Singapore (8)
- Denmark (6)
- Germany (9)
- France (12)
- China (14)
- Japan (16)
- Hong Kong (China) (11)
- Israel (13)
- Canada (17)
- Iceland (21)
- Austria (19)
- Ireland (15)
- Norway (20)
The geography of global innovation is changing unevenly
Northern America and Europe continue to lead the global innovation landscape as regions by far. The innovation performance of South East Asia, East Asia, and Oceania has been the most dynamic in the past decade. It is the only region closing the gap with the leaders.
China is still the only middle-income economy that makes it to the top 30. Bulgaria (35), Malaysia (36), Turkey (41), Thailand (43), Viet Nam (44), the Russian Federation (45), India (46), Ukraine (49), and Montenegro (50) make it to the GII top 50.
However, only Turkey, Viet Nam, India and the Philippines, are systematically catching up. Beyond China, these larger economies have the potential to change the global innovation landscape for good.
“The GII shows that although emerging economies often find it challenging to steadily improve their innovation systems, a few middle-income economies have managed to catch up in innovation with their more developed peers”, says Former Dean and Professor of Management at Cornell University, Soumitra Dutta. “These emerging economies, among other things, have been able to successfully complement their domestic innovation with international technology transfer, develop technologically dynamic services that can be traded internationally, and ultimately have shaped more balanced innovation systems”.
New findings for the GII 2021
- Investments in innovation reached an all-time high before the pandemic with R&D growing at an exceptional rate of 8.5 percent in 2019.
- Government budget allocations for the top R&D spending economies, for which data is available, showed continued growth in 2020. The top global corporate R&D spenders increased their R&D expenditures by around 10 percent in 2020, with 60 percent of these R&D-intensive firms reporting an increase.
- The number VC deals grew by 5.8 percent in 2020, exceeding the average growth rate of the past 10 years. Strong growth in the Asia Pacific region more than compensated for declines in North America and Europe. Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean also registered double-digit increases. First quarter figures for 2021 suggest even more vibrant VC activity in 2021.
- The publication of scientific articles worldwide grew by 7.6 percent in 2020.
“Among the key findings of GII 2021, changes happening among the top economies are quite remarkable. In addition to Republic of Korea’s spectacular jump (from 10th to 5th), the continuation of progress made last year by France (11) and China (12) are confirmed, as both are now knocking at the door of the GII top 10. Those three examples underline the continued importance of governmental policies and incentives to stimulate innovation. Altogether, COVID did not disrupt the trends identified in 2019-2020, as financing (public and private) continued to remain relatively abundant for innovative firms, even outside the health and bio-sciences fields,” says INSEAD Distinguished Fellow and report co-author Bruno Lanvin.
GII 2021 partners on innovation
Global leaders in innovation in 2021
|Region / Rank||Economy||GII 2021 Global Rank|
|1||United States of America||3|
|3||United Republic of Tanzania||90|
|Latin America and the Caribbean|
|Central and Southern Asia|
|2||Iran (Islamic Republic of)||60|
|Northern Africa and Western Asia2|
|2||United Arab Emirates||33|
|South East Asia, East Asia, and Oceania|
|1||Republic of Korea||5|
Northern America, composed of the U.S. and Canada, remains the most innovative world region. The U.S. keeps its 3rd place for the third consecutive year, and Canada goes up to reach the 16th rank.
The U.S. leads in key metrics such as patents by origin, the quality of its universities and the impact of its scientific publications and in R&D intensive global companies. It also hosts the largest number (24) of top science and technology clusters in the world, led by the San Jose-San Francisco cluster. Canada tops in venture capital deals and joint ventures and strategic alliance deals.
Sixteen of the GII leaders in the top 25 are European countries, with seven of them ranking in the top 10.
Switzerland remains the world’s leader in innovation for the 11th consecutive year, and together with Sweden (2) has remained in the top three of the innovation ranking for more than a decade. Switzerland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (4) have ranked in the top five in the past three years.
A total of 10 European economies go up the ranks this year, with France (11) and Estonia (21) progressing notably. Finland (7) leads worldwide in rule of law. Sweden leads in patent families and co-leads in international patent applications filed via WIPO’s Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) alongside Switzerland, Norway (20) tops in ICT use and expenditure on education, while the United Kingdom leads in the quality of its univerisities and the impact of its scientific publications. Switzerland is the regional leader in innovation outputs, and in particular in patents by origin, and intellectual property receipts.
South East Asia, East Asia, and Oceania
The innovation performance of the South East Asia, East Asia, and Oceania region has been the most dynamic in the past decade, closing the gap with Northern America and Europe. Five economies are world innovation leaders: the Republic of Korea (5), Singapore (8), China (12), Japan (13), and Hong Kong, China (14).
Since 2013, China has moved steadily up the GII ranking, establishing itself as a global innovation leader while approaching the top 10. It boasts 19 of the top science and technology clusters worldwide – with Shenzhen-Hong Kong-Guangzhou and Beijing in the 2nd and 3rd spots, respectively.
The Republic of Korea went up notably in innovation results and in particular in indicators trademarks, global brand value, and cultural and creative services exports. Malaysia (36) has been hovering close to the top 30 for 11 years but has yet to reach the mark.
Thailand (43), Viet Nam (44), the Philippines (51) and Indonesia (87) have moved up between 5 and 40 GII spots in the past decade. Thailand and Viet Nam rank in the top 30 worldwide for the sophistication of their markets, and the Philippines does so in knowledge and technology outputs. They are now leaders in other key innovation indicators too. Thailand leads in R&D financed by business and Viet Nam and the Philippines are world leaders in high-tech exports.
Central and Southern Asia
India (46) leads the region and has consistently gone up the ranks since 2015, after making it into the top 50 in 2020. The Islamic Republic of Iran (60) and Kazakhstan (79) follow.
India becomes 2nd in the lower middle-income group. It continues to hold world leadership in the ICT services exports indicator, and holds top ranks in other such as domestic industry diversification and graduates in science and engineering. Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai are in the top 100 science and technology clusters.
Uzbekistan is among the most notable movers, gaining 7 places to reach the 86th rank. The innovation performance of Kazakhstan (79) and Tajikistan (103) improved in 2021 but has been less steady over the past years. Tajikistan takes the 2nd place among the low-income group economies.
Northern Africa and Western Asia
Israel (15), Cyprus (28), the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (33) and Turkey (41) are leading this region. The UAE has moved up the rankings since 2018. Cyprus leads worldwide in ICT services imports and exports and mobile app creation, while Israel leads in R&D expenditures, venture capital deals and PCT patents. The UAE ranks in the top 5 in the number of researchers in businesses and R&D financed by the private sector. Turkey makes a big jump into the top 50 and continues to systematically catch up. It also hosts two leading science and technology clusters, Istanbul and Ankara.
Eight other economies in the region move up the ranks, including Oman (76), Egypt (94), and Algeria (120).
Latin America and the Caribbean
Chile (53) ranks first in the region, followed by Mexico (55) and Costa Rica (56). Only Chile, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Brazil (57) are in the top 60. Mexico aside, few have consistently upped their ranks over the past 10 years.
Eleven economies in the region go up the ranks, with Argentina (73), Paraguay (88), and Ecuador (91) making the most progress. Brazil goes up 5 spots and achieves its best rank since 2012; and together with Peru (71), it overperforms in innovation for the first time ever. Brazil also hosts the only Latin American science and technology cluster in the top 100, with São Paulo ranked 66th.
Chile has the most-balanced innovation system, ranking well in indicators such as computer software spending, tertiary enrolment and new businesses. Brazil performs well in intellectual property payments and E-participation; Peru leads in microfinance gross loans and Costa Rica in cultural and creative services exports.
Mauritius (52), South Africa (61), Kenya (85), Cabo Verde (89) and the United Republic of Tanzania (90) are leading this region. Only Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania have been firmly in the top 100 and improved their performance over time.
Cabo Verde reaches the 89th place, a considerable increase from its 103rd place in 2013. Nine other economies in the region move up the ranks, including Namibia (100), Malawi (107), Madagascar (110), Zimbabwe (113) and Burkina Faso (115). Rwanda (102) regains the lead position among low-income economies.
Mauritius leads in venture capital deals. Namibia tops in expenditure on education and South Africa in market capitalization.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the largest number of overperforming economies on innovation (6), with Kenya holding the record of outperformer for eleven consecutive years.
About the Global Innovation Index
The Global Innovation Index 2021 (GII), in its 14th edition this year, is published by WIPO, in partnership with the Portulans Institute and with the support of our corporate partners: the Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (CNI), Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Ecopetrol (Colombia), and the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM). In 2021, an Academic Network was established to engage world-leading universities in GII research and support the dissemination of GII results within the academic community.
Since its inception in 2007, the GII has shaped the innovation measurement agenda and become a cornerstone of economic policymaking, with an increasing number of governments systematically analyzing their annual GII results and designing policy responses to improve their performance. The GII has also been recognized by the UN Economic and Social Council in its 2019 resolution on Science, Technology and Innovation for Development as an authoritative benchmark for measuring innovation in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Published anually, the core of the GII provides performance measures and ranks 132 economies on their innovation ecosystems. The Index is built on a rich dataset – the collection of 81 indicators from international public and private sources – going beyond the traditional measures of innovation since the definition of innovation has broadened. It is no longer restricted to research and development (R&D) laboratories and published scientific papers, and rather, is more general and horizontal in nature, including social, business model and technical aspects. For each economy a one-page profile is produced in which that economy’s performance on all indicators is recorded, relative to all other economies in the Index. The economy profiles also highlight an economy’s relative innovation strengths and weaknesses.
The GII 2021 is calculated as the average of two sub-indices. The Innovation Input Sub-Index gauges elements of the economy that enable and facilitate innovative activities and is grouped in five pillars: (1) Institutions, (2) Human capital and research, (3) Infrastructure, (4) Market sophistication, and (5) Business sophistication. The Innovation Output Sub-Index captures the actual result of innovative activities within the economy and is divided in two pillars: (6) Knowledge and technology outputs and (7) Creative outputs.
The index is submitted to an independent statistical audit by the European Commission, Joint Research Centre. To download the full report visit: www.globalinnovationindex.org.
Framework of the Global Innovation Index 2021
Corporate Network partners
Supported by the Portulans Institute, the GII Corporate Network comprises the Confederation of Indian Industry (the longest-standing corporate partner since 2008), the Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (a partner since 2017), as well as the Turkish Exporters Assembly and Ecopetrol Group in Columbia, which both joined this year. Their contribution is an important source of influence for the GII – firms and private sector entities are, after all, at the heart of innovation.
The Brazilian National Confederation of Industry (CNI) is the official organization representing Brazilian industry. Since its founding in 1938, CNI advocates the promotion of public policies in favor of entrepreneurship and national industrial production, besides articulating with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, as well as with various organizations and entities in Brazil and around the world. CNI represents Brazil’s 27 state-level federations of industries, 1,276 sectorial employer’s unions, to which almost 1.2 million companies are affiliated with. In addition, it directly manages Social Service of Industry (Serviço Social da Indústria – SESI), National Service of Industrial Training (Serviço Nacional de Aprendizagem Industrial – SENAI) and Euvaldo Lodi Institute (Instituto Euvaldo Lodi – IEL). CNI also coordinates MEI – the Entrepreneurial Mobilization for Innovation, created in 2008 with the aim of embodying innovation into the strategy of companies operating in Brazil, as well as of improving the effectiveness of innovation policies and the innovation ecosystem in the country.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) works to create and sustain an environment conducive to the development of India, partnering Industry, Government, and civil society through working closely with Government on policy issues, interfacing with thought leaders, and enhancing efficiency, competitiveness and business opportunities for Industry.
For more than 125 years, CII has been engaged in shaping India’s development journey and works proactively on transforming Indian Industry’s engagement in national development. The premier business association has over 9000 members, from the private as well as public sectors, and an indirect membership of over 300,000 enterprises from around 294 national and regional sectoral industry bodies.
With 62 offices, including 10 Centres of Excellence in India, and 8 overseas offices in Australia, Egypt, Germany, Indonesia, Singapore, UAE, UK, and USA, as well as institutional partnerships with 394 counterpart organizations in 133 countries, CII serves as a reference point for Indian Industry and the international business community.
Turkish Exporters Assembly (TİM) is the only umbrella organization of 61 Exporters’ Associations, representing over 100,000 exporters from 27 sectors. Since its establishment in 1993, TİM has aimed to ensure the uninterrupted continuation of the dialogue between the public and private entities to direct the export policy and to increase the competitiveness of Turkish exporters in the international arena. The primary mission of TİM is to establish a positive balance of trade in Turkey – where exports exceed imports – by making Turkey’s top firms ready to compete with the best on a global level. Innovation and entrepreneurship are inseparable from achieving competitive advantage. Understanding these concepts and finding meaning in public and sectoral consciousness, as well as making an effort to have the capacity to export in the fields in which we are competitive, are all essential parts of TIM’s corporate structure and action plans.
Ecopetrol is the largest company in Colombia and one of the main integrated energy companies in the American continent, with more than 17,000 employees. In Colombia, it is the leading company in the hydrocarbons value chain and, at the international level, Ecopetrol focuses on strategic basins in the American continent, with E&P operations in the United States, Brazil and Mexico. Most recently, with the acquisition of Interconexión Eléctrica S.A. (ISA), it has leading positions in the transmission business in Brazil, Chile, Peru and Bolivia, in road concessions in Chile, and telecommunications. We aspire to lead efforts for decarbonization and energy transition in the region, by applying innovation through 4 pillars of energy transition: competitiveness, diversification, decarbonization and TESG (technology, environmental, social, and governance), aligned with our goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. As the leading energy platform in the region, and the first oil and gas company to be a GII corporate network partner, we ratify the conviction of the role of technology as a catalyst of sustainability, energy transition and decarbonization – where innovation is an articulating axis. This partnership will allow us to have a greater position in an international level by being part of the discussion around the development of innovation in the country, the role of the company as the engine of economic reactivation and opening the possibility of collaboration options with leading CT+i actors in the network, all of this, to continue making the impossible possible for the benefit of the company, our stakeholders and Colombia.
Academic Network Partners
In 2021, an Academic Network was established to engage world-leading universities in GII research and support the dissemination of GII results within the academic community, comprising of:
Portulans Institute (PI) is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan think tank based in Washington DC. Founded in 2019, PI aims to develop cross-community knowledge and dialogue on how people, technology and innovation contribute to sustainable and innovative growth, and inform policy-makers by producing independent, rigorous metrics and data-based research.
PI brings together a network of thought leaders from government, international organizations, the private sector, civil society and academia to drive a business agenda that invests in people, technology and innovation for a prosperous future.
In partnership with the Portulans Institute, the Global Innovation Index (GII), founded by Soumitra Dutta and Bruno Lanvin, is published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). The GII has evolved into a valuable benchmarking tool that can facilitate public-private dialogue across policymakers, business leaders, and other stakeholders. The Portulans Institute also serves as the home for the GII Academic- and Corporate Network Partners.
The chaotic streets of Dhaka had gone strangely quiet. The government had imposed a national lockdown on March 26, 2020—Bangladesh’s Independence Day—ordering residents to stay indoors and shutting down public transportation. Hunkered down at a hotel with his management team, Waseem Alim was in a bind.
Alim’s business, Chaldal, had made impressive inroads delivering groceries through a web and mobile phone application. The people of Bangladesh were used to shopping at small stores and produce stalls, but they’d been warming to the idea of having fresh mangoes and other goods delivered to their door with a few swipes of their mobile phones. Flush with new financing, Chaldal had been looking to expand. Now, amid the worst pandemic in a century, nearly a third of its employees were unable to come to work because of lockdown restrictions. As firms around the country put their operations on hold, Alim was facing pressure inside the company to shut down the business.
But he couldn’t ignore a simple fact: orders for Chaldal deliveries were spiking. In fact, demand was so strong for some products that Chaldal had to ration essentials such as rice and cleaning supplies. Alim took a chance in keeping the business running, securing a permit from the government so the company’s bicycles, minivans, and motorbikes could continue making deliveries.
Chaldal’s sourcing warehouse in Dhaka. Photo courtesy: Chaldal
Today, more than 18 months into the pandemic, Chaldal has more than doubled its revenues, expanding its staff from 900 to 2,600 people. Alim is considering other business lines where Chaldal can expand, such as the delivery of medicines and other necessities.
Around the world, companies like Chaldal are looking to surf a wave of accelerated digital technology adoption that business leaders and policymakers hope could transform emerging markets and developing countries. A company called Fawry is helping Egyptian shopkeepers and their customers simplify the shopping experience through electronic payments. TradeDepot is supplying tens of thousands of small-scale retailers in Africa through its digital platform. And in Argentina, a company called Affluenta is expanding its peer-to-peer lending network.
By cutting out middlemen and allowing consumers to use mobile technology, Chaldal believes it has a competitive advantage in the fragmented retail supply landscape of Bangladesh, a country of 165 million people that’s celebrating its 50th birthday this year and aspires to be an upper-middle income country in the next decade.
Chaldal staff monitor the company’s logistics system at its facility in Dhaka. Photo courtesy: Chaldal
“We think we can play a very big role in consolidating the customer supply chain, providing more variety and quality to our customers,” said Alim, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
Globally, as countries imposed lockdowns and companies asked their employees to work from home, internet bandwidth usage around the world grew 38 percent, according to the International Telecommunications Union. McKinsey has described the acceleration in digital adoption by companies as a “quantum leap.” The average share of customer interactions that are digital, for example, jumped to 58 percent globally in July 2020, compared with 36 percent in December 2019, according to a survey by the consulting firm. The digital drive is impacting companies in a variety of ways, from pushing assets into the cloud to exploring ways to “reshore” production, replacing factories spread around the globe with domestic plants using robotics and automation.
An inflection point for emerging economies?
In developing countries, the challenge will be to ride the technology wave in a way that helps them emerge from the pandemic stronger. In the 1990s and early 2000s, emerging markets and developing economies had been the engine of global growth. But even before the pandemic, labor productivity was slowing.
Then came COVID-19. Firms that didn’t shut down were forced into semi-hibernation, sometimes propped up by government stimulus, loose monetary policy, and financing from international financial institutions. Investment took a major hit, plunging by 10.6 percent in emerging markets and developing economies (if China is excluded)—a much deeper hole than during the Great Recession. School disruptions have interrupted learning, undermining the accumulation of human capital. Economists expect the scars of the pandemic will run deep. Now, even as some advanced economies reopen, many developing countries are being battered by fresh waves of COVID-19 cases.
Emerging markets and developing economies are expected to grow 6 percent in 2021, according to a World Bank Group forecast issued in June, but the growth forecast is notably uneven across the developing world. In updated forecasts released in July, the International Monetary Fund warned that the outlook for emerging markets is darkening compared with advanced economies, with vaccine access acting as the main fault line.
But emerging markets and developing countries could re-establish themselves as dynamic forces in the global economy—if a technological virtual circle takes hold that boosts productivity. That optimistic scenario, according to World Bank Group economists, would require vaccination campaigns to proceed smoothly and policymakers to implement business-friendly reforms, including diversifying their economies away from over-reliance on commodities and tourism, and allowing resources to be shifted to more productive parts of the economy.
The digital surge could turn out to be a major inflection point in the history of development, said William Sonneborn, senior director of disruptive technologies at IFC. The growth of remote working, for example, could open opportunities for workers in developing countries to fill the needs of companies in advanced economies, stemming the “brain drain” that has often plagued poorer nations and helping them adopt a new development model based on skilled talent, he said.
The key, he believes, will be for governments to create a regulatory and tax environment that allows entrepreneurs to flourish. “It’s really about ease of setting up businesses and creating a risk-taking culture,” said Sonneborn. “What we need is for countries to avoid the tendency to tax at the early stage, when these businesses are losing money. If they’re patient and let the business become successful, then they can institute the right policies to recoup revenues for the government.”
Prioritizing digital connectivity
Policymakers in developing countries must balance the benefits of investing in digital connectivity with urgent needs in areas such as water, electricity, and health care, said Bogolo Kenewendo, Managing Director of Kenewendo Advisory and former minister of investment, trade, and industry in Botswana. Given the fiscal constraints many governments are facing, they will likely have to use public-private partnerships and other vehicles to crowd in private capital to invest in IT infrastructure, she said.
“Just two years ago, very few major businesses and governments wanted to engage in this conversation of digitization, mainly because it wasn’t seen as a priority,” said Kenewendo, referring to countries in Africa. “COVID has given everyone a kick to transform.”
In a country like Bangladesh, ongoing development of its digital infrastructure—and the skills of its people—will be key to the country’s fortunes. Buoyed by the strength of its ready-made garment sector, Bangladesh has been a development success story in recent decades. The rate of extreme poverty, defined as an income of less than $1.90 per day, fell from 43.5 percent in 1991 to 14.3 percent in 2016. Child mortality rates are falling, life expectancy is rising, and high-school enrollment for girls is on the rise.
But COVID-19 has hit hard in the garment sector, the nation’s biggest source of foreign exchange. Nearly half the population remains vulnerable to falling back into poverty. According to a Country Private Sector Diagnostic report released by IFC and the World Bank in June, the recovery will force a reimagining of the country’s development model, which previously relied on the relatively low labor costs. It will be critical for the government to introduce a new round of reforms to strengthen and modernize the private sector, which in recent years had become increasingly concentrated and inward looking, according to the report.
More investments in digital infrastructure will be important to Bangladesh’s efforts to build a more open, competitive private sector. Large capital investments are needed to build up high-quality digital infrastructure, including fiber-optic backbone, 4G capacity and telecom towers, the report said.
Digital banking grows quickly
A digital push could spawn more successes like bKash Ltd., which has been offering mobile payment services to its customers since 2014. The service quickly proved popular in Bangladesh’s traditionally cash-based economy. Mobile money has been a key driver of financial inclusion in the country, expanding the share of the population with access to financial accounts. Initially, when opening a bKash account, new customers would visit a bKash agent who checked their identification and set up an electronic wallet. Now customers can just scan their national ID and enroll from the app directly. They can also add money to their e-wallets by depositing cash at an agent, through remittances and other payments, or by transferring money from their bank account.
Since the pandemic, accounts have only continued to grow, reaching 54 million accounts as of July 2021. The service has literally become a lifeline during the crisis. The government has been using bKash and Nagad, another mobile financial services company, to distribute social safety-net allowances. bKash, a subsidiary of BRAC Bank Ltd., launched in 2010 and received a $10 million investment from IFC in 2013. Other investors include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Ant Financial.
“It was fundamentally designed for the unbanked,” said Kamal Quadir, CEO of bKash. “Today it’s become a universal platform.”
New forms of banking are also gaining traction in the Philippines. BPI Direct BanKo is the financial inclusion arm of Bank of the Philippine Islands, the country’s oldest bank. Since 2016, BanKo has been making microfinance loans to entrepreneurs, many of whom were previously borrowing from informal lenders. From an initial pilot of four branches, the service expanded to 307 branches. The pandemic has persuaded the company to further modernize its credit scoring model and develop new products under which the lending process would be mostly digitized, said Jerome Minglana, President of BPI Direct BanKo Inc. Under an advisory deal with IFC, the company is working to achieve those goals.
A client of BanKo, Ms. Joan Laguardia at her business. Photo by: Abeson Argosino/BanKo
“What the pandemic has done is it’s now challenging us to look for alternative ways to serve the customers without necessarily putting up brick and mortar branches,” said Minglana.
The digital wave is also hitting other parts of the developing world, including Latin America. Venture capital is plowing into the region at a rate outpacing the global average, according to data provided by Mountain Nazca, a venture-capital firm based in Mexico City that invests in early-stage startups in Latin America. The region is likely still early in its digital transformation, with promising opportunities in sectors such as fintech, e-commerce and clean tech, said Jaime Zunzunegui, managing partner at Mountain Nazca.
“The transformation is happening now and you have to be a part of it,” Zunzunegui said, echoing many of his peers from other parts of the world.
On 3 September 2021, the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) held an inauguration ceremony to announce the official launch of a national electronic tariff platform, implemented within the framework of the EU-WCO Programme for the Harmonized System in Africa (HS-Africa Programme). At the invitation of the LRA Commissioner of Customs Mr. Saa Saamoi, the event was attended by the LRA Commissioner General Mr. Thomas Doe Nah, WCO Secretary General Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Liberia Ambassador Laurent Delahousse, ECOWAS Director for Customs Mr. Salifou Tiemtore, senior officials of the Ministry of Finance and a wide audience of stakeholders including the private sector.
In his opening remarks, Commissioner General Doe Nah thanked the WCO, the EU and the e-tariff technical team, stressing that the new platform would contribute to the automation and digitalization of processes at the LRA. He pointed out that the initiative would enhance the efficiency of the LRA in how it delivered services to stakeholders. He recalled the ongoing transformation of the revenue system in Liberia emphasizing that the e-tariff platform was an important achievement in the context of this process, contributing to modernization of services across the country.
Congratulating the LRA on this important achievement, Dr. Mikuriya expressed his appreciation of the fact that in Liberia the intention of having an e-tariff platform transformed into reality within a rather short time period. He stressed that the emergence of electronic tariff platforms was a major development, which would facilitate the implementation of the Harmonized System by Members and also support Regional Economic Communities in Africa in tariff-related work. He reiterated that the WCO would be delighted to continue this cooperation with the LRA and African members and partners, thanks to the sustained and comprehensive support from the European Union in the context of the HS-Africa Programme.
Ambassador Delahousse stressed that he was particularly satisfied to see the continued cooperation between the EU and the WCO, which was bringing good results. He recognized the key role of the LRA and the Ministry of Finance as organizations in charge of issues that were critical for the society. He underlined that the EU had excellent relations with the Ministry of Finance and the LRA and would be glad to continue providing the necessary support. He welcomed the streamlining of the tariff management, which would benefit all actors, in particular, those involved in international trade.
Following a brief demonstration of the new platform, other speakers stressed that the initiative would bring Liberia into a better alignment with international standards enshrined in the instruments of the WCO, the WTO and the AfCFTA. The launch event was preceded by a series of workshops benefiting Customs officials and private sector stakeholders. In conclusion of the ceremony, the electronic tariff platform was made fully operational and went live on the LRA web-site.
The World Economic Forum plans to convene the world’s foremost leaders for the Annual Meeting 2022 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. Taking place in person from 17-21 January, the Annual Meeting 2022 will be the first global leadership event to set the agenda for a sustainable recovery.
The pandemic has exacerbated fractures across society. It is a critical year for leaders to come together and shape necessary partnerships and policies. The meeting will bring together forward-thinking leaders to drive multistakeholder collaboration and address the world’s most pressing economic, political and societal challenges. Further details will be announced in due course.
The wellbeing of our participants, staff, service providers and hosts is a priority. Therefore, the World Economic Forum is working closely with the Swiss authorities, as well as with experts, national and international health organizations to put in place measures for the Annual Meeting 2022 that are appropriate and adapted to the context.
Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum said “The pandemic has brought far-reaching changes. In a world full of uncertainty and tension, personal dialogue is more important than ever. Leaders have an obligation to work together and rebuild trust, increase global cooperation and work towards sustainable, bold solutions.”
Progressing cooperation on tackling climate change, building a better future for work, accelerating stakeholder capitalism, and harnessing the technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be important topics on the agenda.
Ahead of the Annual Meeting 2022, the Forum will host the fifth Sustainable Development Impact Summit to take place virtually from 20 to 23 September 2021 in the context of the United Nations General Assembly. The summit will convene under the theme Shaping an Equitable, Inclusive and Sustainable Recovery. It will welcome almost leaders from government, business and civil society who will work together to drive action and build momentum for a more sustainable and inclusive future.
Embracing new technologies defines a company’s competitiveness on the market today, its efficient operation and its future development. As businesses go remote, many of them transfer their valuable data to the cloud – experts predict up to 60% will be using external provider services by 2022. This allows companies to tune internal communications, process and store larger amounts of data and deliver more value to customers.
The Digital Transformation Officer (DTO) plays the key role in managing the strategic approach necessary to successfully undertake such transformations. Part of that success means managing cyber-risk. In fact, the World Economic Forum, in its guidance to boards of directors, recommends that organizational design supports cybersecurity. The DTO has significant responsibility in making sure this important obligation is met.
Investments in digital transformation are projected to reach $1.78 trillion in 2022. In this regard, the DTO plays the key role – their task is to drive the company’s digital transformation by ensuring seamless integration of novel technologies into business operations. This mission is complex and does not only mean introducing new software and hardware. It is about full revision of internal and external processes, training of staff, and, perhaps most crucially, implementing new approaches to security.
The need for the effective cybersecurity is growing in parallel with the increasing digitalization of work processes. Over the past two years, many industries have seen a substantial rise in security incidents.
Unless a DTO pays sufficient attention to security, one incident may disrupt the whole strategy of a company’s transformation and future development, bringing enormous financial and reputational damage. For example, in 2021 the average cost of a data breach has risen to $4.24 million, the highest in the past 17 years.
The main challenge for a DTO is not only to take a company to new heights through digital transformation, but to ensure that transformation is sustainable. This means she or he must ensure continuity of the company’s processes and not let a single cyberattack disrupt operations. With that in mind, cybersecurity becomes an integral part of every digital transformation strategy.
We recommend DTOs consider the following trends:
1. Securing digital assets
Moving to remote work revealed a lot of challenges and new risks – one in five companies were not ready to ensure stable business processes in case of failures in their IT infrastructure. To stay on the safe side, a DTO should manage a detailed inventory of digital assets. This will point out the most important resources that require protection in the first place, be they data, network repositories or workplaces; it may also reveal a wide range of unaccounted assets that could appear during digitalization. BI.ZONE research shows that 60% of data leaks and 85% of network compromises are linked with such assets. These incidents may disrupt the company’s daily operations. To avoid that, the digital assets need to be accounted and secure.
2. Cloud security
Moving to cloud offers companies significant flexibility as well as potential security benefits. Still, there are certain challenges, most commonly when a company becomes dependent on only one cloud service provider, e.g. due to specific data storage formats. In the event of vendor lock-out – if the service provider goes bankrupt, leaves the market, or suffers a cybersecurity incident itself – all the company systems in the cloud will be unavailable. In light of these challenges, the DTO needs to have a deep understanding of how their company is using and securing the cloud. It is important to learn in advance what solutions and formats are utilized by the supplier, as well as their compatibility with formats by other vendors, and to assess the cybersecurity level of this supplier. A DTO can arrange this internally or hire third-party IT experts for help.
3. Developing skills to operate novel technologies securely
Recognizing the human factor in digital transformation may offer significant benefits. Digital transformation requires new skills both from technical and non-technical specialists. Human mistakes and lack of knowledge often lead to cyber-incidents, notwithstanding a company’s investments into expensive security means. BI.ZONE research shows 80% of successful cyberattacks utilize social engineering methods. Therefore, a DTO can reduce the risks of incidents by promoting regular trainings for every employee and top management on how to work safely in the new digital reality.
4. New approaches to cyber-incident management
If any crisis strikes, the company should be ready at all levels to keep the operations going. A DTO should work closely with the company’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) to improve and regularly update business continuity and incident response plans, and to promote regular crisis-management trainings for all company members, including the board. Also, it is important for a DTO to be aware of the latest trends, and to test and introduce new methods of incident management. For example, there are managed detection and response services that foresee proactive approach to threats, or threat intelligence for building better security. Smooth introduction of these approaches may require specific experience and supervision of experts.
5. Outsourcing cybersecurity tasks
As digital transformation is an ongoing process, these tasks are complex, require substantial investments and may turn out rather difficult for a company to deal with. Besides, businesses are facing a deficit of qualified personnel – the global shortage for cybersecurity specialists has hit 3 million. Today there are expert organizations that help companies to go through digital transformation securely. They possess the required experience and capacities, the expensive equipment and software, and are aware of the tendencies within the field. They can also help to address cybersecurity issues and avoid common mistakes.
Digital transformation is a challenging but manageable task. It is important for a DTO to work as a team with the CISO, senior leadership, and the board and to stay tuned with the rapid changes in business and technologies. Addressing all the elements in a cross-functional way and prioritizing cybersecurity will facilitate secure digital transformation and ensure your company’s stable development for years to come.
Providing everyone with a transaction account to send and receive money electronically is widely considered the first step towards financial inclusion. For the unbanked, such accounts are seen as the gateway to savings, credit, insurance and a host of other financial activities and services.
Ongoing advances in financial technology (fintech) have introduced new ways to expand access to financial services and the range of services on offer, both for experienced customers and for unbanked people gaining access to transaction accounts for the first time.
Alongside the traditional offerings, some banks have moved to support “open banking” in coordination with third-party online service providers.
Innovations in fields like big data analytics, digital identity and biometrics have ushered in new ways to assess creditworthiness and onboard new customers.
With transaction accounts now offered not just by banks, but also increasingly via mobile money providers and other non-bank platforms, a wide range of players can be involved in enabling payments.
For financial regulators, this raises a range of questions, with the imperative to spur fintech innovation being balanced against the responsibility to manage risks.
Guiding principles for Payment Aspects of Financial Inclusion (PAFI), released in 2016 and updated in 2020, rest on public and private-sector commitments to provide everyone with access to a transaction account, a suitable supporting legal and regulatory framework, and the necessary financial and digital infrastructure.
Fintech’s rapid rise to prominence in recent years has led to further review of PAFI principles, again led by the World Bank Group and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI) of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). This time, the institutions focused on detailing how the PAFI principles apply to the latest fintech innovations.
The latest report notes fintech’s potential to broaden financial inclusion through initiatives embedded in wider country-level reforms.
Inclusive payment systems depend on close coordination between regulatory authorities and industry players, both to harmonize oversight and establish resilient infrastructure for electronic payments.
The right balance is needed between increasing efficiency and ensuring safety, as well as between enhancing the customer experience and protecting personal data.
The movement towards increasingly digital financial life, industry experts caution, may deepen exclusion for some.
Source: Bank for International Settlements and World Bank Group (2020): Payment aspects of financial inclusion in the fintech era.
Tracking financial inclusion
To help national authorities apply PAFI guidance, the project provides guidance for diagnostic studies to track transaction account access and use. The toolkit allows comparisons against international benchmarks or within each jurisdiction over time as countries strive for more inclusive payment systems.
Morocco’s inclusion strategy
The PAFI toolkit forms part of a country-level self-assessment for Morocco’s financial sector, says Hakima El Alami, Director of Payment Systems and Instruments Oversight and Financial Inclusion Directorate at Bank Al-Maghrib, the country’s central bank.
Morocco is making fintech solutions part of its national Financial Inclusion Strategy — which aims to give all citizens and businesses fair access to formal financial products and services, she said during the recent Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) Symposium.
Albania builds trust
Market access for new entrants also requires careful consideration, so that entities of all sizes enjoy equal opportunities for competition.
“From our perspective as a regulator, we need the market to have as many alternatives as possible, and this comes into force only with tools like a framework, infrastructure, and giving access in a secure and mitigated way,” said Ledia Bregu, Director of Payments in the Bank of Albania’s Accounting and Finance Department.
Bregu cited financial literacy as a key challenge, along with building customer confidence.
“When we speak about innovation and fintech, we need to build trust, so the new or unbanked part of the population has the same understanding and the same trust to use innovative tools to become more financially included.”
Financial inclusion can drive investment and economic development — important considerations for Albania and other relatively small economies in the Western Balkans, she adds. “At the end of the day we see it as a tool for economic growth,” says Bregu.
Mexico seeks network effects
Exponential tech growth means not only new services, but also new types of firms providing services, says Miguel Manuel Díaz, Director of Payment Systems and Infrastructure at Banxico.
This, he believes, has ramped up the pressure on central banks and other regulators.
According to Díaz, five key balances need to be maintained by authorities working to accommodate new types of industry players and services:
- Innovation versus risk mitigation;
- Economies of scale versus competition;
- Efficiency versus system security;
- Achieving diversity versus efficient system standardization; and
- Privacy versus security requirements.
Díaz sees two key tools to expand access to payment services while mitigating associated risks:
First, a central enabling infrastructure available to everyone. This supports competition among payment services and introduces network effects that help services reach as many people as possible.
Second, in-depth analysis to ensure the consistency of regulations with new market realities. For example, regulators may consider shifting from overseeing different types of institutions towards overseeing the different functions involved in providing a service.
South Africa recognizes limits of current regulation
While financial inclusion is a high priority today, this was not always the case in South Africa, says Pearl Malumane, Senior Analyst in the Policy and Regulation Division at the South African Reserve Bank.
“Over the years, the focus has always been on financial stability, but other regulators and also the South African Reserve Bank have come to realize the importance of financial inclusion,” she says.
“As a result, we have seen the growth of fintechs in South Africa, but we are aware that there are limits in our current regulatory framework. It is very restrictive in terms of what type of payment activities fintechs, or non-banks, are allowed to do.”
But the industry and its regulators need to persist in finding the right way forward, Malumane says. “Where fintech is enabled, it will enhance not only financial inclusion but also competition and innovation in the national payment system and throughout the country,” she says.
“Digital Jobs Albania” is a new World Bank initiative that will help women in Albania gain better access to online work opportunities and connect with the global economy. The initiative will provide intensive 3-month training in digital skills for women aged 16-35 years, empowering them to access online freelancer job opportunities in graphic design, web development and digital marketing.
The emergence of online freelancer job markets is creating new opportunities for Albanians to connect with the global economy. Websites such as Upwork, Fiverr and People Per Hour allow Albanians with the right skills to access online project work commissioned by companies and individuals anywhere in the world, while staying in their local communities.
Women in particular stand to gain. The female labor force participation in Albania is still 14.6 percentage points lower than for males. The gender pay gap remains 6.6 percent, according to 2020 data from the Albanian National Statistical Authority (INSTAT). The emerging online freelancing work model can play an important role in narrowing these gaps. Flexible work hours and the ability to work from home can help more women with the right skills stay in the labor market and gain financial independence.
The Digital Jobs Albania initiative, implemented in partnership with the Government of Albania, Coderstrust (an international digital skills training provider), and EuroPartners Development (a local consulting company), will provide an online training program to equip selected participants with in-demand technical skills. It will also provide mentorship to participants and help them develop the soft skills needed to successfully compete for project work on online freelancer websites.
“This initiative offers an exciting new opportunity for Albanian women to acquire digital skills and join the online economy – a blueprint to inspire future projects in this space,” says Emanuel Salinas, World Bank Country Manager for Albania. “No one can afford to be left behind in the ongoing digital transformation.”
The initiative is part of broader ongoing World Bank engagement in Albania to help the country leverage the economic opportunities associated with digital trade in goods and services.
“Albania has recognized the importance of digital markets as an opportunity for economic development. We have mobilized a team from across the World Bank to support this effort, through this new initiative and others in the future,” says Christoph Ungerer, the World Bank task team leader for the Albania Digital Trade Project.
To learn more about the Digital Jobs Albania initiative and how to participate in it, please visit: https://www.digitaljobsalbania.com/
The funds will support activities that can enable more countries to engage in and benefit from the evolving digital economy.
Switzerland has announced a contribution of $4.4 million (4 million Swiss francs) to UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy programme.
The funds to be provided through the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) will support the programme’s technical cooperation, research and consensus-building activities until 2024.
UNCTAD and Switzerland signed an agreement on 13 September.
“We sincerely thank Switzerland for the generous contribution,” said Isabelle Durant, deputy secretary-general of UNCTAD. “The financial support will enable us to scale up our efforts to foster more inclusive and sustainable development gains from e-commerce and the digital economy for people and businesses in developing countries.”
“Switzerland is proud to contribute to UNCTAD’s programme on e-commerce, which supports the establishment of favourable framework conditions for e-commerce in developing and least developed countries,” said Didier Chambovey, ambassador of the Swiss Permanent Mission to the World Trade Organization and the European Free Trade Association.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic revealed, a robust e-commerce ecosystem is needed to maintain trade flows and mitigate economic and social consequences in times of crisis, particularly in the most vulnerable countries.”
Spreading the benefits of the digital economy
The UNCTAD programme aims to reduce inequality, enable the benefits of digitalization to reach all people and ensure that no one is left behind in the evolving digital economy.
The Swiss contribution will boost the programme’s ability to respond to the growing demand from countries for UNCTAD’s support, not least in view of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has accentuated the need to support countries with the lowest levels of readiness to take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate the risks presented by digitalization.
Committed to digitalization
The contribution demonstrates Switzerland’s commitment to strengthening its support to digitalization in line with its International Cooperation Strategy for 2021-24 and its Digital Foreign Policy Strategy 2021-2024, both of which recognize the role of digitalization in meeting current and future development challenges.
The contribution will finance at least three eTrade readiness assessments, which will provide a diagnostic of the state of e-commerce in the countries concerned, covering seven policy areas considered most relevant for e-commerce development. It will also build on a close collaboration with selected eTrade for all partners.
In 2020, Switzerland topped UNCTAD’s Business-to-Consumer E-commerce Index, which ranks 152 countries on their readiness to engage in electronic commerce.
It scored highly across all four dimensions of the index, with 97% of the population using the internet (2019) and 98% of the population aged 15 and older having a bank account (2017).
It also ranked 7th in the world in terms of postal reliability according to the Universal Postal Union, and 5th among the countries included in the index for secure server density, a proxy for online stores.
Experts often cite the benefits of financial technology (fintech) and digital finance for women. At the same time, few women are represented in decision-making roles in this fast-growing industry.
While they make up half of the financial services workforce in many countries, women fill only about 20 per cent of the leadership roles. Their representation in emerging markets is lower. Even so, they do better in finance than in the other part of the equation, the technology sector.
A closer look at the figures
The overall tech workforce was 28.8 per cent female in 2020, and despite growth in women’s representation on boards and in C suites at tech companies in the past ten years, there’s still a long way to go. Out of nearly 1300 technology companies across the world, women hold on average 16.6 per cent of board seats.
While 35 per cent of higher education graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programmes globally are female, many of them, according to Catalyst, end up leaving STEM careers.
The fast-growing fintech industry doesn’t appear to fare better in terms of women’s leadership.
The financial industry is making rapid progress in boosting the number of women in senior leadership roles, but fintech lags more traditional finance in terms of gender balance. “Despite starting with a blank slate, fintech has emerged as an outlier struggling with gender balance at the board level,” according to international management consultancy Oliver Wyman.
Placing women in leadership positions tends to drive innovation, increase productivity, and boost profitability, says a study by Deloitte. Yet among fintech founders, women are less likely to receive investor funding than their male counterparts.
“More diverse teams create better results,” affirms Margaret Miller, Lead Financial Sector Economist at the World Bank Group and co-moderator of a session at the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) Symposium.
“It’s business sense to be looking at how we can incorporate women and women’s voices more in leadership.”
The stubborn gender gap in fintech leadership stems from more than the lack of diversity in financial services and the scarcity of women across the wider tech sector. Differing cultural norms also come into play, along with each country’s current economic conditions.
In Pakistan, for example, women are employed largely in the informal sector, says Roshaneh Zafar, Founder and Managing Director of the Kashf Foundation, a non-banking micro finance company. This reflects a pattern seen in many developing countries, with around 95 per cent of women’s work in Asia and 89 per cent in Sub-Saharan Africa being done informally, according to a report from the World Bank Group and partners.
Zafar pointed to educational barriers and questioned whether women were being educated to become managers. In her view, perceptions about women and leadership must change, which also means cultural stereotypes need to be broken down.
“The lack of networking is something that prevents women from getting not only the investments they require but also the amounts of investment,” she says.
“Women don’t lack the expertise or the ability. It’s really the perception that creates the glass ceiling, both within institutions and within the investor space.”
Championing women as leaders
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has started dedicating annual awards to outstanding women in the banking sector, with winners receiving learning opportunities at globally prestigious universities, including Harvard.
May Abulnaga, First Sub-Governor, sees a crucial role for regulators in promoting women, starting from the top down.
“Today, as a regulator, we have been able to achieve a number of milestones towards building an inclusive financial sector.”
The CBE has also undertaken a joint programme with Egypt’s National Council for Women to promote female financial empowerment.
Laura Fernandez Lord, Head of Women’s Economic Empowerment at BBVA Microfinance Foundation (a subsidiary of Spain’s multinational financial services firm BBVA), adds:
“There is only one way to move the needle to bridge the gender financial gap, and that is to lead by example.”
Possible approaches include promoting women champions for organizational change, bringing men into the discussion, training top managers on gender diversity, and investing in career counselling, career planning, mentoring and coaching for both men and women. But organizations and companies seeking to improve their gender balance may also need tools for tackling unintended biases, rules on hiring 50 per cent women employees, and mandatory availability of day-care facilities.
Fintech firms in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are piloting the business case for gender-intelligent services. The Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF) has actively helped to promote solutions from mobile wallets to merchant payment integration. Its Eight Lessons from the Field report urges fintechs to take a deliberate approach to meeting the needs of women.
Including women in fintech — a holistic approach
A study by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) recommends a holistic approach, both to expand financial services for women and increase the number of women in fintech. The supply of financial services is not by itself a panacea.
Governments, donors, and financial institutions must intervene where needed to boost financial literacy, improve product design, and address specific constraints for women.
Otherwise, rapid growth in digital banking and the creation of a cashless society could serve to deepen and reinforce the existing digital gender divide.
Even before the current pandemic, an estimated 52 per cent of women tended to remain totally offline, compared with 42 per cent of men worldwide, according to ITU’s 2019 Measuring Digital Development report.
In our post-pandemic world, the ability to connect to usable affordable digital services will surely be the new baseline for full social and economic inclusion, especially for women.
Participants in e-commerce negotiations welcomed two more clean articles — on open government data and online consumer protection — at a meeting on 13 September.
Ambassador George Mina of Australia said the two articles were “foundational” for the initiative. He said the high-quality text achieved in both cases reflected the perspectives of a diverse range of developed and developing countries, and thanked New Zealand, Japan and Hong Kong, China for leading the negotiating groups on these issues.
The online consumer protection article requires members to adopt or maintain measures that proscribe misleading, fraudulent and deceptive commercial activities that cause harm, or potential harm, to consumers engaged in electronic commerce. Members are required to endeavour to adopt or maintain measures that aim to ensure suppliers deal fairly and honestly with consumers and provide complete and accurate information on goods and services and to ensure the safety of goods and, where applicable, services during normal or reasonably foreseeable use. The article also requires members to promote consumer redress or recourse mechanisms.
The open government data article encourages members to expand the coverage of government data made available for public access and use. It requires members to endeavour, to the extent practicable, to ensure that government data they choose to make digitally and publicly available meets particular characteristics, and to endeavour to avoid imposing certain conditions on such data.
The co-convenors — Australia, Japan and Singapore — urged participants to build on the strong momentum to achieve substantial progress by the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) at the end of the year.
Ambassador Mina emphasized the importance of small negotiating groups in generating convergence and in ensuring inclusivity and transparency. This was achieved, he said, by regularly bringing the work of the small negotiating groups to plenary meetings and allowing all participants to make comments and shape the text.
The negotiations have previously produced clean articles on spam, electronic signatures and authentication, and e-contracts. A text on transparency has also been “parked”, subject to the final scope and legal structure of the negotiated outcome.
The meeting featured a detailed discussion on digital trade and development. Participants discussed proposals aimed at helping developing and least-developed countries implement the new rules on e-commerce and bridge the digital divide.
Members’ discussions covered options for capacity building and technical assistance, sharing of experiences and best practices, and cooperation with specialised international organisations. Members shared examples of existing capacity building initiatives that have helped countries implement digital trade rules and addressed challenges faced by developing and least-developed countries.
In his opening remarks, Ambassador Hung Seng Tan of Singapore said it was timely for participants to consider how best the e-commerce initiative could help all participants reap the benefits of the digital transformation. It was important for the initiative to deepen members’ understanding of the digitalization process, he said.
Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki of Japan said that it was important for the initiative to take into account participants’ different levels of development and ensure the negotiations progressed in an inclusive manner. It was crucial to maintain the strong momentum in the lead up to MC12, he said.
They will work with other stakeholders to create a conducive market environment for digital innovations to thrive in the region, leaving no one behind in the process.
UNCTAD, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) have launched a new programme to support the development of digital economies in the Pacific region.
The Pacific Digital Economy Programme (PDEP), funded by the Australian government, will be implemented with an inception period of two years, to be extended to five.
“PDEP aims to create inclusive digital economies by applying digital solutions to meet the needs of vulnerable islanders (such as in the agriculture, education, energy and entrepreneurship sectors), narrowing the digital divide,” said Australian high commissioner to Fiji, John Feakes.
“This will, in turn, have a positive impact on the lives of Pacific Islanders’, reducing poverty, improving livelihoods and contributing to economic growth.”
Building on long-term work on digital finance and e-commerce
This unique partnership is built on UNCDF’s long-term work on digital finance in the Pacific region and UNCTAD’s extensive work in the area of e-commerce and the digital economy, and implemented with administrative support from UNDP.
The programme includes both country-specific activities, initially focusing on Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, and region-wide research and capacity-building actions.
UNCDF’s regional lead in the Pacific, Bram Peters, said: “Digital technology has immense potential to improve the financial lives of Pacific Islanders. But we need to ensure that this potential does not lead to a digital divide as we have already seen in many other parts of the world.”
He added: “We are launching this programme to ensure all people are included and benefit from an ever more digitized economy.”
Shamika Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s division on technology and logistics, said the joint initiative is a great example of international cooperation between different UN agencies, in the spirit of the eTrade for all initiative.
“By bringing together the complementary areas of expertise of UNCDF, UNCTAD and UNDP, we can advance e-commerce and the digital economy in the Pacific. As such, this programme provides a valuable model of cooperation for other regions as well,” she said.
The design and implementation of the PDEP benefits from close cooperation with the Pacific Island Forum Secretariat and its activities are directly supportive of the Pacific e-commerce strategy and roadmap it recently developed.
The programme will also rely on close collaboration with a wide variety of other public and private sector stakeholders from across the region to create a conducive market environment for digital innovations to thrive, leaving no one behind in the process.
More than 60 percent of the respondents to a recent WIPO survey have been involved in B2B digital copyright- and content-related disputes in the last five years, with software, musical works, advertising, and literary works being the most common types of disputes.
The World Intellectual Property Organization’s Arbitration and Mediation Center (WIPO Center), with the financial support of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Republic of Korea (MCST) has conducted a survey on the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms for Business to Business (B2B) digital copyright- and content-related disputes. The results presented in the report are based on over 1,000 responses and interviews conducted with key stakeholders from 129 countries across all regions.
The survey targeted copyright- and content-intensive companies of all sizes, online intermediaries and platforms, creators, entrepreneurs, collective management organizations, in-house and external counsel, and government bodies.
Marco M. Alemán, Assistant Director General, IP and Innovation Ecosystems Sector noted, “Individuals and businesses need access to effective dispute resolution to ensure they are fairly rewarded for their works. Court litigation is not always suited to copyright- and content-related disputes, shifting attention to the benefits of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.”
“Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms can offer a viable alternative in a rapidly changing content environment. Compared to court litigation, ADR is more affordable, faster and easier when trying to settle cross-border, international disputes”, said Oh Yeong-Woo, Vice Minister, MCST.
Selected survey results:
- Survey respondents’ top priorities were the cost and speed of resolving these disputes.
- According to the survey findings, while court litigation was the most commonly used mechanism to resolve these disputes, mediation/conciliation was frequently used and was perceived to be the most suitable.
- Damages was the most common remedy pursued by claimants in these disputes (70 percent). Claims for royalties were also frequently pursued (60 percent).
- While the value of the disputes in which the survey respondents were involved varied, the majority (59 percent) fell into the bracket of USD 10,000–100,000.
- Settlement was the most common outcome of these disputes.
- Survey respondents were more often involved in non-contractual (57 percent) disputes than in contractual disputes (43 percent). The most common contracts concluded by survey respondents were software-related contracts, followed by audiovisual, publishing and advertising.
Recent international regulatory developments point to the need for effective mechanisms that provide an alternative to the courts for resolving B2B digital copyright- and content-related disputes. ADR procedures have the potential to significantly enhance the resolution of digital copyright- and content-related disputes by promoting accessibility, affordability, transparency, neutrality and fairness.
For example, the use of ADR is encouraged to negotiate and reach agreements on licensing rights for audiovisual works on video-on-demand services. The use of ADR is also encouraged to provide expeditious complaint and redress mechanisms for users over the removal of uploaded content involving copyright-protected works.
In the last five years, the WIPO Center has noticed the growing use of ADR for digital copyright and content disputes. WIPO ADR cases are predominantly based on contract clauses, where the parties select the ADR option(s) in advance. However, WIPO ADR cases increasingly arise from submission agreements concluded by the parties after the dispute has arisen and proceedings may already have commenced before courts or copyright authorities.
Taking into account the results of the survey, the WIPO Center, in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, is currently tailoring its ADR procedures to the specific dispute resolution needs of users, right-holders, and online content sharing service providers (OCSSPs).
Wacu Kihara is the founder of the sustainable and contemporary fashion label Khangadelic in Kenya. Her business was born from her passion for fashion and love for the environment. All her designs symbolize the colour and vibrancy of the Kenyan coastal culture and lifestyle, using reusable Khanga cloth bags from fabric offcuts.
Her online journey kicked-off in 2018 when she opened an eBay store, through a SheTrades project, and started collaborating with DHL to ship worldwide. However, her business only really took off with the the start of the pandemic in 2020. The key to Wacu’s increase in sales was adapting to the global demand and sharing good quality photos of her products in her online channels.
She shifted her production to masks and started selling them on eBay to customers all over the world, from the US to Japan, Ireland and Norway.
Wacu participated in the International Trade Centre’s Facebook Live series “E-commerce Tips from Peers”, organized by the ecomConnect team – the e-commerce initiative at ITC – where she provided a series of tips. Among them, she encouraged entrepreneurs to:
- Know their market to reduce costs. Knowing the market, customers and their preferences can help invest in what is more fruitful for entrepreneurs.
- Research competitors, their prices and the keywords they are using to attract new customers.
- Customize products and communications to your customers. For example, entrepreneurs can send customized emails to let clients know the status of their orders.
- Gather positive reviews. Customers’ feedback is everything: in online platforms, positive feedback is key to appear first in the search results. When Wacu’s business failed to deliver on time, she always refunded the customer to avoid negative feedback.
- Be up to date with legal documents to save time when working with payment solutions and logistic providers. This will help entrepreneurs save time.
Wacu also suggested that entrepreneurs build a quality network of businesses and associations operating in their respective sector. “By joining various WhatsApp groups of business associations, one is able to gain access to business opportunities and training. This is a great help for your business, especially in the first stages”, she adds.
Visiting them one per day, it would take you roughly 22 years to travel to all 7,100 islands in the Philippines – let alone knock on the more than 22 million doors. But luckily for Alana Gorospe Ramos and her data-gathering team, a sample of 43,838 households were selected for the 2019 National ICT Household Survey (NICTHS), a first for the Philippines.
This might still seem daunting to some, but for Alana, Head of Monitoring and Evaluation at the National Planning and Corporate Management Bureau at the Philippines’ Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) and her team, this has been a labor of love – as well as a vitally important task for the country’s digital transformation.
“The National ICT Household Survey is the first ever national ICT household survey that we are doing in the Philippines. It’s a milestone for the department as well as for the Philippines’ statistical system,” Alana explains. “And we’re very happy that other government agencies are actually finding the data very useful.”
You can’t fix a problem that you don’t know about
Data tells us where we were, where we are, what works and what does not.
Reliable and up-to-date ICT data helps decision-makers make informed decisions; they can design better, targeted and more effective policy interventions for digital development. This, in turn, creates wide-reaching impact through the creation of better jobs and stronger digital economies – and ultimately, improves lives.
Data is a vital enabler of socio-economic development.
“We realize now that this data is really getting to be very important with the boom in ICT technologies,” Alana says.
When Alana first joined DICT in 2016 – shortly after the department was established – much of the data used for planning, policymaking, project management and development was gathered from secondary sources because there was no mechanism or framework to collect it first-hand.
Alana wanted to change that.
Under Alana’s guidance, DICT partnered with the Philippine Statistical Research and Training Institute (PSRTI), with additional support from the Philippine Statistics Authority (NSO), to conduct the first National ICT Household Survey, which was completed in 2019.
Throughout the project, ITU provided technical assistance. Alana credits ITU with providing the impetus for ICT statistics development through capacity building activities and the recognition of – and belief in – the DICT in leading the development of ICT statistics.
“We hope that there will be more opportunities for collaboration as well in the future,” says Alana.
Click here to see the full results of the survey.
The NICTHS 2019 found that only 17.7 per cent of households surveyed had internet access at home, whereas the average for the Asia-Pacific region was 53.4 per cent at the end of 2019, according to ITU data.
“The results certainly showed that there is still a lack of digital infrastructure and there are still a lot of Filipinos not online. So now, this is certainly one of the priorities of the government: to get more people online,” Alana says.
This is an issue that is even more relevant in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic: “We’re very glad that the NICTHS was put to good use right away and was able to help other government agencies plan their own pandemic responses – and as well as give households an idea of how they can cope better with the pandemic situation,” Alana says.
Using the data, the government can implement efficient, evidence-based programmes and policies to improve connectivity and national ICT development throughout the country, and measure the success of future projects.
During his keynote message at the 31st National Statistics Month Opening Ceremony on 1 October 2020, which was hosted by the Department of Information and Communications Technology, DICT Secretary Gregorio B. Honasan II, said:
“The way forward, isn’t always simply forward. In traversing the complexities of our expedition towards national digital transformation, we need constant information. Information to tell us whether we should go left, turn right, or keep going forward at certain points. Information on what roads to take and what roads to avoid. Information that will not just point us toward the mark destination, but also tell us exactly where we are, where we came from and how far we have come.
This is where data and information and communications technology – or ICT – statistics come in. The data serves as our guide in ensuring that our government is steering national ICT development initiatives on the right course. We could call it, in a way, our GPS, allowing us to make swift yet informed decisions along the way.
With the added element of being citizen-centric, data and ICT statistics help shape policies that are reflective of the needs of the people, making sure no one is left behind, and that we are taking every Filipino along on our journey.
And the data is already being used to drive digital transformation in the Philippines – and benefit its citizens. For example:
- The NICTHS revealed digital infrastructure gaps, especially in rural and remote areas. “The National Economic Development Authority cited the results [of the NICTHS] to show that digital infrastructure is one of the priority projects of the Build! Build! Build! Program,” Alana beams. The flagship government program aims to improve the Philippines’ public infrastructure to promote economic development; this includes expanding digital infrastructure to the countryside.
- The survey also showed that e-commerce remains a key opportunity for the Philippines, which the Secretary of the National Economic Development Authority cites as a basis to incentivize citizens to use available financial technologies to drive ecommerce in the country.
How to deliver a successful ICT household survey
Alana and her team, as well as institutional partners, undertook several steps which helped to ensure the success of the first National ICT Household Survey, overcoming many challenges before knocking on doors across the Philippines:
- Promoted national coordination with the Philippine statistical system – a vital ingredient in the success of the NICTHS – through an Inter-Agency on ICT Statistics committee;
- Proposed and defended a budget proposal to finance the household survey;
- Gathered internal and external stakeholders to determine and decide the indicators using ITU’s references as a guide; prioritized the indicators based on their relevance to national ICT development plans and international ICT benchmarking systems;
- Oversaw rigorous development, design, and testing of survey instruments to check whether these were up to the task;
- Collaborated on national and regional training/workshops with DICT Regional Offices and the PSRTI to train enumerators both in the ICT indicators’ concepts and definitions, how to use the survey instruments, and the data-gathering equipment;
- Oversaw the implementation of the ICT household surveys.
Lessons learned and hopes for the future
“Doing the National ICT Household Survey was certainly not without its challenges,” Alana explains.
Some of the teams encountered poor connectivity in some rural areas, and conducting the enumeration process during typhoon season (i.e. July through November) meant that data collection was delayed due to bad weather.
But Alana has high hopes for the future. “As a first survey, we recognize that this could be improved. And we hope that succeeding surveys can be done and the national survey can be a part of our statistical system in the future,” she says.
“On a personal note, I’d like to thank my staff at the monitoring and evaluation division, they have been the most tremendous support, and I cannot thank them enough (…) I will certainly retire in a few years, so the responsibility will now be left to the young staff at DICT and I know that they will continue the good job that has been done. I hope that the appreciation for ICT data will continue and it will trigger more and more surveys to be done,” she says.1
With that, she has one message for her team: “I’m very, very proud of you and very, very proud of your efforts. Do continue the work: you are the future of the division. You’re the future of data – ICT data – in the agency.”
1 As of this writing, the 2nd run of the National ICT Household Survey may take place in 2022, with the inclusion of the survey budget in the President’s 2022 National Expenditure Program.
The transformations we are seeing in numerous fields – from energy and mobility to health care, agriculture, and financial services – all hinge on digital technologies, along with an array of associated business ecosystems. All these technologies and systems must be reliable, secure and deserving of our trust.
The Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) is an open framework for collaboration led by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Bank Group, and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI).
Our partnership brings together the expertise to accelerate digital financial inclusion. With the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we have brought together the full range of stakeholders set to benefit from this expertise.
The World Bank Group and CPMI have helped to build a strong understanding of the policy considerations surrounding digital identity and incentivizing the use of electronic of payments.
ITU’s work has focused on security, infrastructure and trust – secure financial applications and services, reliable digital infrastructure, and the resulting consumer trust that our money and digital identities are safe.
No more secrets
Considering the prevalence of data breaches, the need for strong authentication is clear, with discussions in the industry often noting that “there are no secrets anymore.”
New ITU standards for a universal authenticator framework (X.1277) and client-to-authenticator protocol (X.1278) are helping overcome the security limitations of the “shared secret” approach, the basis for the widely familiar username-password model of authentication.
Users can now authenticate locally to their device using biometrics, with the device then authenticating the user online with public key cryptography. With the new standards, users are asked to authenticate locally to their device only once, and their biometric data never leaves the device. This model avoids susceptibility to phishing, man-in-the-middle attacks, or other forms of attack targeting user credentials.
FIGI engagement helped to usher these specifications, first developed by the FIDO (Fast Identity Online) Alliance, into the ITU standardization process to stimulate their adoption globally. Authentication options consistent with X.1277 and X.1278 are now supported by most devices and browsers on the market.
Fortifying a walled garden
In developing countries, digital financial services are often provided over Signalling System No.7 (SS7), a legacy network protocol standardized by ITU in the late 1970s. SS7 enables all network operators to interconnect and looks sure to remain in use for years to come.
But security was not considered in its design. SS7 was designed as a walled garden. Entry to the SS7 network was intended to be highly regulated, with only trusted network operators being granted access. But malicious actors have since found various ways to get hold of the keys, especially since some of the initial design and deployment assumptions were no longer valid with the introduction of deregulation, voice over IP, and mobile networks.
FIGI has worked to raise awareness about SS7’s security vulnerabilities and associated mitigation techniques. As the need to mitigate these vulnerabilities increases, network operators can look to ITU’s new Q.3057 standard outlining signalling requirements and architecture for interconnection between trustable network entities. This is another standard rooted in FIGI discussions.
Reliable, widely available connectivity
Trust in digital financial services is also acutely affected by the reliability and availability of connectivity. Network downtime and transaction failures resulting from dropped connections can erode the trust of consumers and merchants in digital financial services.
Investment in digital infrastructure must continue, with the industry adopting meaningful, widely accepted benchmarks for service quality. ITU standards specify the route towards reliable, interoperable network infrastructure, and they provide a wide range of tools to assess the performance and quality of the services running over this infrastructure.
FIGI highlighted the demand for service quality indicators specific to digital financial services. With the expertise on hand at ITU, we have delivered new standards describing key quality considerations for digital financial services (ITU G.1033) and a methodology to assess the quality of user experience (ITU P.1052).
Security across the value chain
Every industry player involved in providing digital financial services has to be concerned about security risks. Security is only as strong as its weakest link, and innovation in digital finance continues to extend the length and increase the complexity of the underlying value chain.
Secure digital finance calls for coordinated defences that are attuned to evolving security threats. A key FIGI report outlines the security assurance framework needed to achieve this for each actor in the digital finance value chain.
The best practices suggested by the framework could form the basis for a safer business ecosystem. They reflect the needs of everyone involved, from customers to network operators and digital finance providers, right through to third-party providers interfacing with the financial system.
Join us in building trust
ITU’s new Security Lab for Digital Financial Services offers tests addressing the security of mobile payment applications running over legacy as well as cutting-edge network infrastructure. It is certain to provide valuable support to regulators and industry players, both in bringing greater consistency to personal data protection and in ensuring the integrity and confidentiality of our transactions.
Other FIGI reports address topics from the security dimensions of blockchain to the privacy implications of the growing use of machine learning to automate credit decisions based on alternative data, such as your airtime purchases and mobile money transactions.
Digital technologies promise to become the key unifying force for banking systems worldwide. But advances in technology must be matched with sound policy and interoperable technical standards. Only then can the digital transformation in finance make life better for everyone around the world.
ITU’s Digital Transformation Centres train over 80 000 people – 65 percent are women
The Initiative is set to expand in phase 2, applications are open. Applications submition deadline extended until 19 September 2021.Women from underserved and marginalized communities made up 65 percent of 80 000 trainees in the first phase of ITU’s Digital Transformation Centres (DTC) Initiative. The Initiative, launched in September 2019, saw the ITU partner with technology conglomerate Cisco in nine countries to help strengthen the digital capacities of their citizens, particularly in underserved communities.
ITU has opened applications for the second phase of its DTC Initiative, aiming to close the persistent gap in digital skills worldwide. Interested eligible institutions can submit their applications, as deadline extended until 19 September 2021.
“We want to leverage the momentum we gained in phase one, during which over 80 000 people from underserved and marginalized communities received digital skills training through nine DTCs. The popularity of this training has far exceeded what we anticipated, and greatly encourages us. Clearly, the pandemic has made everyone more aware of the need to be equipped with digital skills. ITU wants to expand the DTC network, but at a pace which will ensure that the quality of training is maintained,” said ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao.
In the first phase, DTCs were established in nine countries in Africa, Americas and Asia Pacific. The individuals who signed up for DTC courses received training in basic and intermediate digital skills.
“Closing the global digital divide is consistent with empowering people and communities, improving lives and livelihoods, and promoting sustainable development,” emphasized the Secretary-General. “Empowering people with essential digital skills is a key part of this – a challenge we are proud to tackle together with partners from the private sector.”
Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “The pandemic underlined that digital skills are key to inclusion and leaving no one behind in today’s digital world. The lack of these skills is becoming the main barrier to digital participation, particularly in developing countries. ITU’s network of Digital Transformation Centres plays a crucial role in bridging the digital skills gap and ensuring that no one is left offline. That is why we are expanding the network to increase the number of DTCs globally. We are continuously engaging with new potential partners to collaborate with us in this Initiative.”
The second phase is open to applications from any eligible national institution that commits to being an active partner in the network.
Applying institutions must have the mandate, or the support of their national government, to foster digital capacity in their respective countries, as well as a proven track record in delivering digital skills training at basic and intermediate levels to local communities.
Selected DTCs become part of a global network that aims to accelerate digital uptake among citizens and boost the capacity of young entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to succeed in the digital economy.
Any proposed DTC requires a network of fully equipped physical training centres, along with sufficient resources to deliver digital skills training. Detailed criteria are available here.
The second phase of the DTC Initiative will commence operations from January 2022.
Going forward, more DTCs will be able to join the global network in order to reach a critical mass of people with digital skills training in countries and thus allow them to meaningfully participate in the digital economy.
Further information on how to apply to become a DTC is available here.
BENEFITS OF PARTICIPATION
Institutions that become part of the DTC network will receive free access to training materials developed by ITU, Cisco, HP, and other partners at the global, regional and national levels; access to train-the-trainer programmes under the DTC Initiative; networking opportunities through DTCs worldwide; use of ITU and Cisco branding for promotion and marketing of DTC courses; authorization to award internationally recognized certifications to local citizens; and the chance get access to resources that will allow them to scale their national activities.
The first phase of the Initiative runs from January 2020 to August 2021, with nine DTCs: four in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia), two in the Americas (Brazil, Dominican Republic), and three in Asia-Pacific (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines).
The courses offered are designed both for people who have never used a computer, as well as those with basic digital skills and those looking to enhance their entrepreneurial skills through information and communication technologies (ICTs).
ITU has promoted wider partnerships to support the Initiative with both financial and material resources. In November 2020, the Government of Norway joined the Initiative financially supporting the implementation of training through the DTC network. Going forward, ITU aims to mobilize more partnerships in the second phase of the Initiative, widen the network of DTCs and scale the number of training activities through a systemic engagement with partners both at national and international levels.
Today’s digital economies are reaching across borders, far and wide. Digital regulation is pivotal to facilitate the flow of investment and services between industries and countries and to the build-out of high-capacity, resilient, open infrastructure for all.
To leverage synergies and pool funds, regulators are expected to engage in whole-of-government approaches, which must include collaboration and coordination at the national and local levels.
Collaboration is also needed to address social and economic priorities, firstly between ministries for information and communication technology (ICT), economy/finance, and planning, but also with those for education, health, agriculture, transport, gender, security and energy.
Stronger international and regional cooperation, meanwhile, could help to address thorny issues related to digital trade, taxation, data protection, and cybersecurity. Open markets underpinned by collaborative regulation can foster unprecedented opportunities for people of all backgrounds in health, education, finance, commerce, energy, ICTs and other fields.
The Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) – held annually since 2000 – provides a unique, neutral discussion platform for regulators and policy makers to share their experiences and best practices.
Best regulatory practices for digital transformation
This year’s GSR Best Practice Guidelines, adopted during the Heads of Regulators meeting on 21 June, will help countries optimize their regulatory strategies to drive faster and more inclusive connectivity. As in previous years, the Guidelines will facilitate high-value debate on the future of markets and regulation.
Published annually since 2003, the report builds on wisdom from the global community of regulators, helping to guide users through the uncharted territory of digital transformation. The 2021 edition addresses the unprecedented disruptions caused by COVID-19.
The Guidelines lay out the key features needed in regulatory regimes to keep digital markets ‘switched on’, accelerate market uptake, and deliver easy access to more people, faster.
Such best practices, if widely adopted, could help developing economies leapfrog ahead, with governments, businesses, and citizens reaping the full benefit of digital technologies.
New mechanisms needed
The 2021 Guidelines highlight the imperative to introduce agile financing mechanisms for digital infrastructure, access and use. What’s more, policy and regulatory tools are already at hand to bridge the financing gap in digital markets. Appropriate finance can turbo-charge regulatory progress, foster collaborative digital regulation – otherwise known as 5th generation regulation (G5) – and unlock digitally transformed, inclusive economies.
This year’s edition is more than ever community-owned, by the regulatory community and for the regulatory community, across regions and globally. Regulators everywhere need to adopt and implement a globally agreeable approach in a manner relevant to their particular national circumstances.
A sizeable toolbox is available for regulators to leverage evolving market dynamics, adapt in the aftermath of COVID-19, and seize new digital opportunities.
- Innovative financial instruments and targeted incentives can be tailored for traditional and new players in infrastructure deployment, especially in underserved areas.
- Dedicated national funding instruments, such as infrastructure and innovation funds, alongside universal service funds, could drive infrastructure development across economic sectors.
- Strategic tax policy, including tax incentives or tax deductibility for new investments and the removal of sector-specific taxes on digital services, devices, and equipment, can go a long way in fostering digital economies.
- Safe spaces for regulatory experimentation allow innovators to fine-tune new business models and build resilience of new digital services, thus giving people and businesses new channels for economic and social activity.
- Regulatory sandboxes reflect to the complexity of new digital technologies and services, reducing time-to-market and helping secure funding for broad rollout to new consumer groups and the previously unconnected.
The GSR-21 Best Practice Guidelines call for a sharp focus on policy implementation to ensure wide, sustainable impact. Policy and regulatory measures must be designed and applied to make digital devices available and affordable. This includes connecting schools, local government offices and health centres, creating e-government applications, and promoting local digital content.
Building on best practices and lessons acquired learnings over the past two decades, ITU metrics help regulators and policy makers navigate complex digital markets and technological transformation:
Based on these benchmarks, regulators and policy makers can find granular, focused analysis at their fingertips, turning high-level policy guidance into practical, actionable advice to measure progress, pinpoint gaps, and hone future regulation.
Bookmark all GSR Best Practice Guidelines since 2003
As the world continues to recover from the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, coping mechanisms such as increased use of virtual workspaces, online marketplaces and e-governance have become the norm. While this presents opportunities to revamp economies and streamline public service delivery, it may also heighten exposure to cybercrime.
In Africa, many countries have seen a rise in reports of digital threats and malicious cyber activities. The results include sabotaged public infrastructure, losses from digital fraud and illicit financial flows, and national security breaches involving espionage and intelligence theft by militant groups.
Addressing these vulnerabilities requires a greater commitment to cybersecurity. This requires enforceable policy safeguards, risk prevention and management approaches, along with technologies and infrastructure that can protect each country’s cyber environment, as well as individual and corporate end-user assets.
However, the latest Global Cybersecurity Index (GCI), released this June by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), suggests Africa’s levels of commitment to cybersecurity – as well as capacity for response to threats – remain low compared to other continents.
Regional average GCI scores
Africa’s cybersecurity gap
The GCI report examines the cybersecurity landscape in 194 countries by the end of 2020 and assesses their commitment to improving cybersecurity based on five pillars: legal, technical, organizational, capacity development, and cooperation. We highlight below the overall performance of African countries in line with these pillars:
Africa’s average scores (out of 20 points) per pillar
1. Legal: Out of 54 African countries assessed, 29 had passed legislation to promote cybersecurity. Four others are currently at the stage of drafting policies or seeking legislative approval. Africa comes second to Europe in terms of the prevalence of legislation. Of all the pillars assessed, this was the measure where the region recorded its best performance. Still, these legal frameworks lack adequate depth and breadth; only 17 African nations have adopted specific legislation to tackle online harassment.
2. Technical: This measures the mechanisms and structures put in place at the national level to deal with cyber risks and incidents, and particularly the existence of a reliable Computer Incident and Emergency Response Team (CIRT or CERT). Out of 131 CIRTs identified across the globe, only 19 are in Africa, with an additional 2 in the pipeline. Interestingly, 6 of the 19 emerged between 2018 and 2020, reflecting a notable rise in a short period. Africa has only nine sector-specific CIRTs, set to respond to particular risks. This indicates a lack of maturity in the region’s cybersecurity measures.
3. Organizational: This pillar examines whether coordination mechanisms are sustainable, if the roles and functions of implementing agencies are clearly defined, and possible actions to protect critical infrastructure. Based on this, only ten African countries possess a national cybersecurity strategy that fully addresses measures related to critical infrastructure. About the same number of countries have conducted an audit to track the progress of national cybersecurity efforts.
4. Capacity development: All but six countries in Africa lack capacity-development incentives for cybersecurity – which aim to bridge the digital divide, build institutional knowledge, or address policy awareness limitations and skills shortages for cyber protection.
5. Cooperation: Given that cyberthreats are borderless, countries need to embrace collaborative efforts on cybersecurity. As the GCI report reveals, just 19 African countries are signatories to multilateral cybersecurity agreements, in contrast to 41 European countries. Only ten African countries have entered into bilateral cybersecurity agreements.
Among the factors creating a conducive environment for cybercrime in Africa are limited public awareness and knowledge regarding the potential risks when using cyberspace, underdevelopment of digital infrastructure, limitations in institutional capacity to coordinate and implement available cybersecurity laws, and an absence of extensive cybersecurity policies. This implies room to improve the cybersecurity approach in African countries.
Model countries in the region
A few countries stand out as regional cybersecurity leaders. For example, Mauritius and Tanzania are top performers in the region in terms of GCI Indicators for 2020, with scores of 96.89 and 90.58 out of 100, respectively. Areas of strength for these sample countries include consistent investment in information technology infrastructure and skills, CERTs that also inform citizens on digital rights, and cross-border collaboration on cybersecurity initiatives. Other African countries could learn from this.
GCI scores by country
Our research at the Centre for the Study of the Economics of Africa (CSEA) highlights several ways to improve cybersecurity across the continent.
Specifically, decision-makers need to take the following actions:
- Increase public awareness campaigns to encourage behavioural change, such that Internet users are aware of possible cyberthreats and know to adopt preventive measures.
- Invest in building up cybersecurity capabilities and technologies to detect and mitigate cybercrime.
- Devote more resources to setting up and equipping CIRTs, ensuring adequate capacity to monitor and respond to incident reports.
- Legislate efficient procedures for investigating and prosecuting cybercrime, thereby to deter cybercriminals.
- Commit to enforcing robust legislation that governs cyber activities and protects digital rights.
- Where cybersecurity strategies are already in place, ensure better coordination and thus stronger implementation.
- Strengthen partnerships between domestic stakeholders – public and private – to encourage the sharing of intelligence on potential threats and collaboration to find lasting solutions.
- Enhance regional cooperation among African states to ensure a united voice when negotiating over multilateral cybersecurity standards.
- Adopt a collective, region-wide approach that encourages peer learning and knowledge exchange.
Note: The regional designations followed by CSEA are in line with African Union classifications. These differ from ITU regional designations in respect to the placement of some countries. Regional scores and observations may therefore deviate from ITU statistics and analysis.
Learn more about ITU’s regional presence.
“The pandemic has taught us entrepreneurs that together we are stronger. If we support each other, we can achieve whatever we want”, says Mónica Gamboa, Founder of Burío, a handmade business producing sustainable fashion in Costa Rica.
In 2020, Mónica decided to open an online store. Before the pandemic, she employed seven women and her main clients were schools and institutions. But the crisis caused a huge decrease in sales and the founder had to lay off her team.
It was then that Mónica decided to shift her business model: she researched new market trends, developed new products and gave her brand a new name. Burío’s founder also worked on a brand positioning strategy with structured promotional campaigns to define her target audience. Much of this change was guided by her mentor, Lucrecia de González, Founder of Casa Cotzal, a home-décor wholesale business in Guatemala.
The result of the joint work has been threefold: a new website for the Burío brand, increased sales and hiring the seven women with whom Mónica used to work.
“Supporting someone at a distance is not easy. Our collaboration has been an adventure, and dedication and motivation have been key. The tutor learns as much as the student. Undoubtedly, I would repeat the mentoring experience,” says Lucrecia.
Collaboration through the E-commerce Leadership Programme
Both Mónica and Lucrecia participated in the E-commerce Leadership Programme for Central American businesses led by women, organized by ecomConnect, the International Trade Centre’s e-commerce programme. It allowed advanced businesses in Central America to mentor fellow beneficiaries.
In July 2021, ITC held the programme’s final event, where six finalists presented their joint journey in opening an Etsy shop or a transactional website. The participating companies were:
- Arte y Decoración (student) and Rengifo (tutor)
- Caite Velas (student) and >Casa de los GIgantes (tutor)
- Liz Sirena (student) and Gato Negro (tutor)
- Rengifo (student) and Algodones Mayas (tutor)
- Eufonía (student) and Itza Wood (tutor)
- Burio (student) and La Casa Cotzal(tutor)
The winners of the contest were Carmen de Rengifo, founder of Rengifo, and Luisa Villavicencio, founder of Algodones Mayas, who were awarded support from ITC to optimize their websites, with paid ad campaigns and improved branding.
The event benefitted from the participation of the European Union and the Central American Economic Integration Secretariat (SIECA). “Women tend to support each other,” said Kathrin Renner, Cooperation Officer at the European Commission. “Solidarity is key to facing challenges that surely were not thought to be possible to achieve.”
For Carmen Romero, Director of Cooperation and Projects at SIECA, e-commerce was key for overcoming the current crisis: “As Central Americans, as women, we are happy to see that we are spreading our culture. E-commerce helps us transcend borders and is key in the economic reactivation process, generating sales and increasing employment in the region.”
About the e-commerce project in Central America
This programme is part of the Project “Linking Central American Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) with the Global Gifts and Home Decoration Market”, funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC) in collaboration with the Secretariat for Central American Economic Integration (SIECA) and national implementing partners in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama.