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WEF

The technology industry is booming – in the first quarter of 2021, global venture investments reached $125 billion (a 94% year on year increase). But if a rising tide lifts all boats, why has the inclusion and participation of women in tech not also shot up?

According to the most recent Global Gender Gap Report, it will now take 135.6 years to reach gender parity, up from about 100 years in 2020. Here, we meet 8 women CEOs and 2021 Technology Pioneers, who are working to change this statistic.

Amena Ali, CEO, Airside

On the work she is doing now

Airside’s Digital Identity Network provides secure and convenient digital identity management in a way that protects personal information and meets privacy regulations.

On facing and overcoming challenges

“I have come to find that creating a business and scaling it will not always be an ‘up and to the right’ dynamic. Setbacks are inevitable, whether on the front with a customer, partner, or your own team. To learn and bounce back from challenges, it’s critical to do retrospectives with the team. Doing so is key to building the company’s perseverance and resilience, and as a leader, you need to model that for the organization. In some ways, I think women can keep everyone’s egos in check and behave in a way that best leads the way through organizational challenges.”

Luan Cox, Founder and CEO, Finmkt.io

On the work she is doing now

FinMkt is revolutionizing point-of-sale consumer lending through its omni-channel, multi-lender, software-as-a-service platform.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“It needs to start with changing the perception of what qualifies ‘a founder’ within our global culture: This begins by teaching and coaching young people that successful entrepreneurs are not classified or limited by gender. If young males are taught early that females can be impactful leaders and entrepreneurs, they will be more supportive and better able to recognize success. Young women should learn that they are equal to men, and can and must dream big: women must know that they can be even better business builders (especially in technology, life sciences and finance). Additionally, venture capital firms and angel investor groups would do well to create and invest in mentorship and training programmes in their communities that provide tools and guidance that encourage more young females to start their own companies knowing they are supported by an inclusive network.”

Mikela Druckman, Co-founder and CEO, GreyParrot

On the work she is doing now

GreyParrot provides AI-based computer vision waste recognition software to monitor, audit and sort large flows of recyclables at scale.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“Firstly, we have to stop celebrating hyperbolic visions of founders and value different metrics of progress and success. Women will have a tendency to downplay or be more cautious in their projections, but are equally capable of building great ambitious companies. Secondly, we need to normalize the combination of family life with entrepreneurship. Many women will hesitate to start a company because of the perceived all-consuming lifestyle of a start-up founder and expectations of investors. In reality, a good founder will lead a ‘sustainable’ lifestyle that allows to build a company over five-10 years, and this should include the possibility of having a family. The ecosystem should celebrate female or male founders having families and discourage the narrative of the sleep-deprived, over-worked founders as the only way to success. Finally, we need more women in partner positions in VC firms to create a more balanced investment community that is attractive and welcoming to female founders too.”

Maria Carolina Fujihara, Founder & CEO, SINAI Technologies

On the work she is doing now

SINAI Technologies is mitigating climate change by enabling organizations with digitized tools for intelligent carbon emissions measurement, reporting and mitigation option assessment.

On facing and overcoming challenges

“Besides being a female founder, I’m also a Brazilian female immigrant. I moved to the US four years ago (I bought my own ticket!) and had to build an entire life from scratch, not only a company. Latin female founders represent only 4% of all female founders in the US. The biggest challenge was at the very early stages, when I was still trying to figure out my own voice and didn’t have the baggage needed to position myself, I was constantly judged because of the way I look, my gender, my accent. I tried to make friends, but I didn’t have the money to hang out with them, go out for dinners and mingle. Being very focused on my decision, trusting myself and my passion, listening to my intuition, my gut, and being my authentic self no matter what, was the only way to overcome the judgement, the exclusion and the fear of being an impostor.”

Priya Lakhani, Founder and CEO, CENTURY Tech

PRIYA LAKHANI IS CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF CENTURY TECH, A COMPANY DESIGNING AND TRIALING ED TECH SOFTWARE THAT IMPROVES TEACHERS WORKFLOW AND UNDERSTANDING OF WHICH PUPILS NEED FURTHER HELP WITH THEIOR LEARNING.©RUSSELL SACH - 0771 882 6138

On the work she is doing now

CENTURY develops world-leading AI-based learning technologies. Its team of teachers, neuroscientists and technologists develop AI tools for schools and colleges, as well as for learning and development environments.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“If we are to encourage more girls to consider careers as start-up founders, we need to start by encouraging them to take more calculated risks from an early age. There is no part of start-up life that doesn’t include taking big, calculated risks, so it tends to only attract people who are more inclined that way. That tends to lean towards men, at least partly because of how we raise girls with far more caution. It stems from everything like protecting girls when playing more than boys, which research has found to be prevalent among parents, to the types of role models girls see in these industries. But I am confident that we are heading in the right direction and that being a start-up founder is an incredible opportunity regardless of your gender.”

Nita Madhav, CEO, Metabiota

On the work she is doing now

Metabiota harnesses data science, provides analytical tools and delivers hands-on support, helping governments and businesses around the world mitigate and transfer the health and economic risks posed by infectious disease.

On facing and overcoming challenges

“This might sound like a cliche, but whether it’s establishing technical credibility or a presence in the boardroom, I’ve often felt that I’ve had to strive to be extraordinary and prove myself to a greater degree, working 10 times harder just for people to take me seriously. I don’t know if the main reason is due to being female, or if it is my understated, introverted personality, but I feel like some combination thereof means I don’t fit the preconceived notion of what a CEO is, and it can be difficult to overcome other people’s biases, whether they are implicit or explicit. It’s been my observation that a person who fits the more ‘traditional’ CEO mold seems to be given a certain amount of assumed baseline credibility, while for those who don’t fit the mould, it is not just a given, and it can be a battle just to get there.”

Ruth Poliakine Baruchi, Founder and CEO, Myndyou

On the work she is doing now

MyndYou’s AI-powered virtual care assistant takes population health and patient care management to an entirely new level.

On the strengths of women founders

“Every entrepreneur, regardless of gender, has different skills, experiences and goals. But in my experience, female entrepreneurs are reliable, responsible and attentive. Relationships and collaboration are important to them. I think, too, that women entrepreneurs tend to see how a solution, product or technology can benefit society at large. My company built a groundbreaking commercial solution, but it grew out of my desire to improve the life, health and independence of older adults who are living at home.”

Jutta Steiner, CEO, Parity Technologies

On the work she is doing now

Parity Technologies is a core blockchain infrastructure company. It is creating an open-source creative common that will enable people to create better institutions through technology.

On getting more women in leadership in tech

“I’ve gotten this question a lot, and the key for me is that rather than asking, “Why aren’t there more women? or “How do we get more women interested?”, we should highlight the great work being done by women already here, and use that as an invitation for others to come and build on our successes.”

EIF

New World Bank report shows how data could make an impact, and offers pathways to do so

The creation, use, misuse and control of data is the subject of intense debate today, as it should be. Individuals still ponder how best to manage and protect their personal data, and governments, private businesses and international bodies may have informed data management policies, or none at all.

But decisions need to be made in this complicated landscape. And this is especially true for developing countries, which are largely left out of global data discussions but where the right data policies could bring a lot of benefits.

A new World Bank analysis, the World Development Report 2021: Data for Better Lives (WDR 2021), foregrounds lower-income countries and the ways they could gain, or lose, with data governance and management decisions. These are places, which include the least developed countries (LDCs), that may struggle with a host of issues from internet connectivity to conflict and instability that affect their capacity to collect, manage, store and govern their own data.

Information is flowing and growing at massive rates. In 2020, global internet traffic was estimated to be more than three zettabytes, or 3,000,000,000,000 gigabytes (GB). Picture this as two piles of books sitting on the Earth’s surface transmitted to the International Space Station every second.

And the speed of growth – including in data centers, in the services trade and in broadband – means that countries without the infrastructure, the plans and the policies can very quickly be left behind. Below is a snapshot of the report’s findings, with a focus on LDCs, trade and what could happen next.

Nations need data

Data can be a force to obtain development benefits, the World Bank report states, helping to drive economies, empower citizens and improve public services. For example, various countries marshalled cellular data to track the spread of COVID-19, including The Gambia, where the government used call detail records to help determine whether lockdowns were effective in reducing people’s movements.

The report notes that the creative use of data, of sharing and using and using again and combining different types, is a way to deliver more progress beyond the original intent of the data collection. Seeing data in this way, as having multiple purposes, can help to develop more insights that can lead to better impacts. Safely reusing and combining data from public and private sources while also applying modern analytical techniques allows data sets to be more precise and more time-sensitive.

Information about households can be used in a host of positive ways, including to identify community needs and to direct services accordingly. For example, Tanzania was able to create a more detailed map of its impoverished regions using household data combined with satellite imagery (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

 

Source: World Development Report 2021, Data for Better Lives. Tanzania, Mainland Poverty Assessment 2019: Executive Summary.” World Bank, Washington,

DC. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/tanzania/publication/tanzanias-path-to-poverty-reduction-and-pro-poor-growth. Data at https://datacatalog.worldbank.org/dataset/world-development-report-2021-map-o3

But countries, and especially LDCs like The Gambia and Tanzania, face challenges with data collection, sharing and reuse, from having the human resources to weak regulatory environments and policies to awareness, incentives and funding. Because of this, governments may not have census figures, do surveys, digitize administrative records or support the development of other data sources.

“No low-income country has a fully funded national statistical plan, and that signals the chronic underinvestment in public intent data systems. This leads to data gaps that continue to exist for the most pressing development challenges,” said Malarvizhi Veerappan, Manager of the WDR 2021 and Senior Data Scientist at the World Bank Group. Of high-income countries, 93% have a fully funded national statistical plan.

She said, “For example, a tool being released with this report to help countries monitor the performance of their data systems, the Statistical Performance Indicators, reveals that half of low-income countries have not undertaken a population census in the last 10 years and 18% have not done so in the last 20 years.”

Quarterly or monthly industrial production indexes, which inform policy makers of current economic activity, are available in only 9% of low-income countries, compared with 64% of high-income countries, according to the tool.

These disparities highlight the need for action at many levels so gaps like these don’t continue to widen. The report notes that one way to solve this is by increasing financing for data, which requires, obviously, money, as well as understanding of the value of collecting, sharing and improving data flows. Financing for data can be an investment as well, the report notes.

New social contract for data

The report states, “data themselves won’t help lift people out of poverty. It’s the people using them that generate insights that can turn into action to improve development outcomes.”

A “social contract for data” is proposed, so data are better wielded to fight poverty across the world, supporting development in such ways as identifying civic needs, monitoring the impact of government policies and analyzing crop yields.

The report’s proposed social contract is formed around value, equity and trust. With value, safe collaborations between data creators and data users could form so that data can be shared, reused and combined for more insights and ideas. The equity element ensures that impoverished people and lower income countries are fully included and that they have access to the value that is and can be derived from data.

Trust that one’s data won’t be misused, hacked or employed to discriminate is paramount.

Having data governance environments helps to create that value, equity and trust, the report states. This includes four layers: 1) infrastructure like full broadband coverage, 2) laws and regulations like safeguards against misuse and standards for interoperability, 3) economic policies like trade in data-enabled services and taxation of businesses, and 4) institutions that regulate, oversee and work to secure data.

For countries to realize the full potential of data and facilitate greater reuse and repurposing of data requires better data systems supported by effective data governance environments. The report lays out an aspirational vision of an integrated national data system (INDS) to deliver on the promise of producing high-quality data that can be safely shared across governments, civil society, academics, individuals and the private sector.

Estonia is the closest to having an INDS, with strong central leadership and its X-Road system that allows public and private databases to automatically exchange information, ensuring confidentiality, integrity and interoperability among parties.

But, comprehensive data governance and well-functioning data systems are not the norm worldwide. There is no singular blueprint and every country will chart its own path. For example, Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography offers researchers data access through its Microdata Laboratory, which is located in secure enclaves on its premises, provided they undergo an application and training process. Nepal has made it a priority to teach people how to work with data with its Nepal Data Literacy Program, a course designed to support technical skills and enhance a culture of data use.

While most countries are still far away from achieving these goals, the journey is particularly difficult for LDCs, as well as low- and middle-income countries.

Digital trade

When it comes to trade, both trade in goods and trade in services would be improved with enhancements to data governance. Good data could help LDCs better understand their trade flows in order to improve them. Cross-border trade could be enhanced by transitioning to digitized procedures with customs and border management.

Trade in services is increasingly rapidly, but the data on it is not keeping up. The report notes that since 1990, the global trade in data-driven services has grown exponentially and now constitutes half of all trade in services (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Source: WDR 2021 team calculations, based on World Bank, WITS (World Integrated Trade Solution) database, http://wits.worldbank.org/WITS/. Data at

http://bit.do/WDR2021-Fig-O_5. Note: IP = Internet Protocol; PB = petabytes.

 

“One aspect that we highlight in the report is the irony that as trade in digital services expands around the world, our understanding of and our data on digital services is reduced because we don’t understand exactly the specific services sectors where the data comes from. And this is of course much more so the case in the developing world and in LDCs,” said Martin Molinuevo, Senior Counsel at the World Bank Group.

A whole of government approach to data, the report suggests, would help to improve the understanding of digital services trade.

Personal data across borders

“We see huge potential for value creation around trade and data-enabled services – it’s one of the fastest growing segments of trade. And so there is tremendous economic opportunity there. At the same time, trust in the transfer of personal data across borders is one of the key barriers to more of this type of data-enabled trade in services,” said Vivien Foster, Co-Director of the WDR 2021 and Chief Economist at the World Bank Group.

The report examines the various national policies around cross border personal data flows, categorizing them as open, conditional and limited. These flows are part of digital services trade, so if highly restricted by governments, that will impact the trade itself.

Most developing countries follow the open transfer approach, but this is more by default than an active policy stance, World Bank research found.

The open transfer model, in use by the United States, puts little regulatory burden on providers at both ends of the data transfer, so companies have freedom to share data when doing business. At the same time, there are few safeguards. The limited transfer model, in use by Russia and Nigeria, addresses security concerns, putting certain restrictions on data transfers, including requirements for local storage of data. The conditional model, in use by the European Union, falls somewhere in between, requiring government to certify the adequacy of the personal data  protection regime in the destination country (See Figure 3).

The cross-border rules of these models are associated with varying levels of digital services trade. The report finds that “open transfers” rules are associated with greater digital services trade, while the “limited transfers” approach has a negative correlation with digital services flows. The “conditional transfers” approach appears to offer mixed results in the empirical analysis.

Figure 3

Uptake of regulatory models to cross-border data flows

 

Source: WDR 2021 team, based on World Bank, Global Data Regulation Survey, https://microdata.worldbank.org/index.php/catalog/3866. Data at http://bit.do /WDR2021-Map-7_1.

Digital trade can also be boosted by domestic rules on data protection. The report finds that the “open transfers” approach is more strongly correlated to digital services when it is complemented with comprehensive rules on privacy and data protection. So the optimal regulatory approach to digital trade is a combination of flexible cross-border rules, as featured in the United States, with solid protections in the collection and treatment of personal data, as featured in the European Union, according to the report.

International rules and challenges ahead

“I think one of the concerns that low-income countries have about trading their data is whether they’re actually going to be able to capture any of the value themselves, or whether that economic benefit will entirely accrue to the foreign company that’s adding value to their data,” said Foster.

Global trade rules on data flows remain uncertain, with discussions of digital trade and cross-border data flows at the World Trade Organization (WTO) continuing. The report notes that only one low-income country, Burkina Faso, which is an LDC, has been part of the Joint Statement discussions on digital trade rules at the WTO.

LDCs and other developing countries have a lot to lose without data-focused frameworks in place, as data flows swell and new forms of trade take over. The report ends with a call to action for a global consensus so that data are used for the global public good and that they are wielded for equitable development, with a balance between the use of data for development and protections related to security and privacy concerns. Such a consensus couldn’t come sooner, considering the data we do have and what it says about the future.

CUTS

This session addressed how policymakers can ensure trade contributes to inclusive recovery and how the gains from trade can reach the most vulnerable groups, including women, youth and migrant workers. In particular, panellists discussed the preconditions for developing countries to benefit from the growing digital economy, and how best to protect consumers in the digital era. Discussions also underscored the importance of breaking the so-called “silo mentality”, to promote transparency and openness in order to fuel a greener and more inclusive recovery.

Considering some of the necessary conditions for ensuring trade inclusivity, speakers underscored the need for, inter alia: (i) efficient trade regulation and facilitation; (ii) technology and knowledge transfer, which plays a central role in bridging the gap between countries in areas such as technology investment and innovation; (iii) building capacities for access to finance, trade facilitation and logistics; and (iv) addressing socio-economic bottlenecks related to gender, cultural and language barriers, ethnic diversity.

The relationship between trade and human rights was also discussed, stressing that the current crisis is not only health-, social-, or economic-related, but it is a human crisis overall. Speakers advocated in favour of human rights-based approaches to trade policy, catering for the well-being of the most vulnerable communities. Key tools to leverage in this regard may include human rights impact assessments, including in negotiating and trade agreements. Consumer protection was also extensively discussed. While greater connectivity brought about greater choices and information for many consumers, it also created new challenges in relation to privacy, collection of consumers’ data etc.

Taking a closer look at the African continent, discussions noted the potential contribution of the AfCFTA in ensuring that vulnerable groups such as women and youth better benefit from trade. Panellists gave their approach on what are the conditions to help women and youth (as the main forces driving MSMEs) to better benefit from trade. Improving the trade participation of MSMEs could entail, inter alia, simplifying trade regimes; reducing red tape at the border for commercial vehicles; funding and capacity building mechanisms supporting MSMEs’ cross-border commercial relations etc.

Discussing approaches to finance technological development, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) promoted the concept of ‘Society 5.0’ as “a human-centered society that balances economic advancement with the resolution of social problems by a system that highly integrates cyberspace and physical space.” The approach aims to tackle several challenges by going beyond digitalization of the economy only, extending it to all levels of the society.

Finally, panellists discussed the persisting imbalances between small developing and developed economies, and the need for the later to support the former in bridging the technology and development gap. This also extends to the environmental sphere, where the rationale underpinning the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” was recalled.

On the panel were On the panel were Mr. Nobumitsu Hayashi, Deputy Governor, Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC); Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); Mr. Silver Ojakol, Chief of Staff of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Secretariat; Ms. Claudia Lima Marques, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil; Ms. Mercedes Aráoz, Professor of Economics, Universidad del Pacifico, and Former Second Vice President of Peru; and the moderator was Ms. Miho Shirotori, Officer in Charge, Division on International Trade and Commodities, UNCTAD.

ISOC

The Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MINT) of Ethiopia and the Internet Society announced a new collaboration agreement today that will help advance the digital economy and drive economic transformation.

Last year, the government of Ethiopia launched its digital transformation strategy with the goal of leveraging digital technologies to foster development and growth for every citizen.

The collaboration between the MINT and the Internet Society will support the implementation of this strategy to help the country develop digital services to advance key sectors that drive economic growth such as agriculture, manufacturing, services, and tourism.

The agreement will also help expand connectivity to rural areas, build Internet infrastructure, and strengthen Internet governance.

The agreement was signed at the Ministry of Innovation and Technology during the Advanced Data Science and Visualization training by His Excellency Dr. Ahmedin Mohammed, State Minister for Innovation and Technology, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and Dr. Dawit Bekele, Regional Vice President – Africa, Internet Society.

At the event Dr. Ahmedin said, “The Ethiopian Government has set the Digital Transformation of the national economy as one of its strategic priorities. For the realization of this, the government introduced the first ever Digital transformation strategy which is a visionary umbrella strategy from which sectors and institutions can then design or align their efforts.” The State Minister added, “The Digital 2025 strategy has a goal to see digital transformation playing a key role for inclusive prosperity; innovating and applying the culture, practices, processes and technologies of the digital era to respond to citizens raised expectations.”

He added, “This strategy shall be realized through collaboration and commitment of everyone including government, non-governmental, development partners and societies. The strategy demands aggressive commitment to increase infrastructure, enabling systems, digital applications, and enabling ecosystem.”

“This collaboration comes at a time when Ethiopia is liberalizing its telecommunications sector which is in line with the increasing the infrastructure. We sign this agreement to increase rural connectivity and make sure that everyone in Ethiopia benefits from the digital transformation,” explained Dr. Dawit Bekele.

The Internet Society is committed to support Ethiopia in its vision to create an inclusive digital economy through the Digital Ethiopia 2025 Strategy. The partnership is in line with Internet Society’s efforts to promote the development and use of the Internet as a resource to enrich people’s lives.

Recently, it partnered with the Ministry to organize the country’s first ever Internet Development conference and the school of Internet Governance for Ethiopia. Currently, the internet society working with the Ministry in Ethiopia’s preparation to host the World Telecommunication Development Conference and organising trainings on advanced topics such as data science, blockchain and Internet of Things.

The Internet Society is also working with Ethiopia to support the development of community networks in the Awi zone, Amhara Regional State, and helping young men and women learn how to design, deploy, and maintain local area networks in Bahr Dar. The partnership will enable to have even more impactful work in Ethiopia and help the country leapfrog into the digital society.

About the Internet Society

Founded in 1992 by Internet pioneers, the Internet Society is a global non-profit organization working to ensure the Internet remains a force for good for everyone. Through its community of members, special interest groups, and 120+ chapters around the world, the organization defends and promotes Internet policies, standards, and protocols that keep the Internet open, globally connected, and secure. For more information, please visit: www.internetsociety.org.

About the Ministry of Innovation and Technology (MINT)

Founded in 2018 according to the Proclamation No. 1097/2018, is a federal institution with powers and duties to prepare national innovation and technology research and development programs, institutional capacity and human resource development in Ethiopia. MInT is responsible for Digital Ethiopia 2025 implementation. Please visit www.mint.gov.et.

ITU

For me, there is one word that has defined the past year: together.

During the emergency phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were stronger together. Now, we are working to build back better together as we slowly start to recover.

As a former regulator, I know that the best way to close the widening digital gap and achieve meaningful and inclusive connectivity for all is by working together.

That is why events like the recent ITU Policy and Economics Colloquium (IPEC-21) for Latin America and the Caribbean are vital in today’s quickly evolving telecommunications environment; they provide an opportunity for regional experts to share unique knowledge and experiences, and to develop effective partnerships to advance connectivity.

Held on 10 and 11 May, IPEC-21 gathered more than 260 stakeholders from across the Americas and other parts of the world to discuss financing for digital infrastructure and affordable ICT services, as well as access challenges and uses of the digital ecosystem. All this was in keeping with the concurrent Best Practice Guidelines consultations as part of the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR).

Other topics covered at IPEC-21 included:
– Collaborative 5th Generation Regulation
– Regulatory and economic policies and strategies for information and communication technology (ICT) development in the Americas Region – and their COVID-19 implications;
– Economic and financial aspects of the digital ecosystem;
– Effective partnerships to advance connectivity and achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The regulatory aspect of COVID-19 recovery

Two newly released ITU publications explore regulatory challenges, and propose possible solutions to support connectivity in the post-COVID-19 era.

Pandemic in the Internet Age: From second wave to new normal, recovery, adaptation and resilience identifies what has worked – and what hasn’t – in ongoing efforts of the global ICT industry, national regulatory authorities, and private companies to keep us connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Analyzing over 500 experiences collected through the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) flagship #REG4COVID platform since March 2020, the report recommends actions and regulatory measures aimed to get closer to a post-pandemic “normal”: addressing the digital divide; driving digital deepening; effecting digital transformation; and building digital resilience.

A second report, released during IPEC-21, The telecommunication industry in the post-COVID-19 world, considers longer-term ways to boost digital access and avoid leaving the unconnected ever further behind.

No “silver bullet” will solve the universal connectivity challenge. Countries need a mix of solutions to stimulate investment, increase affordability, and build digital skills.

The report explores promising new business models, innovative infrastructure and potential financing strategies to deliver universal connectivity in the post-COVID-19 world. It also outlines potential obstacles.

In parallel, the ITU/World Bank Digital Regulation Handbook is now available in a new Spanish-language version, along with all other UN languages. The handbook helps regulators and policy-makers navigate today’s fast-moving regulatory environment, providing practical guidance and best practices for informed decision-making to harness the benefits of the digital economy.

From recovery to acceleration

The ICT industry is now in recovery phase in relation to COVID-19.

But we must continue using the best practices acquired during the response stage to achieve our collective goal of meaningful and inclusive connectivity for all.

This sets the stage for what I would call the “acceleration” phase. The acceleration phase, too, requires coordinated global action.

This is why multi-stakeholder dialogues, like IPEC-21 and other upcoming Regional Regulatory Roundtables for the Global Regulators Symposium (GSR), are so important: they give us a platform to recover – and thrive – together.

 

Find more information on the Global Symposium for Regulators here.

ITU

Sustainable development requires a fine balance between different kinds of sustainability. Alongside key climate and environmental concerns and a host of related socio-economic factors, the other kind of sustainability – related to business and investment – also matters.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the information and communication technology (ICT) sector.

The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Prizes aim to recognize this timely convergence of business, social and environmental sustainability.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of these key annual awards, I had the great pleasure to congratulate all 18 winners of the 2021 WSIS Prizes contest.

From free nation-wide WiFi programmes to national financial inclusion initiatives, the winning projects were globally recognized with more than 1.3 million online votes.

I was especially heartened to see innovative digital television and radio tools, capacity-building programs fostering online education and cybersecurity, and other ICT applications enabling e-government, e-health, and e-business services.

The WSIS Prizes have focused on one goal since their launch a decade ago: to highlight examples of beneficial and sustainable ICT use for communities everywhere to replicate. Projects that demonstrate how ICTs can accelerate the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and strengthen international cooperation are especially needed as the world responds to and recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.

A growing community

Within our own community dedicated to promoting the benefits of ICTs, we have seen more projects, promotional activities, and higher overall engagement each year.

I am also pleased to see the good use of the WSIS Stocktaking database, which was introduced in 2004 and now has more than 14,000 entries. The database has helped inform evidence-based policy by providing replicable and sustainable ICT solutions.

This year, 1,260 ICT-related projects were submitted to the WSIS Prizes contest, bringing the grand total to over 4,000 submissions since 2012.

I also commend this year’s 72 champions, the 360 nominees, and all those who have shared projects with the global ICT development community.

Every year, the WSIS Prizes Champions represent the top five most voted-for projects under the WSIS Action Lines. I am confident each of you will be instrumental change-makers in achieving the SDGs during this Decade of Action!

Celebrating positive ICT impact

The WSIS Forum represents the world’s largest annual gathering of the ICT for development community. This year’s virtual format extended the reach of WSIS to an even wider community, giving our champions and winners a larger audience with whom to share their stories.

Their impactful ICT solutions, along with the packed Forum agenda, have brought us together to celebrate the power of technology to make a positive difference in the world.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) remains committed to the annual WSIS Stocktaking and Prizes, and to implementing the WSIS goals beyond 2021.

I also invite all our awardees to celebrate their remarkable success back home with their local and regional communities.

Together, let us keep building on this momentum to make the world safer, more sustainable, and more connected – a world where no one is left behind and ICT development opportunities have no bounds.

Meet the winners

Category 1: AL C1. The role of governments and all stakeholders in the promotion of ICTs for development KSA Free Wi-Fi STC, Zain, Mobily Saudi Arabia Category 2: AL C2. Information and communication infrastructure National Implementation of the Financial Inclusion Initiative in China China Academy of Information and Communications Technology China Category 3: AL C3. Access to information and knowledge Comparatel: “Discover the tariff plan for telephony, Internet and Pay TV that suits you best. Compare and choose” Telecommunications Regulatory Agency Peru Category 4: AL C4. Capacity building Talk to me Contemporary Education Academy Georgia Category 5: AL C5. Building confidence and security in use of ICTs Central Biometric Verification Monitoring Platform Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Bangladesh Category 6: AL C6. Enabling environment A programme of practice-focused training in cybersecurity Central Bank of the Russian Federation Russian Federation Category 7: AL C7. ICT applications: benefits in all aspects of life — E-government "Citizens' Electronic Appeals" system Data Processing Center (DPC), Ministry of Transport, Communications and High Technologies Azerbaijan Category 8: AL C7. ICT applications: benefits in all aspects of life — E-business ServicePlus - A metadata-based eService Delivery Framework National Informatics Centre India Category 9: AL C7. ICT applications: benefits in all aspects of life — E-learning Our Girls Our Future Yielding Accomplished African Women Ghana Category 10: AL C7. ICT applications: benefits in all aspects of life — E-health SHEFAA portal / application Ministry of Health and Prevention United Arab Emirates Category 11: AL C7. ICT applications: benefits in all aspects of life — E-employment Kahramaa Mobile Application - Employee Section Qatar General Electricity & Water Corporation -- “Kahramaa” Qatar Category 12: AL C7. ICT applications: benefits in all aspects of life — E-environment Al Nawras Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications Bahrain Category 13 AL C7. ICT applications: benefits in all aspects of life — E-agriculture Leveraging Information and Communication Technology for Irrigated Agricultural Information 8villages Indonesia Category 14: AL C7. ICT applications: benefits in all aspects of life — E-science Epidemiological Surveillance 4.0 Ministry of Science and Technology Argentina Category 15: AL C8. Cultural diversity and identity, linguistic diversity and local content Digital Transformation Center Rwanda Information Society Authority Rwanda Category 16: AL C9. Media CMHS Radio Caibarién | La Voz de la Villa Blanca CMHS Radio Caibarién Cuba Category 17: AL C10. Ethical dimensions of the Information Society Digital Community Center Project Office of the National Digital Economy and Society Commission Thailand Category 18: AL C11. International and regional cooperation Digital Villages American Tower Corporation United States of America

IFC | WBG

To increase financial inclusion and support the digital transformation of financial institutions across Africa and the Middle East, IFC launched its DigiLab Finance training and support program with the aim of improving services for consumers of financial services.

DigiLab Finance is a capacity building program that equips selected financial institutions – including banks, microfinance institutions and digital financial services providers – with practical knowledge and tools to help them develop digital strategies, helping them adapt and adopt to technological trends accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic and better serve their clients.

The first cohort of four financial institutions from Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, and Zambia began the six-week online DigiLab program on June 1. The program is being delivered in both English and French.

“Coronavirus has changed the way we live and work and has made digital transformation for financial institutions more important than ever,” said Riadh Naouar, IFC Financial Institutions Group Manager for Africa and the Middle East. “Banks across the region have already made good progress adapting new technologies, although implementation of full digital transformation remains a challenge. The DigiLab program will help improve on this aspect of implementation and is part of IFC’s broader strategy to support a stronger, more sustainable financial sector.”

At the end of the six-week training program, participating financial institutions present their strategies and roadmaps for implementing a digital strategy to a panel of experts that provides feedback to help them incorporate improvements to their digital finance operations.

IFC introduced DigiLab Finance in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2018 and then in Europe and Central Asia in 2020.

Since its launch, DigiLab has supported 23 financial institutions to implement new business structures, launch digital products that better serve customer needs, and explore partnerships with fintechs or other tech providers.

About IFC

IFC—a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In fiscal year 2020, we invested $22 billion in private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. For more information, visit www.ifc.org.

ITC

Establishing the right mindset is the key to digital transformation

“The most important e-commerce challenge that women entrepreneurs are facing in Tunisia is finding the right mindset for digital transformation,” says Samia Ben Abdallah, an e-commerce advisor in Tunisia.

“The International Trade Centre’s (ITC) ecomConnect programme is raising awareness among women about the importance of going digital and planning strategically, which is key to earning stable incomes. The project is very timely”.

Samia, who is also the founder of AwA – a Tunisian company that produces beautiful handmade jewelry, is one of the consultants who has been trained by ITC’s ecomConnect team to help women-led businesses in Tunisia sell online. This project is funded by the World Bank and provided by the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) E-commerce for Women Entrepreneurs in the Middle East and North Africa regions (MENA) initiative.

Having the right mindset is essential, despite the obstacles

The project aims to use e-commerce as a way to alleviate some of the constraints faced by women entrepreneurs in the MENA region. Indeed, more than 100 SMEs are receiving in-depth training in selecting and listing in the online marketplace. Although e-commerce has already shown its potential for small businesses, it comes with its own challenges, such as: the level of shipping costs, the availability and cost of international payment solutions, the lack of streamlined customs duties and clearance procedures for low-value items, and also the lack of information and capacity regarding available platforms. In MENA, women have even more limited access to technology than in other regions, which makes e-commerce challenging.

From Samia’s experience with the programme’s beneficiaries, she highlights the additional challenge of the lack of planning and strategic vision: “most Tunisian women do not dare to take the risks that would allow them to progress well. The main issue here is not knowing the real challenges of e-commerce. For example, the women entrepreneurs I work with tend to underestimate the efforts to be made in digital marketing, therefore, they do not know how to create quality digital content.

Tackling the lack of knowledge

Hajer Aissi, a beneficiary of the programme and founder of Art Artisanat in Tunisia, sees the project as an opportunity to increase the visibility of her business and access to international markets. “The training is helping me to know the different platforms better and to understand people’s preferences and how to reach them. I am also learning how to create beautiful photos for my products and write complete and impactful descriptions in order to attract new customers.”

The project addresses this knowledge gap by building capacity and providing online tools. ITC trains advisors who, in turn, train women-owned businesses through group trainings and advise them individually through one-on-one coaching sessions.

After reviewing their market research and e-business strategy, the beneficiaries were able to apply their research findings to create content tailored to the selected target markets and sales channels. Now that the content is ready, the consultants help the companies select the most appropriate market for each of them.

WBG

In an increasingly difficult economic and political climate, digital transformation of public service delivery has the potential to bring real value to Palestinians. Investing in e-government and leveraging digital tools makes sense financially and is an effective way to reach and support people remotely, especially during a time of crisis. Cloud computing, in particular, could play an important role in delivering e-government services by facilitating data storage and the exchange of information between various government agencies.

The final goal? “Making it possible for every Palestinian to easily access essential services online without having to leave their home,” said Samer Ali, Director of International Relations at the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology (MTIT) at the opening of a webinar organized in April 2021 with support of the World Bank. E-government would allow remote access to essential services, like the online payment of utility bills or access to medical records — services that improve living standards and save time and money in the process. This is especially important for Palestinians, who face continuous restrictions on their movement.

The webinar took place in preparation for a recently effective World Bank operation in the Palestinian territories, called the Digital West Bank and Gaza Project, which will support the Palestinian Authority (PA) in developing various areas of the digital economy, including enabling the regulatory, policy, and technical environment for e-government service delivery.

With the support of the World Bank, the PA will build the foundations needed to introduce a number of government-to-citizen (G2C) and government-to-business (G2B) e-services.  This will begin with the design of an enterprise architecture that lays out the structure of e-government service delivery, as well as the processes that enable an interoperable ecosystem. Private sector stakeholders and citizens will also be engaged to co-develop an e-government sector strategy that will provide a long-term and citizen-centric vision for digital transformation in the Palestinian territories with the objective of improving public service delivery.

An important prerequisite for the digital platform will be to transition public agencies from storing data on physical servers to utilizing a cloud. The PA is planning to host the cloud on premises, with a disaster recovery site possibly located abroad. Participating ministries will gradually migrate applications and data currently hosted on their physical servers to the cloud, and will leverage the existing data exchange layer, called X-Road, which connects several ministries and is currently used for basic interagency data queries, to deliver the services through an online portal.

In order to better understand both the PA’s preparedness for cloud solutions and its capacity to migrate a significant amount of data to the cloud, the World Bank conducted an assessment that (i) identifies policy and technical gaps that need to be addressed, (ii) lays out the different options for deployment models, (iii) and evaluates the readiness of different applications for migration to the cloud.

During the webinar, the World Bank team shared some results from its assessment with nearly 30 civil servants from across the PA. E-government was found to still be in its early stages in the Palestinian territories, with public agencies investing unilaterally in their own data centers and engaging with other ministries bilaterally. Enabling regulations related to data privacy, digital transactions, and e-IDs have yet to be developed, as well as a clear mandate for the implementing agency to lead a whole-of-government approach that would require significant buy-in from other agencies. Due to current data-localization practices, leveraging private sector cloud service providers in a public or hybrid deployment model would not be possible, at least in the short-term.

The webinar panelists shared experiences and best practices and discussed the leveraging of disruptive technologies to build smart cloud systems and e-service delivery models. The discussion touched on topics ranging from the use of AI technology stacks in convergence with Edge computing to drive the design of new data architecture to the fundamentals of a successful e-ID framework and the technical considerations of varying cloud service delivery models.

If the PA can successfully put in place a long-term cloud strategy, formalize its deployment model, and build the necessary enabling foundations, cloud solutions can be instrumental in successfully deploying e-government services to the public. Cloud solutions would allow the PA to cover communication gaps, especially in remote villages in the West Bank and Gaza, and increase collaboration and interoperability between government agencies. At a time of increasing fiscal uncertainty and political instability, cloud storage could also help reduce data redundancy by allowing ministries to collect and archive important data and key databases off-site; and digitizing records and archives could generate fiscal savings and make the Palestinian territories more resilient to data loss.

UNCDF

Startup Uganda Challenge 2020 winners receive financial and in-kind support to scale up their solutions designed for underserved communities in Uganda.

In August 2020, at the height of the pandemic, UNCDF and Startup Uganda launched an Innovation Challenge to solve very specific problems close to the hearts of partners of this 2020 edition. Beyond financial support, the innovation challenge aimed to provide technical support for the startups, work closely with them to refine their solutions, unlock access to additional funding and make their solutions profitable.

In this blog we present the winners of the 2020 edition of the challenge organized with Startup Uganda. For a presentation of the partners of this edition of the challenge you can read the other blog here.

The winners and their projects


Pata Sente – Financial Health for MSME track winner

Conceived at a dairy farm in Mbarara district in 2015, Pata Sente offers a factoring platform for small businesses to buy or sell goods on favorable terms. Like Masha Dairy Cooperative, a farmers group that was the first user of this platform, small businesses often fail to meet the payment terms of their suppliers, workers and customers. They are also unable to get credit from banks because they are considered high risk, uncreditworthy and lack collateral.

Through this platform, small businesses starting with those in the dairy chain will be able to contract Patasente to deliver to them goods and services from their preferred suppliers which they can pay for later. Through engagement with the supplier, Pata Sente commits to pay on behalf of the small businesss –in part advance or fully on delivery. Through this solution, Pata Sente is enabling micro and small suppliers like farmers to sustainably earn an income from their output sales to buyers.

When asked what is next for Pata Sente, founder George Bakka says, “We are currently in an early growth stage. We are onboarding more buyers and principals (workers) on our platform as early scale to our solution.”

Famunera – Leveraging Last-mile Distribution Networks track winner

After three years of extensive research and development, Famunera launched in 2016 to serve millions of underserved smallholder farmers and become the ultimate destination for sourcing genuine, quality and affordable farm inputs and produce across Africa.

Famunera is working to address the challenge of poor quality farm inputs sourcing, delayed last-mile delivery, limited remote farming advisory support and lack of farm inputs traceability throughout production (from planting to harvest) for smallholder farmers. Famunera provides a user-friendly digital agro inputs marketplace powered by a USSD Code, Web App, Call Center and Express Last-mile Delivery System through which the underserved farmers can easily order farm inputs, access free expert farming advisory support, generate traceability reports throughout their production and get convenient last-mile delivery within 24 hours across Uganda.

On what’s next for Famunera, CEO Julius Enock Naika commented, “Famunera is working to raise a total investment of US$1.2 million in order to reach and serve over 1.5 million smallholder farmers across Uganda by 2023.”

Backspace Ivy – Digital Literacy track winner

Backspace Ivy is a female run IT consulting enabler and social innovation enterprise specialising in online digital training for underrepresented groups such as girls in STEM, youth, orphans, refugees, people with disabilities, women and young people. The company has developed a wifi-free pocket size smart learning kernel called smart booklet that allows people in rural communities to access video trainings to improve their digital and financial literacy.

Designed with the needs of the users in mind, the users do not need internet to access information and the device is solar rechargeable. Digital content preferably in audio visual form is uploaded on the device that can be shared within different households. The device can be used to deliver information, education and communication messages in a more adaptable, transformative, interactive and multilingual way.

On what’s next for Backspace Ivy, Carolyn Akello, the company’s Innovation and Digital Specialist says, “We are refining our business model further so that we can sustain our vision to digitally include underserved communities.”

 

The winning innovations won a cash prize of up US$20,000 each and technical support to take their solutions to the market and address the challenges identified by the anchor partners, which will in turn lead to sustainable inclusive development.


“UNCDF supports innovators that take into account the needs and circumstances of underserved communities. As the world is looking to digital solutions to improve their well-being, many people are in danger of being left behind. We are working towards an inclusive digital economy, where people who may not have the latest devices, fastest internet connectivity or the required digital skills can also be active participants in the digital economy,” said Chris Lukolyo, Digital Country Lead, UNCDF.

“We received so many inspiring and innovative solutions, and through this journey, we have had different members of Startup Uganda guide the innovators and help then to shape their ideas,” Jean Kukunda Vice Chairperson, Startup Uganda.

While there was only one winner for each track, partners have pledged to continue to give technical assistance to all the participants to be able to refine their ideas and business models to make them profitable.

ITU

Financial technology, or fintech, has brought financial security within reach for previously underserved people and communities, especially in developing countries.

But the benefits brought by companies providing software, services, and products for digital financial services are accompanied by new, often unfamiliar risks.

While many fintech firms have experienced rapid growth during the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers and regulators alike need to know both the upsides and the downsides of new business models emerging in digital finance.

Mobile-friendly information

Among these fast-growing new digital financial services, digital microcredits enable quick approval and access for small, short-term loans via mobile phone.

However, their pricing can appear vague, while the mobile format can impede readability for microcredit users.

“When you translate summarized disclosure statements and key facts to a small screen, it becomes even harder to ensure that the consumer is receiving the information they need to understand risks and choose an appropriate product,” observed Jennifer Chien, Senior Financial Sector Specialist at the World Bank Group, during a recent session of the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) Symposium.

Another challenge relates to timing, she explained.

“You may receive information about the pricing for a credit product only after you have finalized a transaction, which makes it too late to use that information effectively.”

Making algorithms accountable

Fintech products are sometimes marketed unscrupulously, such as with certain practices emerging in unsolicited offers of microcredit sent to consumers’ phones. In unbanked markets, such practices can result in unnecessary loans and subsequent repayment struggles.

“Some are marketed in a way that encourages the consumer to take out the maximum loan possible,” said Chien. “The remote nature of the digital channel and rapid transaction speeds increase consumer vulnerability to aggressive marketing practices.”

At every level, fintech’s benefits and drawbacks seem mixed. For example, while automated credit scoring can expand access to financial services, poor algorithm design and non-representative data can produce biased results that are ” systematically worse for certain groups and perpetuate social inequalities,” warned Chien.

Creating algorithmic accountability through regulatory and technical safeguards and controls is a work in progress for many countries and researchers.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, for instance, has told digital microcredit providers to ensure that existing rules on fair treatment and anti-discrimination apply to the use of algorithms.

Protection from lending risks

Risks of unfair lending with high annualized rates also persist in digital microcredit products. Loans are sometimes marketed aggressively without assessing the consumer’s need or ability to repay. So-called “lend to learn” models extend access to finance for consumers without a formal credit history to learn their creditworthiness. But risk-blind models can result in loans being taken out by consumers who can’t afford them.

Consumer warning labels, or equivalent notifications, may have to be attached to certain fintech products and services, Chien said.

Testing in Kenya, for example, indicated improved consumer comprehension after brief summaries of terms and conditions were shown on mobile phones earlier in the transaction process. In Paraguay, consumers are offered a final option to accept or reject terms before concluding a digital transaction contract. In such cases, the dynamic interactive nature of mobile channels aids the consumer.

Evolving risks, evolving regulation

Fintech also enables access to credit via peer-to-peer lending platforms. But most such operators remain unregulated, depriving consumers of protection, said Gian Boeddu, another Senior Financial Sector Specialist at the World Bank Group. The UK and Mexico have tried to address this by developing new definitions of activities subject to financial regulation.

In the digital context, low barriers to entry for accessing credit and reliance on technology expose consumers to risks. As a safeguard, policies that apply to traditional financial service providers are now being extended to providers of new digital financial services and related third parties with additional requirements for digital literacy and consumer competence.

Investment-based crowdfunding, which allows small companies to issue debt or equity securities to the public, shows how fintech innovation can prompt regulators to rethink certain rules.

This form of crowdfunding cannot develop within regulatory frameworks for capital markets, opined Ivor Istuk, Senior Financial Sector Specialist at the World Bank Group. “Established rules for offering securities and providing investment intermediary services tend to be too costly for small businesses and start-ups. Companies that would find this market lucrative would also need to register themselves, increasing operational costs.”

Concerns around fraud and platform failure also apply to investment-based crowdfunding. Risks are exacerbated by inexperienced investors, risky issuers, opaque information, and illiquid and complex securities, explained Istuk.

To address gaps in Fintech regulation, experts highlight the value of a step-by-step approach based on the development of an in-depth understanding of the fast-evolving fintech market and experiences of consumers and industry players.

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), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Check out the 2021 symposium’s video playlist. 

ITC

Digital Literacy Coaching Programme taps into post-pandemic opportunities for women entrepreneurs to bridge the digital gender divide through training and skills development…

The informal sector in Bangladesh accounts for 85.1% of employment, and 91.8% of employment of female workers.

These findings from a recent survey into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on women-owned businesses (WOBs) in Bangladesh reveal the urgent need for enhancing digital literacy across the country.

Most Bangladeshis, particularly women, have been vulnerable to restrictions on businesses and places of work, pushing them into economic crisis. Moreover, women are disproportionately represented in sectors severely hit by the pandemic, highlighting the need to not only increase the number of opportunities online, but also to make them more accessible to women.

Recognising these challenges, the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative partnered with Visa to launch a Digital Literacy Coaching programme for women-owned businesses in Bangladesh, with a special focus on the textile and apparel, information technology (IT) and business process outsourcing (BPO) industries. The coaching will better equip women-owned businesses with digital skills and expertise to respond to market disruptions and external shocks, such as the Covid-19 pandemic.

The programme

The programme comprises of three virtual training workshops followed by one-to-one coaching sessions offered to the group of WOBs. It began in March 2021 and will run for 12 weeks. Upon completion, each business will have the opportunity to define and develop their own digital strategy, with the support of subject matter experts, trainers and coaches.

The webinars will cover topics including online presence optimization (digital marketing), e-commerce and key considerations when conducting business online.

WOBs will acquire skills to expand their business offerings online by improving their sales channels and connecting to global markets through e-commerce. The SheTrades and Visa digital literacy coaching programme aims to leverage the learning tools and resources offered on SheTrades.com as well as Visa’s valuable expertise in digital technologies and online payment solutions to close the gap and help women owned businesses to thrive. The collaboration between Visa and SheTrades will use this as a pilot to be replicated in different countries.

For queries regarding SheTrades or the coaching programme, please email: womenandtrade@intracen.org .

For more information, please visit SheTrades.com: https://www.shetrades.com/en

For more information, about Visavisa.com/blog and Visa on Facebook

IFC | WBG

Johannesburg, South Africa — Africa’s e-commerce market could grow by more than $14.5 billion between 2025-2030, according to an IFC report published today. The report finds this can be achieved by increasing the number of women selling on online platforms and by providing them with better training and financial support to help them match sales made by men.

The report, Women and e-commerce in Africafound that COVID-19 has accelerated the growth of e-commerce and digital entrepreneurship in Africa and that more women have embraced digital business. However, it also noted that more can be done to promote women’s entrepreneurship and help women overcome e-commerce challenges.

For example, e-commerce marketplace platforms are well-positioned to target women-owned businesses with training, and to encourage women’s participation in higher-value segments such as electronics. Women could also strengthen their businesses by taking advantage of emerging fintech offerings, such as in-platform loans, which women currently access at much lower rates than men. The report leveraged data from leading e-commerce firm Jumia, as well as from surveys of vendors in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Nigeria.

“E-commerce in Africa is thriving, yet we are already seeing a widening gender gap in the sector. IFC’s report not only highlights the gap, but also shows how it might be addressed so that women entrepreneurs can succeed in this important and rapidly growing marketplace,” said Sérgio Pimenta, IFC’s Vice President for the Middle East and Africa.

Juliet Anammah, Chairwoman Jumia Nigeria and Group Head of Institutional Affairs, said, “It is absolutely essential for women to be factored in, given the future of e-commerce. Africa is just at the start of its e-commerce growth trajectory. Now is the time to ensure women entrepreneurs are the leaders of Africa’s digital journey.”

The report shows that women comprise half of all active e-commerce vendors in Africa, though they tend to run smaller-scale businesses and feature prominently in high-competition, low-value segments. On the Jumia platform, just over a third of businesses in Côte d’Ivoire and over half in Kenya and Nigeria are owned by women.

Supporting women entrepreneurs has taken on renewed urgency since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the first year of the pandemic, women-owned businesses in the three countries studied suffered reduced sales of 39 percent, compared to a 28 percent drop for men-owned businesses.

The research was undertaken by Digital2Equal, an IFC-led initiative conducted in partnership with the European Commission, which brought together 17 leading technology companies operating across the global online marketplace to boost opportunities for women in emerging markets. Additional funding was provided by the Umbrella Fund for Gender Equality. The research was carried out by IFC in partnership with global evidence and advisory firm Kantar Public.

About IFC

IFC—a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In fiscal year 2020, we invested $22 billion in private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. For more information, visit www.ifc.org

WBG

Strategic investments in the foundational elements of a digital economy is central for Zimbabwe to keep pace and avoid being left behind in a rapidly changing global economy, according to the new Zimbabwe Digital Economy Diagnostic.

As the COVID-19 crisis underscores the importance of digitally enabling every citizen, business, and government and ensuring universal access to services, the Digital Economy for Zimbabwe Country Diagnostic Report recognizes the country’s advances the good foundation upon which digital skills could be leveraged. However, the report notes, the country is only capturing a fraction of its economic growth potential.

“To truly reap the digital dividends, the new digital economy in Zimbabwe needs to be inclusive to ensure that anyone – regardless of age, gender, income, or geographic location – has the ability to access digital tools and services,” said Jana Kunicova, World Bank Task Team Leader and lead author of the report.

As part of the World Bank’s Digital Economy for Africa Initiative, the diagnostic identifies five foundational digital elements that can create the building blocks for unlocking digital transformation in Zimbabwe that can determine the country’s ability to build a robust digital economy. These elements—digital infrastructure, digital government platforms, digital financial services, digital skills, and digital entrepreneurship—are at various stages of development in Zimbabwe, requiring investments in policy and regulation as well as capital.

Report findings include:

  • Digital infrastructure is one of Zimbabwe’s relative strengths, but regulatory roadblocks and macroeconomic conditions hamper its growth. Zimbabwe’s international connectivity infrastructure is relatively well-developed with fiber connecting major cities and urban areas. However, large gaps remain in rural areas.
  • Digital government platforms using modern GovTech tools can become a potential growth area for Zimbabwe if coordination and interoperability improvements are given priority.  There is potential to create strong digital government, since the country has established the building blocks for a digital ID system, developed core back-end systems, created an accessible government portal, and developed some innovative digital services. Aging infrastructure and insufficient resourcing, combined with overall macroeconomic distress, electricity, and connectivity issues, are major bottlenecks.
  • Digital financial services are the strongest foundation for the further development of the digital economy in Zimbabwe, even at a time of macroeconomic woes. The country has a well-developed payment system, where 96% of all transactions in the country are through digital means and only 4% are cash-based. The government uses digital money almost exclusively. However, there is still no interoperability among mobile money operators and the cost of transactions is high. The usage of internet banking in rural communities is low due to limited internet coverage.
  • Digital entrepreneurship is a nascent yet growing area in Zimbabwe, conditional on key regulatory reforms, improved coordination with the private sector, and at least some macroeconomic stabilization. Zimbabwe has good potential for the development of digital entrepreneurship, yet challenges abound, including limited access to market data, limited access to start-up capital, and a complex tax regime for entrepreneurs.
  • Zimbabwe has a good foundation upon which digital skills could be leveraged, if training for both teachers and students is scaled up, and coordination and data flows improved. The rapid pace of innovation, together with a supply side failure to deliver the required digital skills, means that many businesses, service providers, and organizations struggle to obtain employees with the right skills to harness technological opportunities. Serious investment by government and related players will be needed in basic and post-secondary education with a special focus on digital skills development.

The report concludes that to move the digital economy forward, Zimbabwe needs to make regulatory improvements as well as investments in four interconnected areas across all pillars: policy and regulatory framework, resource management and coordination, governance, and capacity building. Much work remains to be done both on fixing the macroeconomic fundamentals, and yet these also create an opportunity for leapfrogging and incentive for further innovation, just as the case of digital financial services illustrates.

IFC | WBG

Southeast Asia’s e-commerce market could grow by more than $280 billion between 2025-2030, according to an IFC report published today with data from e-commerce company Lazada. This can be achieved by increasing the number of women selling on online platforms and by providing them with better training and financial support.

The report, Women and e-commerce in Southeast Asia, found that COVID-19 has accelerated the growth of e-commerce and digital entrepreneurship in Southeast Asia and that more women have embraced digital business. However, it also noted that more can be done to promote women’s entrepreneurship and help women overcome e-commerce challenges. For example, e-commerce marketplace platforms are well-positioned to target women-owned businesses with training, and to encourage women’s participation in higher-value segments such as electronics. Women could also strengthen their businesses by taking advantage of emerging fintech offerings, such as in-platform loans, which women currently access at much lower rates than men. The report leveraged data from Lazada, as well as from surveys of vendors in Indonesia and the Philippines.

“E-commerce in Southeast Asia is thriving. Since 2015, the market has tripled in size, and it is expected to triple again. In this research, IFC shows that this growth could be even higher if we invest in women entrepreneurs on e-commerce platforms”, said Alfonso Garcia Mora, Vice President for Asia and Pacific, IFC.

The report shows that women comprise half of all active e-commerce vendors in Southeast Asia, though they tend to run smaller-scale businesses and feature prominently in high-competition, low-value segments. On the Lazada platform, about a third of businesses in Indonesia and two-thirds of businesses in the Philippines are women-owned.

Supporting women entrepreneurs has taken on renewed urgency since the outbreak of COVID-19. In the Philippines, for instance, the sales numbers of women-owned businesses had been higher than those of their male counterparts but, due to COVID-19, fell to just 79 percent of those of men.

“In Southeast Asia, e-commerce became a lifeline for individuals’ daily essentials as well as a natural business strategy pivot for vendors and brands when offline operations were affected by Covid-19 safety measures,” said Chun Li, Chief Executive Officer of Lazada Group and Lazada Indonesia. “With the exponential growth opportunities available in the region, we are committed to providing women entrepreneurs with easy access to knowledge and tools to embrace and benefit from the digital economy.”

The research was undertaken by Digital2Equal, an IFC-led initiative conducted in partnership with the European Commission, which brought together 17 leading technology companies operating across the global online marketplace to boost opportunities for women in emerging markets. Additional funding was provided by the Umbrella Fund for Gender Equality. The research was carried out by IFC in partnership with global evidence and advisory firm Kantar Public.

About IFC
IFC—a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In fiscal year 2020, we invested $22 billion in private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. For more information, visit www.ifc.org

WEF

global debate is raging about independent workers or the so-called gig economy. But what is it? And how important is what’s happening?

For millions of people, working nine-to-five for a single employer or being on the payroll is no longer a reality. Instead, they balance various income streams and work independently, job-by-job.

If you’ve ever used an app to call a freelance taxi driver, book a holiday rental, order food or buy a homemade craft then you’ve probably participated in this segment of the economy.

The “gig economy involves the exchange of labour for money between individuals or companies via digital platforms that actively facilitate matching between providers and customers, on a short-term and payment-by-task basis,” according to the UK government.

a chart showing the four segments that independent workers generally fit into
Choice or necessity?   Image: The McKinsey Global Institute

 

It’s in focus not just because it’s growing, bringing economic benefits in terms of productivity and employment, but also because it raises questions about levels of consumer and worker protection and labour-market policies.

While gig-economy workers often eschew the rights offered to employees on the payroll, in February in the UK a court found that drivers for a car ride-hailing app are entitled to benefits including paid holidays, a minimum wage and a pension.

a chart explaining different gig economy sectors
Different gigs.
Image: Mastercard Gig Economy IndustryOutlook and Needs Assessment

Similar themes are found in other countries, with Spain set to approve a new law that categorizes gig-economy riders as wage labourers. In the US, a comment from the labour secretary suggesting that some workers should be classified as employees wiped billions of dollars off the value of some of America’s largest gig-economy companies, according to a report in the Financial Times.

The future of work beyond the COVID-19 pandemic will be the focus of the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Reset Summit on 1-2 June 2021, which will look at mobilizing a jobs recovery plan.

So far, gig-economy platforms’ share of total employment is modest – ranging between 1% and 3% of total employment, according to the OECD, which also says the share is growing fast.

Global gig-economy transactions are forecast to grow by 17% a year to around $455 billion by 2023, according to a report from Mastercard.

a chart showing the projected gross volume of the gig economy, which is projected to grow to $455 billion by the end of the year 2023 in Gross Volume transactions
A growing gig. Image: Mastercard Gig Economy Industry Outlook and Needs Assessment

 

And as the market grows, and the companies at the top of the chain get larger, the challenge for policy-makers and officials is to balance the innovation that creates jobs against the need to ensure the companies are offering workers a fair deal. Gig-economy companies present complications for product-market regulation, competition policy, tax and labour-market policies.

Independence and flexibility were cited as the main aspect that people working in the gig economy were often satisfied with, according to a UK government survey. Respondents were less satisfied with work-related benefits and the level of income, with one in four saying they were very or fairly dissatisfied with those aspects of their work.

For students who want to earn an income while studying, or primary carers who want to fit work around school or daycare hours, these companies can offer flexible working patterns.

Flexible working

Generating additional income and having work flexibility are the most common motives to work for gig economy platforms, according to the OECD paper.

“Overall, most gig workers are satisfied with their job and working for gig economy platforms appears to reflect mainly voluntary choices rather than the lack of other options,” that paper says. “However, a significant minority of platform workers – around 20% – uses platforms because they are not able to find work as dependent employees.”

A McKinsey study categorized independent workers into four segments.

  1. Free agents, who choose independent work and derive their primary income from it.
  2. Casual earners, who use independent work by choice for supplemental income.
  3. Reluctants, who make their primary living from independent work but would prefer traditional jobs.
  4. Financially strapped, who do supplemental independent work out of necessity.

Public policy-makers face the task of keeping all four of these groups happy, which may require adapting policy settings so that they are ready for the digital age. Challenges exist but are not insurmountable, the McKinsey Global Institute report said.

“Issues such as benefits, income-security measures, and training and credentials offer room for policy-makers, as well as innovators and new intermediaries, to provide solutions”, the authors wrote. “Independent workers and traditional jobholders alike will have to become more proactive about managing their careers as digital technologies continue to reshape the world of work.”

IDB

Las aduanas de América Latina y el Caribe (ALC) tienen la posibilidad de aprovechar nuevas tecnologías e innovaciones para impulsar su transformación digital y agilizar los procesos de logística del comercio exterior, lo que puede contribuir a mejorar la competitividad y al crecimiento de las economías de sus países.

La pandemia realzó la importancia del comercio y de la logística del comercio exterior. Si bien COVID-19 suspendió a nivel global la cotidianidad de la vida desde marzo de 2020, la actividad comercial, aun con las consabidas disrupciones ocasionadas por las restricciones del transporte internacional y de las políticas de aislamiento social, dio lugar a considerables incrementos en el comercio electrónico y digital. Según un reporte de Amazon, sus ventas netas internacionales aumentaron en un 28,3% entre el primer semestre de 2020 y ese mismo período en 2019.

En particular, la pandemia puso a prueba las capacidades de respuesta de las aduanas, al evidenciar las oportunidades que presentan los procesos de transformación digital. Una buena parte de la aceleración en la adopción digital en las aduanas fue causada por la urgencia en el despacho de mercancías críticas para atender la emergencia y mantener el flujo del comercio regular.

Desde antes de la pandemia, ALC se encontraba rezagada frente a Norteamérica, Europa y Asia en la implementación de los compromisos adquiridos en el marco del Acuerdo de Facilitación del Comercio de la Organización Mundial del Comercio, según datos de 2019. Por lo que la región necesita aún generar eficiencias en la logística de su comercio internacional.

Por ende, la reactivación económica de ALC depende en gran medida del desempeño logístico de su comercio exterior, respaldado en una adecuada infraestructura, tanto física como digital, y de los servicios asociados de transporte.

Tecnologías para innovar y transformar la gestión aduanera

A raíz de estos desafíos, en la nueva publicación del BID Logística en América Latina y el Caribe: oportunidades, desafíos y líneas de acción presentamos algunos de los elementos transformadores e innovadores de la gestión aduanera que los países pueden poner en marcha con el uso de nuevas tecnologías.

Entre los principales elementos se encuentran la optimización, automatización y digitalización de procesos aduaneros y fronterizos. Estos fungen como las piedras angulares del esfuerzo modernizador y sirven de base para generar los datos de calidad necesarios para implementar sistemas de gestión de riesgos robustos y efectivos.

Por ejemplo, la capacidad de las aduanas de obtener, procesar y analizar una gran cantidad de datos de calidad es clave para que las cadenas regionales de valor se fortalezcan y sean ágiles y seguras. Asimismo, la automatización requiere otros componentes innovadores como la utilización de la firma electrónica y de mecanismos de autenticación de los usuarios internos y externos.

Otro de los ingredientes de la receta de eficiencia y eficacia en la gestión aduanera es la trazabilidad de las mercancías. Nuevas tecnologías como los sistemas de identificación por radio frecuencia (RFID), el Internet de las Cosas (Iot), instrumentos para la geolocalización, los precintos electrónicos para las puertas de contenedores y remolques, y lectores OCR de matrículas, entre otros, permiten rastrear los cargamentos, los vehículos y a las personas que los transportan.

Estos sistemas se pueden desplegar en puntos críticos de los territorios, como en corredores viales que conectan con pasos de frontera terrestres, puertos y aeropuertos, así como en centros de producción y depósitos fiscales. Un ejemplo es el sistema desarrollado en Brasil con el objetivo de trazar y rastrear vehículos de carga, embalajes y productos, integrando dicha información con los documentos fiscales electrónicos. Asimismo, la trazabilidad física puede acompañarse con la documentada de forma digital proveniente de los datos de cada transacción.

Los datos que las aduanas capturan tienen un inmenso valor para la gestión del riesgo aduanero y fronterizo al digitalizarlos y asociarlos con los documentos de transporte y de las mercancías (manifiestos de carga, conocimientos de embarque, datos de las declaraciones de aduanas, y facturas electrónicas). Una vez capturados los datos, la aplicación de herramientas de inteligencia artificial, aprendizaje automatizado (machine learning) y big data permiten procesar y analizar grandes volúmenes de información para la identificación de patrones y vínculos complejos de operaciones de riesgo y fraude.

Uso de nuevas tecnologías para la Gestión Coordinada de Fronteras

Para beneficio de las cadenas de suministro y de la logística de comercio exterior, es importante además que estos procesos de uso de nuevas tecnologías se realicen en un contexto de Gestión Coordinada de Fronteras entre las aduanas y el resto de las entidades involucradas en procesos fronterizos.

Esa coordinación se agiliza con la interoperabilidad entre las autoridades y los operadores económicos a través de las Ventanillas Únicas de Comercio Exterior (VUCE) o los Sistemas de Comunidad Portuaria, para reducir tiempos y costos de los operadores e incrementar las capacidades de control. Por ejemplo, la adopción de la VUCE en Costa Rica está asociada con un crecimiento del 1,4 puntos porcentuales de las exportaciones de las empresas que hicieron uso de las ventanillas en comparación con las que no las utilizaron.

La oportunidad también se presenta para fomentar y fortalecer cadenas regionales de valor con iniciativas de interoperabilidad entre sistemas de aduanas y otras entidades fronterizas, como por ejemplo a través de la Plataforma Digital de Comercio Centroamericana (PDCC), y la aplicación CADENA que, utilizando blockchain, facilita el intercambio de datos de empresas certificadas por su confiabilidad, como los Operadores Económicos Autorizados.

Finalmente, los elementos anteriores no serían efectivos sin una infraestructura funcional en los puestos de entrada y salida de las mercancías en las fronteras terrestres, puertos marítimos y aeropuertos. Igualmente, no tendría el mismo efecto si la infraestructura no cuenta con sistemas tecnológicos más avanzados para los controles de ingreso, salida, inspección y monitoreo. El proyecto de Integración Tecnológica Aduanera (PITA) de la Aduana de México es un ejemplo de intervención integral de tecnología e infraestructura fronteriza. Siguiendo en esta línea de modernización, las aduanas de NicaraguaCosta Rica y Panamá, con apoyo del BID, llevan a cabo un proceso de reforma de sus pasos de frontera que incluye las instalaciones de frontera y la incorporación de últimas tecnologías.

Apoyo del BID a la modernización de la gestión aduanera y fronteriza

Desde la División de Comercio e Inversión del Sector de Integración y Comercio del BID apoyamos una agenda innovadora de proyectos de modernización de la gestión aduanera y fronteriza como los proyectos de transformación digital y de automatización de las aduanas de Colombia y Perú, que incluyen planes de trazabilidad inteligente de cargas y vehículos. Igualmente apoyamos iniciativas regionales para el uso de blockchain en el intercambio de datos entre ocho aduanas de la región, o la aplicación de inteligencia artificial para mejorar la gestión de riesgo aduanero en varios países, entre otros proyectos.

Los países de la región deberían aprovechar la disponibilidad de nuevas tecnologías, la coyuntura de innovación acelerada que presenta la pandemia y el acompañamiento de organizaciones como el BID para agilizar la transformación digital de sus aduanas.

UNCTAD

Sweden has donated $480,000 to support UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and the digital economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accentuated the need for more donor funding in this area, as it has shown the huge gaps that exist in countries’ readiness to engage in the digital economy.

“We greatly appreciate Sweden’s long-standing support to our work on e-commerce,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director. “This work is now more important than ever in view of the rapid evolution of the digital economy and existing digital inequalities.”

Sweden has supported UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and the digital economy for many years. The additional funds will, among other things, boost UNCTAD’s ability to support women digital entrepreneurs through the eTrade for Women initiative, develop new courses to raise awareness on e-commerce and improve the measurement of the digital economy.

Enhancing developing countries’ capacity

“We’re proud to support UNCTAD’s work on e-commerce and the digital economy,” said Mikael Anzén, Sweden’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need to enhance developing countries’ capacity to participate in the digital economy, not least through stronger involvement of women digital entrepreneurs as producers and traders,” Mr. Anzén added.

UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy programme provides a unique platform for generating research and better statistics to enable governments and other stakeholders to understand the implications of economic digitalization for sustainable development.

It also assists developing countries to prepare for and adapt to digital disruptions and fosters global multi-stakeholder dialogue and a more coordinated approach on e-commerce and the digital economy from a development perspective.

Its activities include the biennial Digital Economy Report, the eCommerce Week, eTrade for alleTrade for Women and eTrade readiness assessments.

ECA

Deadline: 31 May 2021

  1. Background

Towards the end of 2020, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), through its African Trade Policy Centre (ATPC), launched a training and research initiative on “Digital trade regulatory integration in Africa”, focusing on 11 pilot countries. Based on their background and expertise in the area, researchers from Cameroon, Chad, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia were selected to build two databases, for each of countries of focus, on various measures related to digital services trade regulations and digital trade integration, respectively.

Following the success of the first phase of this initiative, ECA invites researchers who are interested in both building their capacity and contributing to fill the data gaps in the area of digital trade regulatory integration in Africa, through learning-by-doing, to submit their applications to be considered for the second phase of the training and research program on “Digital trade regulatory integration in Africa”.[1] This second phase is opened to all interested candidates willing to focus on one of the African countries NOT already covered in the first phase (see above list of phase 1 pilot countries).

  1. Objective

The objective of this exercise is triple: 1) Gather and provide information on digital trade regulatory integration to Member States which could be particularly useful in the perspective of AfCFTA Phase III negotiation on e-commerce but also digital trade matters at large, considering the importance it is gaining with Covid-19 crisis and the role it can play in the recovery process; 2) Collect information which could help adding a digital trade integration component to the next edition of AUC-AfDB-ECA Africa Regional Integration Index (ARII) which has been mandated by the Member States (https://arii.uneca.org/en-US) ; 3) Collect relevant information to be able to add African countries into the OECD Digital Services Trade Restrictiveness Index (Digital STRI) database. The latter is to be incorporated into a Policy Simulator which could also be a handy tool for Member States, with a friendly interface that can be accessed online (https://sim.oecd.org/Default.ashx?lang=En&ds=DGSTRI).

  1. Participation: training and assignments

Successful candidates will be trained to collect and verify data and information on national regulations affecting digital trade environment of respective countries. Following the technical guidelines and close supervisions by international experts, including those from OECD, each candidate will be given an assignment to construct, for a specific country of focus, two datasets on digital services trade restrictions (in conformity with OECD Digital STRI) and digital trade integration, respectively

Each successful applicant will have 4 months to complete the assignment by submitting the two national datasets and a 3- to 5-page summary of the country’s regulatory profile, which may be co-published by ECA and the researcher or its affiliated institution, as appropriate. Overall expected time commitment is about 1.5 work month, which can however vary depending on experience of the researcher.

The national datasets produced under this initiative will have to follow technical guidelines and address peer-reviewed comments from the project supervisors and experts.

While the mandatory training, to precede the research work, will be mostly conducted in English, the research segment can be completed and submitted to ECA in either English or French, as desired by the selected researcher.

  1. Benefits

The selected candidates will each be given a research fee (through a consultant’s contract with ECA) of USD 6,000 to be paid in 2  installments, as follow: USD 2,000 after successful completion of the mandatory training (mostly in English) and submission of a short inception report (in either English or French), and, USD 4,000 following successful submission of the two national digital trade regulatory integration datasets and short country profile no later than 15 October 2021 (in either English or French) for a country of choice. The country profile, expected to published on ECA website, will also indicate the contributor’s name.

  1. Eligibility criteria

The application is open to researchers with at least 5 years of experience in studying or analyzing trade matters and ideally related laws. Knowledge of local and/or official languages of the country of assignment is required. Fluency in either English or French is required, with knowledge of English also required for those candidates fluent in French.

  1. How to apply

To apply, please submit by email to mevel@un.org and geoffroy.guepie@un.org  the following documents:

    • Resume/CV;
    • A cover letter, indicating the country/countries where the applicant has interest or capability to conduct the research, and reasons for being a suitable candidate;
    • Professional/Academic recommendation.

You must have submitted the required document no later than 31 May 2021 for your application to be considered.

Only the successful candidates will be notified by email around 15 June 2021.

  1. Contract arrangement

ECA will enter into appropriate contractual arrangements, with the successful applicants who have been selected, for funding their participation in these training and research exercises.

  1. Contact information

If you have any questions, please contact Mr Geoffroy Guepie (geoffroy.guepie@un.org) if you have any query.


[1] This program builds on the ESCAP-OECD research project on “Digital-trade regulatory integration in Asia-Pacific region”. See: https://www.unescap.org/announcement/escap-oecd-digital-trade-regulatory-analysis.

 

WTO

At a meeting on e-commerce negotiations held on 20 May, co-convenor Ambassador George Mina (Australia) urged WTO members to move the work of the small groups to a phase of “stronger and more intensified convergence”. He said that the time left between now and the 12th Ministerial Conference is “very critical” if members want to realize their shared ambition of achieving substantial progress by December this year.

Updates from small group discussions

The facilitators of small group discussions shared updates on progress made in the work to bridge the differences on text proposals in areas such as open internet access, open government data, online consumer protection and paperless trading.

The co-convenors — Australia, Japan and Singapore — believe that a “clean”text on an additional four topics is within reach by the summer break. These comprise open government data, e-contracts, online consumer protection and paperless trading.

The initiative has so far finalised two negotiating texts on unsolicited messages, otherwise known as spam, and electronic signatures and authentication. A new small group was established on electronic transactions frameworks and will start working based on proposals submitted by members.

Flow of information

Participating members focussed their discussions on flow of information, which was last discussed at a plenary meeting in October 2019. Members revisited text proposals on cross-border data flows and localisation of computing facilities — servers used to store and process information. The discussions also covered text proposals on the location of financial computing facilities for covered financial service suppliers. Members acknowledge the importance of the free flow of data across borders as an enabler for business activity and a facilitator of digital trade.

Ahead of the discussion on data flow, Ambassador Hung Seng Tan (Singapore), co-convenor of the initiative, highlighted the need to have clear rules in this area to spur digital innovation, provide business certainty and support post-pandemic economic recovery.

Ambassador Tan said provisions that enable and promote data flows are key to an ambitious and commercially meaningful outcome. He stressed that cross-border data flows support digital inclusion, as witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, where entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses were enabled to participate in the global digital economy more efficiently.

To help deepen members’ understanding of the issues, the participating members heard presentations from the WTO Secretariat, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Brookings Institute and Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority.

In his concluding remarks, Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan), co-convenor of the initiative, said provisions that enable and promote the flow of data are key to a high standard and commercially meaningful outcome for the negotiations. At the same time, members must be mindful of the development aspect, such as the digital divide and capacity building needs, to achieve an inclusive outcome through the negotiations.

He added that the initiative needs to ensure appropriate policy space that accommodates different circumstances of the participating members.

Ambassador Yamazaki said that members need to continue constructive discussions on how to incorporate the future outcome of these negotiations into the WTO framework with a solution-oriented mind. He stressed that the negotiations need to address both the rules and market access issues.

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