Estonia digitally signs cooperation agreement with the ESA, made possible because its Director-General is an e-resident

Last week was a momentous day for Estonia’s space ambitions as well as for e-Residency. On 12 May, Director-General of the European Space Agency (ESA) Josef Aschbacher met virtually with Estonia’s Minister for Entrepreneurship and Technology Andres Sutt and agreed to increase Estonia’s participation in the European space sector. They also executed a cooperation agreement between Estonia and the ESA, which they signed digitally thanks to Aschbacher’s status as an Estonian e-resident.

E-Residency is a digital identity issued by the Government of Estonia to people outside the country’s borders. One of its main features is to give e-residents the ability to digitally sign, encrypt, and send encrypted documents.

Electronic signing allows for the full digitalisation of business processes, eliminating the time and costs of printing, faxing, mailing, copying, scanning and physical filing, thus giving businesses the freedom to be truly paperless. Plus it mitigates the risk of loss or destruction of signed documents, enhances security of filing processes, and eliminates the need for carrying or storing paper documents.

The electronic signature generated by the e-Residency digital identity card meets the highest standard of EU regulations. Since 1 July 2016, electronic signatures in the EU have been governed by the Electronic Identification and Trust Services (eIDAS) Regulation. eIDAS provides a predictable regulatory environment directly applicable to all EU Member States to enable secure and seamless electronic interactions between businesses, citizens and public authorities. It also ensures legal certainty for cross-border use of e-signatures, e-seals, time-stamps, and the like.

The strongest electronic signature of the three levels set out in the eIDAS is the ‘qualified electronic signature’ (QES). While different levels of electronic signatures may be appropriate in different contexts, only QES are explicitly recognised to have the equivalent legal effect of hand-written signatures all over the EU.

Estonian digital signatures are QES as they meet the technological requirements established in the eIDAS. Firstly, the backgrounds of both the owner of the signature and the issuer of the certificate are checked. Additionally, the signature is given with a means that is deemed suitable and trusted (ID-cards, digital IDs, mobile-IDs and qualified Smart-ID accounts) in Estonia.

But back to the most exciting news … why are e-Residency digital signatures heading to space?

Last week, Estonia’s Minister for Entrepreneurship and Technology Andres Sutt met with the new Director-General of the European Space Agency (ESA), Mr Josef Aschbacher from Austria. At the virtual meeting, the two discussed the new Director General’s priorities for the ESA and how Estonia could increase its contribution.

According to a press release of the Ministry (in Estonian), Estonia is increasingly having a say in space issues and this is good for the local technology industry, especially in the fields of cyber security, innovation and artificial intelligence. Minister Sutt explained that “cooperation with ESA creates excellent opportunities for Estonian companies to find applications for cyber security technologies already used on Earth in the rapidly growing field of space.”

In addition, according to Sutt, Estonia has a clear ambition in organising space traffic. “This is a global challenge that can be solved by secure data exchange, and there are many similarities with the structure of our digital state. Estonia is currently also developing a space law, which would enable the creation of an e-service for space traffic management,” said Sutt.

At the meeting, ESA proposed to establish an ESA Lab in Estonia in cooperation with universities, to contribute to research and development activities in the field of cyber security and machine learning.

Sutt and Aschbacher also digitally signed a new national traineeship program agreement between Estonia and ESA, which gives Estonia the opportunity to send two Estonian trainees a year to ESA in the period 2021–2027.

The agreement was signed digitally as Josef Aschbacher is an e-resident. He was presented his e-Residency kit in early May by Estonian Ambassador Clyde Kull at the Estonian Embassy in Paris, France.

What’s next?

An e-resident in space?!

Well it is a strong possibility if an ESA astronaut becomes an Estonian e-resident.

And if they exchange encrypted documents with Estonia while in space, e-Residency really will go out of this world.


“During my work with artisans in Kenya, I realized the challenges they are facing to access markets and gaining exposure. I asked myself, how can I support them? Using my creativity, I started to work with them and help them be seen.”

This is how Shop Nanjala, a home-décor and customized gift shop in Kenya, came into being. With over two decades of experience in the creative industries, the shop’s owner Teresa Lubano felt it was the right time to build a legacy that would inspire others. She created a one-stop e-commerce solution, selling environmentally conscious products that helped local artisans and craftsmen obtain exposure and opportunity. All of Shop Nanjala’s work is locally sourced and made in Kenya.

During COVID-19, even with the economy negatively affected by the pandemic, the business witnessed a record 514% growth in revenue compared to 2019. By March 2020, the company’s number of online conversions had increased exponentially. “Due to the pandemic, people rely more on online platforms and are more prepared and ready to use them for their convenience”, explains Teresa.

No beginning is easy, however. During its first four years of existence (2015-2019), the brand was mainly selling offline despite the efforts of optimizing its e-commerce brand. The team used the first years to build a consistent brand image and create a loyal audience thanks to an efficient customer service strategy.
For Teresa, social media, and especially Instagram, has been key for her company’s success. Most of the buyers start their customer journey on a social media channel, where they discover the products, and then move to the website to complete the purchase.

The business got a boost on social media when it benefited from the first prize of the E-commerce Story Pitch Contest in 2020, organized by the International Trade Centre’s ecomConnect project with the support of Charicomm, a digital marketing agency for sustainable businesses. Training during the contest looked at setting goals and using paid campaigns on Google Ads and Facebook Ads.

Teresa also participated in the International Trade Centre’s Facebook Live series E-commerce tips from peers, where she shared tips with new entrepreneurs.
1) stressed the importance of creating high-quality content and a consistent content plan, especially on social media
2) highlighted the relevance of tracking metrics to measure performance and embracing innovation;
3) and urged other entrepreneurs to offer outstanding customer service.
The founder also shared that her best secret is having a team of creative, visionary people.

Shop Nanjala’s dream is to see the day when Kenyans will buy products Made in Kenya: it is the team’s firm belief that these products have global quality standards and echo sustainable ethos.

Interested in finding out more on how to succeed in your e-commerce journey? Join the International Trade Centre’s next Facebook Live event here.


Strengthening global digital capacity building is vital for digital transformation and global sustainable development.

The rise of digital technologies and ways of working offers extraordinary new opportunities to further global sustainable development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, from increasing economic resilience to mitigating the damage of COVID-19 and delivering more effective public services. Yet not everyone is equally able to take advantage of these opportunities, particularly as the rapid pace of digital change places further demands on resource-constrained governments and societies.

Bridging the world’s digital divide is increasingly urgent, as those who left out of today’s digital transformation are in danger of falling further behind. This means ensuring that digital services are available everywhere, as well as affordable and accessible to all.

To address this key issue, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have launched a Joint Facility for Digital Capacity Development to support those not currently served by existing digital capacity development resources or channels.

Supporting UN Efforts in Digital Capacity Development

The Joint Facility stands in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, which calls for “a broad multi-stakeholder network to promote holistic, inclusive approaches to digital capacity-building for sustainable development, including a new joint facility for digital capacity development, which will be led by ITU and UNDP.”

People and communities currently underserved in terms of digital capacity will benefit from more efficient and effective support from the ITU/UNDP Joint Facility, which aims to make digital opportunities accessible to all.

​”Robust and effective digital capacity building underlines the fulfilment of the Secretary-General’s Roadmap for Digital Cooperation, by supporting countries in their efforts to harness the full potential of digital technology as part of their digital futures”, said Assistant Secretary-General Maria Francesca Spatolisano, Officer-in-Charge at the UN Office of the Envoy on Technology.

“The Joint Facility will further strengthen our collective effort to equip people with the needed digital skills, literacy and capabilities, alongside with the multi-stakeholder network for digital capacity development envisioned in the roadmap.”

The Joint Facility aims to:

  • direct stakeholders to relevant existing ITU/UNDP resources, including digital literacy and skills training;
  • identify areas of unmet demand for digital capacity development initiatives and work with end users to develop new interventions when needed;
  • identify patterns and trends in unmet stakeholder needs; and
  • direct strategic, operational, and programmatic support in executing digital strategies, capacity development initiatives, or other high-priority operational areas for partners.

Digital capacity must be strengthened on both the local and international levels to enable inclusive digital and societal transformation.

While governments are the main target audience, other groups requiring digital capacity support will also benefit from the services offered by the Joint Facility.

Bringing UN Agencies Together for Meaningful Change

The Joint Facility cements the partnership between ITU and UNDP to drive digital capacity development, and intends to have a new single structure facilitating joint resourcing, roles, and responsibilities.

Through its Development Sector, ITU provides direct assistance and capacity development initiatives to bridge the digital divide, promote digital inclusion and facilitate digital transformation for all.

“Making adequate capacity development tools available to all is more important than ever to bridge the digital divide and connect half of the world’s population that are still offline,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau.

“There are many aspects to developing digital skills apart from the actual training. Through the Joint Facility, we will be able to assist countries across the digital skills development value chain from assessing digital capacity needs, advising on digital strategies, and even helping with procurement and raising funds for digital development. We are incredibly excited to work together with the UNDP towards this.”

UNDP’s wide field presence and topic expertise will help match key local context to relevant digital solutions.

“The lack of sufficient digital skills is a major barrier to reaping the benefits of digitalization and threatens to leave the most marginalized behind,” said Robert Opp, UNDP’s Chief Digital Officer. “The UNDP is proactively investing in the key area of digital capacity building so that we can all take advantage of digital opportunities together.”

While building on existing collaboration between the two agencies, the Joint Facility also paves the way for wider, longer-term collaboration between the UNDP and ITU.​

More information about the Joint Facility can be found at


A new security lab created by the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI) will support innovators in ensuring the security and resilience of financial applications and enabling infrastructure.

FIGI supports national policy reforms to stimulate financial inclusion and leads research to build trust in digital financial services (DFS). The 2021 edition of the FIGI symposium – free of charge and open to all – takes place online from 18 May to 24 June. Register to participate.

The DFS Security Lab is a product of FIGI’s Working Group on ‘Security, Infrastructure and Trust’.

The lab provides a structured approach to security audits of DFS applications. This structured approach targets greater consistency in the implementation of controls to protect personal data and the integrity and confidentiality of financial transactions.

Four main objectives

The lab will support government and industry in assessing compliance with established best practices in DFS security, establishing a security baseline for DFS applications, and adopting interoperable authentication technologies. It will also organize clinics for security professionals to exchange knowledge and stay up to date with the evolution of security risks and associated mitigation techniques.

The lab will provide:

  • Guidance to regulators in assessing the security of DFS infrastructure and conducting security audits of DFS applications
  • Mechanisms for threat-intelligence sharing
  • Application guides to international standards for DFS security
  • Assessments of cybersecurity preparedness across DFS value chains

DFS security from 2G to 5G

The test offered by the lab address the security of DFS applications running over legacy as well as cutting-edge network infrastructure.

Tests for DFS apps based on Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) and SIM Toolkit (STK) include:

  • Simulating man-in-the-middle attacks on STK
  • Testing susceptibility to binary over-the-air attacks
  • Testing remote USSD execution attacks
  • SIM clone testing

Tests for Android DFS apps are based on the Top 10 Mobile Risks from the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP), addressing the following attack points:

  • Improper platform usage
  • Insecure data storage
  • Insecure communication
  • Insecure authentication
  • Insufficient cryptography
  • Code tampering

For more information on the lab’s services, contact

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.


Digital jobs are opening up important new work opportunities for youth with disabilities in developing countries.  The COVID‒19 pandemic has accelerated the expansion of jobs which offer flexibility, accommodations for disability and functional access for remote communities.

In our new report “Digital Jobs for Youth with Disabilities,” S4YE highlights strategies that programs have used to increase inclusion of youth with disabilities in digital jobs.

Here are five reasons why recent developments in digital work opportunities may present an opportunity to ramp up efforts to include youth with disabilities

1.    New forms of work through flexible, remote, digital gig jobs can provide opportunities to include those with disabilities 

Technological advances have given rise to a growing digital economy, creating new forms of digital job opportunities such as business process outsourcing and digital ‘gig’ jobs. An impact sourcing model, taking offshored digital work and directing it towards workers and areas that would not typically access it, can provide a meaningful business-led approach to engage youth with disabilities.  e.g., Digital Divide Data(DDD) in Cambodia and  Enablecode in Vietnam are both social enterprises which work with youth with physical disabilities to connect them to outsourced digital jobs.

Microwork can be especially helpful as a starting point for remote populations, like those in fragile, conflict and violent (FCV) contexts,  with low digital skills, mobility constraints and limited access to  local jobs. Online work experience can help youth with disabilities establish a work history and develop a professional network that can help expand more opportunities in future.  Recent studies have found that, online work can also help youth with disabilities to build a sense of self-worth and empowerment that is combined with feelings of creativity, and social contribution.

2.    Recent developments in assistive technology solutions can help level the playing the field

Digital tools can support people with disabilities to perform tasks that they might otherwise be unable to do effectively.  Thus, making  youth with disabilities suitable candidates for jobs, irrespective of their disability, and create more inclusive workplaces. Some examples are below.

Tech solutions for different types of disabilities
Tech solutions for different types of disabilities. Source:

An increase in accessible online recruitment platforms (e.g., JobAbility) can offer youth with disabilities direct access to employment and employers, thus  expanding their access to the traditional labor market.

3.    Technology solutions can be used to provide experience with life like situations, essential to develop skills for work

Youth with disabilities who have been beneficiaries of charities often lack confidence when entering a workplace. Innovative simulations like in Accenture’s Skills to Succeed Academy, which does skill building though bite-sized, gamified modules with relatable characters, help provide youth with disabilities a safe learning environment and build confidence.

Also, business simulations, like Youth Business International’s ‘The Digital Entrepreneur Experience Simulator’ (DEES), have the potential to train youth with disabilities on entrepreneurship skills. These have been used extensively to train workers in finance, hospitality etc. and provide persons with disabilities the opportunities to experience personalized learning close to real-life business development process.

4.    Digital entrepreneurship opportunities, although limited, may also become more inclusive over time.

With the emergence of online platforms, new possibilities of digital entrepreneurship have emerged. Youth with disabilities with digital enterprises may now have more opportunities to find and interact with clients and sell their goods and services across physical and infrastructural barriers  (e.g., Alibaba). Accessible mobile applications for financial transactions can allow entrepreneurs with disabilities to mainstream their operations and improve efficiency. Private sector engagement in supplier diversity programs can also improve access to markets for youth with disabilities. For example, Google runs a small business supplier diversity program that includes disability-owned small businesses.

5.    Digital jobs can especially  help provide young women with disabilities, an opportunity to earn income. 

Digital jobs can be advantageous for young women with disabilities who experience additional workplace discrimination, limiting their advancement opportunities , and facing societal or family pressure that discourages their formal employment.

Digital skills can help young women with disabilities who are often homebound to access income-earning opportunities through online outsourcing and e-lancing. 

While digital jobs offer many new opportunities for youth with disabilities, there are also challenges for policymakers to consider. These include lack of accessibility and affordability of digital tools, inherent but unspoken biases of online platforms, lack of adequate social protection measures, and risks of isolation.

This blog is part of a series about jobs for youth with disabilities. In our next blog, we will discuss a few ways of engaging the private sector to hire more youth with disabilities


Now you can pick up your e-Residency kit in São Paulo, Bangkok, Johannesburg or Singapore


E-Residency is expanding. And we want to help you expand your business too.

If you apply to become an e-resident now, you can choose one of our new pickup points in São Paulo, Bangkok, Johannesburg, or Singapore on your online application form!

We’ve partnered with BLS International to issue E-Residency cards in these new cities. BLS is a trusted global tech-enabled services firm, providing visa, passport, consular, citizen, e-governance, attestation, biometric, e-visa and retail services to over 46 governments worldwide.

Thanks to BLS, e-Residency is entering new regions and making Estonian e-services accessible to more entrepreneurs around the world.

Why are we expanding?

First and foremost, because our community told us to! We’ve heard you ask for these new locations in support, webinar Q&As, and social media — and we’ve listened.

Secondly, because such a step is consistent with e-Residency values of inclusion and entrepreneurship. We’re making Estonia’s digital services even more accessible by making e-Residency available in new regions including Latin America, South-East Asia, and Southern Africa. This means more people around the world can join an advanced digital nation, register an EU-based company, and grow it remotely with minimal administration and bureaucracy.

Thirdly, the launch of four new international pickup points across three continents accommodates the increase in digital nomads as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And finally, they also meet rising demands from local entrepreneurs in the new locations, who are seeking to scale their businesses internationally and expand into the European market.

We’ll be publishing more content and resources for each of the four new pickup points in the coming weeks. In the meantime, take a minute now to read the key benefits of e-Residency for entrepreneurs located in the new regions.

São Paulo, Brazil

Despite not having a pickup location for several years, Brazil already boasts 700+ e-residents and 121 companies in Estonia founded by e-residents. This is perhaps unsurprising given the country’s population, ties to Europe, and the entrepreneurial potential of its burgeoning IT, eCommerce and creative industry sectors.

São Paulo is the chosen city to lead e-Residency’s expansion into Latin America. Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash

Brazil holds a reputation for commercial bureaucracy and complexities that some view as a barrier to business. Brazil ranks 124 out of 190 for ease of doing business (World Bank). Contrast this with Estonia’s rank of 18 and the advantages of e-Residency for Brazilian entrepreneurs become clear. Namely, that it’s easier to start and run a business, simpler to register multi-founder companies and do business with EU partners, and is a path to lower bureaucracy.

In addition, it’s the easiest way to expand into the EU or globally. Local Brazilian SMEs can enter the EU market via Estonia. Startups can scale and grow by accessing EU capital. Brazilian freelancers or solopreneurs can better access a wider EU or global audience for their service-based offerings, creative endeavours, or eCommerce ventures.

Ian is an e-resident from São Paulo, Brazil. He co-founded global digital marketing consulting company Mansiontech OÜ with his Austrian business partner and fellow e-resident Georg in Estonia. And it really is global: Ian is based in Brazil, Georg in Austria, and their company is registered in Estonia. Their business is the perfect example of how e-Residency can support remote entrepreneurs working across borders.

A new pickup point in Singapore helps make e-Residency more accessible in SE Asia. Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

Johannesburg, South Africa

Until now, e-Residency has only had one pickup location on the entire continent of Africa — in Cairo, Egypt. Johannesburg is a hub for travel between Southern Africa and the rest of the world, therefore making it a good location for a pickup location to serve this region. There are already just over 250 e-residents from South Africa who have started 50 Estonian companies. A promising start, which will only grow with the new pickup point!

E-Residency promises benefits for both South African entrepreneurs working in the IT sector who seek to cater to EU or international clientele, and those who trade in goods with Europe. South Africa is also much lower on the ease of doing business index than Estonia — so the lack of bureaucracy and simple company creation and administration makes e-Residency an attractive solution. It also holds the advantage of doing business in Euros, a much more stable currency than the South African rand, and better access to EU-based fintech and payment service providers. English is a dominant language in South Africa, meaning that entrepreneurs will be able to navigate Estonia’s business environment comfortably.

E-resident Christelle is based in South Africa, from where she runs her Estonian company Easy Assistant & Co OÜ.

E-Residency has provided Christelle with a remote business solution and access to the European market enabling her to focus on client satisfaction and revenue growth:

“I was looking for a country where I can run things remotely to save time, money and contribute to a worthwhile digital initiative. Since most of my clients are from France, Switzerland, UK, Canada, and the USA, it was also convenient to set up my business in Europe.”

Up until now, it has been difficult or expensive for people in large parts of the world to access e-Residency. With the addition of pick-up points in São Paulo, Bangkok, Singapore and Johannesburg, e-Residency cards are now available for collection at 50 locations worldwide. It opens up opportunities for more entrepreneurs in Africa, Latin America, and South-East Asia to join our community of 80,000 e-residents.

Today’s announcement also demonstrates Estonia’s continued commitment to empowering freelancers, entrepreneurs, business owners and location-independent workers from around the world.

We’re expanding.

Join e-Residency today and expand with us.


UNCTAD will bring together experts to explore how science, technology and innovation (STI) can contribute to a sustainable and resilient recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, during a meeting of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) from 17 to 21 May.

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed will lead speakers in examining how STI can help rebuild health-care systems and socioeconomic structures post-COVID-19, while reducing inequalities laid bare by the pandemic.

“Indeed, science and technology have been central in the global fight against COVID-19,” Ms. Mohammed said. “Significant financial resources, strategically invested, will be required to ensure that development gains are not reversed.”

Ms. Mohammed said the recovery from the pandemic provides an opportunity to focus on three key transitions that are highly dependent on STI: speeding up the transition to renewable energy, transforming the way the world produces, consumes and thinks about food, and ensuring an inclusive digital future.

Other speakers at the 24th session of the CSTD will include the president of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Munir Akram; the president of the 75th UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkır; the secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, Houlin Zhao; a Nobel laureate in chemistry, Jennifer Doudna; and a senior vice president of BioNTech RNA Pharmaceuticals, Katalin Karikó.

Need to prioritize science, technology and innovation

“The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the pressing need to prioritize STI in terms of policymaking, resource allocation and international cooperation,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, who also heads the CSTD secretariat.

“But governments also need to make sure that the development benefits of STI translate directly into the daily lives of people all over the world,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

Moreover, Ms. Sirimanne added, it’s vital for all countries to have equal access to the benefits of life-saving treatments, not only for the pandemic but also for poverty-related diseases, future health emergencies and infectious disease outbreaks.

Closing the gap on good health and well-being

This year’s CSTD session will first address the theme “Using science, technology and innovation to close the gap on Sustainable Development Goal 3, on good health and well-being.”

Experts will examine opportunities offered by frontier technologies, some of which are used to respond to the pandemic – such as artificial intelligence, big data and robotics.

While these technologies can enable developing countries to leapfrog previous technological paradigms and transform their economies and societies, these nations – especially least developed ones – are generally not ready to apply them due to resource and capacity constraints.

Also, there is a serious risk that frontier technologies may exacerbate existing inequalities or create

new digital divides between technology haves and have-nots, according to the UNCTAD Technology and Innovation Report 2021.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has already highlighted many manifestations of profound digital inequalities within and among countries,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

She said proactive policy interventions, the mobilization of all stakeholders and international cooperation are needed to set the direction of STI advances towards a sustainable and resilient recovery from the pandemic.

Blockchain for development

The CSTD session will also address the theme “Harnessing blockchain for sustainable development: prospects and challenges.”

In an increasingly digitalized economy and society, the security and accountability of data transactions are critical elements for creating trust and enabling breakthrough innovations in the digital world.

In this regard, blockchain technology could be a game-changer, with the potential to revolutionize processes from finance to pharmaceutical industries, from government public services to humanitarian work and development aid, says an UNCTAD paper.

Blockchain serves as the base technology for cryptocurrency, enabling open (peer-to-peer), secure and fast transactions. The application of blockchain has expanded to include various financial transactions such as online payments and exchange platforms, as well as Internet of Things (IoT), health systems and supply chains.

However, the UNCTAD paper says issues associated with scalability, privacy concerns, uncertain regulatory standards and difficulties posed by the technology in integration with existing applications are some of the potential market constraints.

“While we have seen a few examples of blockchain’s potential to address sustainable development challenges, we need to avoid hype and make sure we understand how the potential of blockchain can be turned into effective answers to the needs of developing countries,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

Progress on summit on information society

The CSTD session will also review the progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Last year was a testing ground for progress towards the implementation of the WSIS outcomes.

Digital technologies have played a crucial role in addressing the pandemic and enabling resilience in many ways. These include the use of big data and artificial intelligence for public health interventions and the use of digital services to expedite infection monitoring and testing.

Other trends include the use of the internet and videoconference platforms for work and education and the expanded use of e-commerce and online entertainment platforms.

“On the other hand, those who lack affordable connectivity have been severely disadvantaged during this pandemic,” Ms. Sirimanne said.

She said other challenges that have emerged include widespread misinformation and disinformation, privacy and data protection and cybersecurity.

The CSTD session will include a round-table discussion for high-level policymakers to exchange experiences, lessons learned and good practices, and to discuss challenges faced at national, regional and international levels, as well as those affecting specific groups.

Science, technology and innovation policies for development

The commission also seeks to raise awareness, stimulate a policy dialogue among stakeholders about the role of STI in national development and encourage stronger linkages among them.

It will include a session entitled “Applying a gender lens to STI policies in the 21st century” and presentations of science, technology and innovation policy reviews of the Dominican Republic, Uganda and Zambia.

About the CSTD

The CSTD is a subsidiary body of ECOSOC and the UN focal point for STI for development, in analysing how STI, including information and communications technologies, serve as enablers of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

It acts as a forum for strategic planning, sharing lessons learned and best practices, providing foresight about critical trends in STI in key sectors of the economy, the environment and society, and drawing attention to emerging and disruptive technologies.

Participants at this year’s session will include ministers and representatives of governments, civil society, the business community, academia and international and regional organizations. Most UN member states will be represented by high-level delegations.


The COVID-19 pandemic has offered a dramatic test case for the effectiveness of digital solutions across the Middle East and North Africa region, from the Ocean to the Gulf. Together with universal and affordable broadband, the widespread availability of cashless payments is a key enabler for digital transformation and a driver for economic recovery.

The objective of this webinar, organized in partnership with the Arab Monetary Fund, is to increase awareness of how digital payments can support job creation, enhanced service delivery, and inclusion of youth and women. This webinar is the second of the MENA Tech talk series, which aims to engage with high-level decision makers, policymakers, regulators, private sector business leaders, and influencers, to share a vision and strategies to successfully foster digital transformation in the region.

Watch the Event Recording 



In 2017, UNCDF partnered with Prabhu Management to digitalize the dairy value chain in Nepal which helped bring previously unbanked farmers into the financial ecosystem.

The pilot project that started with four dairy cooperatives in two districts (Kavre and Bhaktapur) digitalized over 20 cooperatives by 2020 with nearly 5,000 dairy farmers registered on the mobile wallet, and more than 1500 farmers receiving their earnings digitally.

The digitalization of the dairy cooperatives ended the manual process of tracking information and improved efficiency which in turn helped farmers in more ways than one. For one thing it brought farmers into the financial ecosystem and for another it saved farmers time and money on travel as the closest bank in rural Nepal can be miles away. It made payment secure for both the farmers and the cooperatives. Above all, it significantly minimized payment delays which was beneficial to farmers in reducing financial distress particularly in the wake of COVID- 19.

In March 2020, Nepal enforced strict preemptive lockdown for three months to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. This measure severely impacted businesses across industries including agriculture. The restrictions in mobility and social distancing paved the way for rapid adoption of digital technologies worldwide. To understand the impact of dairy digitalization during the pandemic and the future outlook for the agriculture sector, UNCDF analyzed the data of the farmers and their cooperatives. The data provided insight on how digitalization has helped smallholder farmers cope with the many challenges imposed by the pandemic and the ensuing lockdown. The analysis also shows that the pandemic was a trigger in the adoption of digital technologies by the farmers.

Digital wallet proved invaluable to farmers during COVID-19

The data from Prabhu Management shows a spike of nearly 600 percent in the usage of digital financial services (DFS) during the COVID-19 lockdown period. The average number of transactions in this period increased from 357 per month to 2,434 transactions, while the average number of users per month also increased by 300 percent. Furthermore, nearly 56 percent of the farmers used for the first time DFS services during the lockdown period.

This analysis indicates the latent demand and acceptability of financial services in rural areas. Additionally, it confirms that grassroot organizations such as cooperatives were a vital lifeline for farmers throughout the pandemic.

Usage of bank channels increased seven times at the start of the lockdown

Many countries have reported an increase in the usage of formal financial channels during the lockdown period. The data from the cooperatives revealed a similar pattern for farmers too, showing a seven-time increase in the usage of banking channels for deposits and withdrawals during the lockdown period. Most of the users preferred banking channels to cash out their wallet balance during the initial months of lockdown. This shows that users generally prefer using bank channels to transfer the received amount to their bank accounts.

Agents played a critical role in onboarding farmers

DFS agents such as cooperatives and other community-based organizations have been key in bridging the gap between farmers and formal financial channels. Users’ data show that nearly 58 percent of the cash coming into the wallet is through DFS agent channels such as onboarded cooperatives, merchants, and agents via the Prabhu platform. Also, nearly 42 percent of cash coming into the wallet is from other digital sources such as bank transfers (16 percent), mobile banking (16 percent) and remittances (10 percent). This indicates that due to the financial services offered by these grassroots organizations, farmers were able to use other digital channels as per their need, hence, broadening their financial access.

Farmers are using the digital wallet for additional services

The analysis shows that farmers have started to use digital payments for additional services such as agriculture inputs, insurance payments, etc. This demonstrates that there is a possibility and need for broadening the ecosystem with relevant merchants and new services. Farmers are ready for the expansion of the services provided at the tip of their fingers on their phones, it is now a matter of building their awareness.

The surge in the use of digital wallet has proven that the digitalization of dairy cooperatives has helped many smallholder farmers weather the pandemic. While COVID-19 is still running its course, the analysis underscores the importance of digital literacy and digital financial services, especially in rural Nepal.

Read more about digitalizing dairy cooperatives in Nepal


Women and girls have been discussing how to acquire cutting-edge ICT skills during an online seminar backed by the Commonwealth Secretariat and Google.

The webinar, focusing on digital literacy, digital entrepreneurship and digital leadership in three interactive panel sessions, highlighted the need for governments, civil society and the private sector to increase their efforts to build the digital skills of women and girls.

Held on 22 April to coincide with the international ‘Girls in ICT Day’, this event was the third in the Secretariat’s Data, Technology and Digitalisation series, targeting both policymakers and the public with over 100 participants.

Providing an overview of key digital technologies and the skills required to harness their full potential in the Commonwealth, the panels addressed gender equality, the empowerment of women and the strengthening of partnerships to support Commonwealth member countries.

Short films showcasing the impact of empowering women and girls were screened, with women sharing the benefits of being digitally empowered.

Benefits of being digitally empowered

Sajeda Begam, from India, is one of many women from across the Commonwealth who has benefitted from digital skills, helped by Google’s ‘Women Will’ initiative.

She said: “When I got my first smartphone and started using it to access the internet, I realised that there’s so much to learn. It gave me the self-confidence to teach others.”

Sajeda shared her experience of using the internet to help coordinate relief efforts with the authorities when her village was flooded and related how she passed on tech skills to other women and girls.

Nishma Robb, Google Director of Brand and Reputation Marketing, said: “I can never get tired of reading about these amazing stories of these women who’ve been given the opportunity and access to information.

“The opportunity to learn can fulfil not just dreams and ambitions but create more helpful opportunity for their families and communities. That’s the progress we need.”

Impact of digital inclusion

Joining the webinar, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Patricia Scotland said: “Attaining digital literacy lays the foundation for women and girls to then move on to careers in the digital world, digital entrepreneurship and to become digital leaders.

“We know, too, that digital inclusion has a significant impact for younger girls.

In education, the increased use of digital platforms and computer-centred resources means there is a potential for digital literacy to spread from schools to families and the larger community.”

The Secretary General added: “Digital inclusivity embraces the many ways in which we can cooperate and work together to tackle issues of knowledge, skill, opportunity, and access, relating to the design and use of technology and digital solutions .”

Three separate panel sessions of the seminar reached the same conclusion – that government and stakeholders should focus on programmes or initiatives that provide digital literacy for women and girls, digital entrepreneurship for financial independence and by extension, digital leadership.

Watch plenary sessions

Click the image to watch the video

Tell us about your experiences

The Commonwealth is inviting women and girls to share their experiences with the digital world in a short video message.

Click here to learn more and join the #DigitalSkillsForHer campaign. 


This May, the African Development Bank Group is launching a call for proposals for projects enhancing the viability and sustainability of women entrepreneurship enablers.

Women’s business associations, incubators, accelerators, and cooperatives that advance women’s entrepreneurship, can apply for funding for innovative projects or programs to bolster the skills of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) owned and run by women across Africa, the Bank announced.

Entrepreneurship enablers, which include business associations and civil society organizations, play an important role in empowering women to establish bankable SMEs and other businesses. However, the enablers themselves often face challenges, such as long-term growth plans and lack of financing, which reduce their reach, impact and sustainability.

“Women business enablers are critical to creating a viable enabling environment in which women entrepreneurs can grow and create businesses that generate jobs for the continent. Through the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa initiative, the Bank is committed to supporting enablers to strengthen the business and financial skills as well as wealth-creating capacity of their members,” said Esther Dassanou, manager of the program, also known as AFAWA.

The Bank will assess applicants’ track record in supporting women SMEs, innovation and strong development impact, as well as their capacity to mobilize other sources of funding. Eligible organizations may request funding of between $100,000 and $250,000, provided through the Bank’s Gender Equality Trust Fund.

Applications must be received by midnight on 30 May 2021.

“This call for proposals is an opportunity for direct and concrete support for women entrepreneurship enablers to scale up their growth and impact, and advance women’s financial inclusion on the continent,” said Vanessa Moungar, Bank Director for Gender, Women and Civil Society.

While all countries will be considered, proposals from the following countries that already align with the ongoing AFAWA Guarantee for Growth Program pipeline are strongly encouraged to apply: Cameroon, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Rwanda and Zambia.

For more details on the process and to access the proposal application click here.

AFAWA aims to unlock $5 billion in financing for small and medium enterprises owned and managed by women by 2026. AFAWA is supported by the Bank’s partners and donors, the Group of Seven (G7) countries as well as the Netherlands and Sweden, and the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi). The funding, which aims to strengthen the ecosystem for women’s entrepreneurship, is in line with the Bank’s agenda to further gender equality and women’s empowerment.


We are living through a decisive moment. The COVID-19 pandemic’s devasting impact is reaching every corner of the world. As we look back at this period, we will see history divided into a pre-COVID and a post-COVID world.

And a defining feature of the post-COVID world will be the digital transformation that has permeated every aspect of our lives. Chief Technology Officers can say that the pandemic has done their job for them, accelerating the digitalization of economies and societies at an unimaginable pace.

The digital transformation has gone hand in hand with the rise of digital technologies. These technologies have supported governments to implement social protection schemes at pace and scale. They have enabled e-health and online education, and they are helping businesses continue to operate and trade through digital finance and e-commerce.

However, ensuring that the digital transformation happening all around us does not become another facet of the deep inequalities of the countries in Asia and the Pacific is probably one of the greatest challenges we face as countries start to rebuild.

That is why inclusion must be at the heart of digital transformation if the promise to “leave no one behind” is to be met. In particular, we need to embed inclusive objectives in the four core foundations of the digital economy: Internet access, digital skills, digital financing and e-commerce.

Chances are you are reading this on your laptop or mobile phone, giving you access to the digital world. It is hard for most of us to imagine what life would be like during the pandemic if we didn’t. Sadly, this is a reality for over 2 billion people in the Asia-Pacific region. And among those two billion are some of the most vulnerable groups. For example, some 20 per cent of students in East Asia and the Pacific and almost 40 per cent of students in South and West Asia could not access remote learning this past year. This will have lasting effects that perpetuate inter-generational inequality and poverty.

To address the digital divide, our Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway initiative focuses on four interrelated pillars: infrastructure connectivity, efficient Internet traffic and network management, e-resilience, and affordable broadband access for all.

However, Internet access alone is not enough. There is a persistent and still expanding digital skills gap in the Asia-Pacific region. Among the top ten most digitally advanced economies in Asia and the Pacific, around 90 per cent of their populations use the Internet. At the beginning of the century, this share stood at around 25 per cent. By contrast, for the bottom ten economies, Internet users have grown from around 1 per cent in 2000 to only 20 per cent today.

In response, our Asian and Pacific Training Centre for Information and Communication Technology for Development is equipping policymakers and women and youth with digital skills by conducting demand-driven training programmes.

On digital finance, while the percentage of digital payment users has increased over recent years, the gap between men and women users persists. Additionally, in East Asia and the Pacific, there is a US$1.3 trillion formal financing gap for women-led enterprises.

And while the Asia-Pacific region is emerging as a leading force in the global e-commerce market – with more than 40 per cent of the global e-commerce transactions – these gains have been led by just a few markets.

As a response, our Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship project addresses the challenges women-owned enterprises face by developing innovative digital financing and e-commerce solutions to support women entrepreneurs, who have been hit harder than most during the pandemic. We have supported a range of digital finance and e-commerce solutions through this initiative – such as a digital bookkeeping app and an agritech solution – providing more inclusive options for women entrepreneurs to thrive. To date, the project has supported over 7,000 women to access financing and leveraged over US$50 million in private capital for women entrepreneurs.

Inclusion is undoubtedly central to the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific’s (ESCAP) technology and innovation work that focuses on addressing the core foundations of an inclusive digital economy.

The recent ESCAP, ADB and UNDP report on “Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leaving No country Behind” underlined the key role digital technologies played during the pandemic and how they can also play a critical role in building back better. However, the report shows that digitalization can also widen gaps in economic and social development within and between countries, unless countries can provide affordable and reliable Internet for all and make access to the core foundations of the digital economy central to building back better.

While digital transformation is certain, its direction is not. Governments, civil society and the private sector must work together to ensure that digital technologies benefit not only the economy but society and the environment, and have inclusion at their heart. Only then do we stand a chance of realizing the transformative potential of digital technologies to accelerate progress on the Sustainable Development Goals.


An explosion of data

Global data traffic has increased one thousand times over the last 20 years. Data travel thousands of kilometers along this seamless global data infrastructure supply chain at breathtaking speeds of 200,000 kilometers per second—meaning that digital data can, in principle, circle the globe five times within a second. This explosion of data creates an ever-growing demand for data infrastructure.

Data Infrastructure policy, one of the building blocks of a data governance framework, helps to level the playing field in the modern data economy making things more equitable.  Without modern data infrastructure at the national level, countries are unable to provide affordable and reliable connectivity to their population. At the same time, without access to broadband infrastructure at the local level, people cannot gain access to the wealth of data that exists, nor can data about those people be captured—so that their needs and preferences can be taken into account in the design and provision of public and private services. The World Development Report 2021, Data for Better Lives advocates for improving fairness in the global data system by addressing inequities in the availability of data infrastructure, both inequities between people and inequities between countries.

Connecting countries

Effective and efficient management of modern data flows requires that countries have access to a modern data infrastructure at the national level.  Due to lack of competition and good governance, such modern data infrastructure is much less prevalent in LICs than elsewhere (Figure 1), bringing disadvantages in terms of cost, speed and performance.

Figure 1: The global fiber-optic cable submarine network reaches all corners of the world, but data infrastructure is unevenly developed

Figure 1: The global fiber-optic cable submarine network reaches all corners of the world, but data infrastructure is unevenly developed
Sources: PeeringDB, Interconnection Database,; PCH Packet Clearing House, Packet Clearing House Report on Internet Exchange Point Locations (database), accessed December 14, 2020,; TeleGeography, Submarine Cables (database), Data at

The starting point for national data infrastructure is the establishment of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), which allow domestic data traffic to be exchanged locally, without the need for the data to travel vast distances to reach overseas IXPs, incurring significant costs and time delays in the process. For example, Latin America spends around US$2 billion a year for international bandwidth—a sum that could be reduced by one-third through greater use of IXPs. Overall, countries relying on overseas exchange of data have fixed data charges that are 35 times as high as those with full modern data infrastructure, and mobile data charges that are seven times as high.

While the development of IXPs does not call for huge investments, governance arrangements are critical to their success. Two contrasting stories from East Africa are instructive in this regard. In Djibouti, DJiX acts as a regional hub for data exchange that effectively serves the East Africa region, however, due to a domestic market monopoly, local internet users in Djibouti nonetheless face very high data charges. The situation is different in Kenya, where KIXP operates as a nonprofit with a multi-stakeholder board, attracting a wide diversity of participants including international content and cloud providers that help to improve the affordability and performance of data services in the country.

Once IXPs are established, countries need to create an environment for the private sector to invest in Colocation Data Centers, which—among other things—allow popular internet content from overseas to be stored locally, greatly reducing the cost and increasing the speed of usage. However, at present, there are more data centers in California than the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. For the private sector to be willing to invest in Colocation Data Centers, a highly stable physical and regulatory environments is required, combined with abundant low-cost renewable energy. These conditions can be challenging for low and middle-income countries to meet.

Cloud computing services overseas are becoming increasingly critical to access state-of-the-art software services and take advantage of artificial intelligence. However, hyperscale global cloud data center providers operate in just a handful of larger emerging markets such as Brazil and South Africa. While it may not be feasible to develop cloud computing in smaller LMICs, the provision of cloud on-ramps—cheap, fast, and secure direct links to cloud computers that bypass the public internet—is emerging as a valuable alternative. Cloud on-ramps do not yet exist in any LICs, but are available in some MICs that have the Colocation Data Centers to host them.

Connecting people

Significant progress has been made during recent years in rolling out coverage of 3G internet services, which has grown from 79% in 2015 to 92% in 2018; even if coverage continues to remain much lower at 71% in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

However, internet coverage does not necessarily translate into internet use. A staggering 40% of the world’s population live within range of a mobile signal but nonetheless fail to make use of it , and this share (which is known as the “usage gap”) has stubbornly persisted over time even as coverage has increased (Figure 2). The situation is even worse in some developing regions, with this usage gap rising to 49% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa, and as high as 64% of the population in South Asia—the latter being equivalent to 1 billion people in all. There is also an important gender dimension to internet uptake with globally 250 million fewer women than men using the internet, many of these concentrated in Asia. Econometric analysis found that educational attainment and relationships with friends who are already online are the strongest drivers of internet uptake.

Figure 2: The percentage of the population with an internet signal that fails to make use of data services (usage gap) has remained stubbornly high particularly in certain developing regions

Figure 2: The percentage of the population with an internet signal that fails to make use of data services (usage gap) has remained stubbornly high particularly in certain developing regions
Sources: WDR 2021 team, based on 2015 and 2018 data in International Telecommunication Union. 2018. ICTs, LDCs, and the SDGs: Achieving Universal and Affordable Internet in the Least Developed Countries. Thematic Report: ITU Development, LDCs and Small Island Developing States Series. Geneva: ITU. Data at

Recent survey evidence from more than 20 low- and middle-income countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America suggests that in many cases digital literacy is the single largest barrier to the uptake of broadband connectivity , with almost 70% of people overall indicating that they do not understand what the internet is or how to use it. While this has not typically been a focus of universal access policies in the past, some countries are beginning to take serious action to improve digital literacy. In Rwanda, the government trained 5,000 youth as Digital Ambassadors to go out into the rural areas with the aim of training 5 million people over a four-year period 2017-21.

After digital literacy, affordability is the second largest barrier to uptake cited by about 15% of those surveyed. Efforts are also underway to reduce the cost of purchasing a smartphone, which can absorb as much as 80% of the monthly budget of poor households. Ethiopia has formed a partnership with Chinese manufacturers for local assembly of smartphones to reduce their cost. More widely in Africa, MTN launched a low-cost smartphone costing just $20, while in India Jio had managed to drive costs as low as $9. Some countries, such as Costa Rica and Malaysia, are even allowing Universal Service Funds to be used to subsidize the purchase of smartphones for disadvantaged groups, as opposed to the more traditional practice of subsidizing network rollout by operators.

Even those who do use data are consuming too little to reap the full value of it. In low-income countries, average data consumption stands at just 0.2 gigabytes per month compared to just over 7 gigabytes per month in high-income countries (Figure 3). This has prompted extensive debate regarding how much monthly data consumption is “enough” to meet basic needs or mounting social expectations. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, A4AI had argued for a subsistence consumption threshold of 1 gigabyte per month, but this falls far short of what may be needed to support resilient remote working and schooling arrangements during crisis situations. Research undertaken for the WDR 2021, suggests that under normal circumstances, 0.6 gigabytes per month is adequate to support basic functions such as newsgathering, financial and commercial transactions, and accessing government services. However, adding even a modest amount of video streaming whether for education, employment, or entertainment rapidly takes the requirement up towards 7 gigabytes per month.

Figure 3: Inequities in mobile data consumption across country income groups and regions are huge

Figure 3: Inequities in mobile data consumption across country income groups and regions are huge
Source: WDR 2021 team. Data at Data are for 2018. Figures include averages of 119 economies with data. GB = gigabytes.

Competition among mobile operators remains one of the most powerful tools to promote access. Both Cambodia and India have witnessed a dramatic expansion of 4G penetration following the competitive entry of mobile network operators into the market. Intensifying competition triggered a huge drop in prices from initial levels of $4-5 per gigabyte per month to under $0.20 per gigabyte per month in both of these countries. More affordable prices led to a surge in demand for data services with consumption soaring from less than 1 gigabyte per month to around 7 gigabytes per month; comparable to levels in high-income countries.

Achieving equity through infrastructure

Going forward, global efforts on universal access—based on goals set by the UN Broadband Commission—will play a critical role in making the data economy more equitable by ensuring that all have affordable, reliable, and high-speed internet service.  To achieve this vision, efforts will need to expand beyond the traditional focus on rollout (and continuous upgrading) of mobile networks into remote rural areas; important as that continues to be. Increasingly, policy-makers will need to pay closer attention to demand-side barriers, such as digital literacy and handset affordability, as well as ensuring that the whole system is underpinned by modern national data infrastructure to support the efficient exchange, storage, and processing of data.

To download the full report, click here.

Read more about Chapter 5 of the report here.

To learn more about the World Development Report 2021, please visit this website.


The COVID-19 pandemic and consequent economic crisis have indelibly altered our daily lives. One of the profound changes has been the acceleration in the shift towards digital payments, as customers avoided cash over fears it might spread the virus, and as retailers adapted by moving their activity online.

These challenges provided fertile grounds for exploring new digital forms of payment. How the world coordinates over the treatment of these new, potentially disruptive, technologies will critically shape whether the opportunities they present can be harnessed and the risks mitigated.

Two such new developments are central bank digital currencies (CBDC) and “stablecoins”. Central banks are actively looking at CBDCs, and demand for digital means of payments is here to stay. A Bank for International Settlements (BIS) survey found that more than 85% of central banks are exploring or researching CBDC, although in many cases their issuance is not yet concluded.

As examples, Singapore recently completed its Project Ubin, a multi-year investigation into the use of CBDC for wholesale transactions. China has been conducting advanced pilot projects for a digital yuan targeted at retail use. The European Central Bank and Bank of England each have active efforts researching CBDC. Beyond pilots, the Bahamas and the Eastern Caribbean Monetary Union have recently started to issue CBDC.

In contrast to CBDC, stablecoins are not issued by monetary authorities but rather private entities. They are generally conceived as a form of cryptocurrency, operating on distributed ledger technology but with stabilization mechanisms to keep their prices stable relative to an asset such as fiat currency, commodities or other cryptocurrencies. This means stablecoins do not suffer the same volatility as other digital currencies, thus making them a relatively stronger potential means of exchange and store of value. Some examples are Tether and USD Coin, which are pegged to the US dollar.

One of the main appeals of CBDC or stablecoins is the potential to enable faster or cheaper cross-border transactions, lowering costs to consumers, facilitating trade and strengthening global economic integration.

The pandemic has also highlighted the importance of improving access to digital financial services to effectively help those most in need. Digital currencies could potentially have been used to improve the distribution of aid and crisis relief payments particularly when travel or physical access was impossible. As an example, during 2020, the Grameen Foundation successfully disbursed COVID-19 financial support as digital vouchers to 3,500 women in the Philippines, used for groceries and medical packages, via an app on their mobile phones.

Another opportunity for both private and public digital currencies lies in fostering financial inclusion. Digital currencies could potentially lower the barriers that low-income and hard-to-reach populations face in accessing financial services. Several features could be designed, i.e. programmed, into the digital currency to ensure the integrity of the transactions. That said, further research into all three of the aforementioned opportunities is necessary, including consideration of risks and trade-offs and value-add capabilities versus pre-existing options.

These technological developments are not without significant challenges. The payment system is a public good; it needs to be regulated. For example, policymakers must address concerns about privately-issued digital currencies potentially being used outside of regulatory perimeters, facilitating money laundering or terrorist financing transactions. The ease by which digital currencies can be purchased and traded 24/7 over the internet and mobile phone, sometimes without the involvement of regulated entities, raises concerns about consumer protection, data privacy and potential cybersecurity risks.

On a macroeconomic level, CBDCs and stablecoins backed by major currencies could pose monetary and financial stability risks, especially to more vulnerable and developing economies. Some countries could suffer capital flight or exchange rate volatility arising from residents’ access to a CBDC issued by a major economy with strong economic fundamentals and low inflation (or access to a stablecoin denominated in a relatively stronger foreign currency). This, in turn, could disrupt bank lending and erase local liquidity from bank deposits.

To harness and contribute towards the global understanding and decision-making for these and other pressing policy and governance issues related to digital currencies, the World Economic Forum’s Digital Currency Governance Consortium has brought together more than 80 organizations to identify priorities and propose solutions. Since its creation in 2020, the work undertaken by the consortium has identified several key areas of focus.

First, international cooperation will be key to overcoming the challenges of cross-border digital currency flows.

There must be international consensus on the classification of digital currencies so that there can be consistent and effective cross-border regulation. The Financial Stability Board’s recommendations to address the regulatory challenges raised by global stablecoins could serve as a benchmark for individual jurisdictions. In addition, cooperation among regulators, such as through supervisory colleges, could reduce gaps and unevenness caused by the cross-border usage of these currencies.

Second, data privacy is paramount. Governments must establish appropriate practices for the sharing, owning or acquiring of account data to ensure the security of user data and the protection of privacy.

Third, public and private-sector collaboration is fundamental. The private sector can offer innovative products and services that support the authorities’ efforts to foster more resilient, inclusive and innovative payments. In turn, central banks and financial policymakers should take care not to crowd out private firms, but to design CBDCs or regulation in a way that spurs competition.

Lastly, technical interoperability should not be overlooked. The extent to which CBDC or stablecoin arrangements can connect with pre-existing and new systems domestically or cross-border will influence the value they provide to users and the benefits from enhanced market competition. However, interoperability may come at the expense of increased exposure to failures or breaches and a slower pace of innovation as providers conform to common data and software standards.

Rapidly and in the very near future, policymakers will have to make critical decisions about the role that public and private institutions will play in digital payments and digital currencies. They must also coordinate to resolve certain critical issues, arising from international spill-overs and within the cross-border payments space. These actions will determine the degree to which the world will be able to realize the benefits of digitalisation, which is perhaps a silver lining in the post-pandemic world.


Online registration for the 2021 Public Forum is now open. The main theme for this year’s Forum, which will be held from 28 to 30 September, is “Trade beyond COVID-19: Building Resilience”.

The Forum’s subthemes are “Enhancing resilience beyond COVID-19”, “Strengthening the multilateral trading system” and “Collective action towards sustainable trade”. The online registration form can be accessed here.

In light of the uncertainties and restrictions related to COVID-19, the WTO will continue to monitor the situation to determine whether the Forum will be held virtually or in hybrid mode. Information on this will be shared in July.

Individuals wishing to attend the Forum must register online by 6 September 2021.

For more information on the theme and sub-themes, please visit the Public Forum webpage


The Public Forum is the WTO’s largest annual outreach event. It provides a unique platform for heads of states, parliamentarians, leading global business people, students, academics and non-governmental organizations to come together and debate on a wide range of WTO issues and on some of the major trade and development topics of the day. Over 1,500 participants attend the Forum each year.

Should you have further questions, please contact the Public Forum Team at:

eTrade for all | WEF

The Global Technology Governance Summit (GTGS) was organized on 6-7 April in virtual format. The summit aims to be the foremost global multistakeholder gathering dedicated to ensuring the responsible design and deployment of emerging technologies through public-private collaboration.

Here at eTrade for all, we hand-picked a selection of relevant events harnessing a few of the most pressing issues in the deployment of technologies. Watch the recordings :

Taxing Digital Value

Digital trade has continued to flourish during in the pandemic and governments enacted over 100 new digital taxes. How is the rise of cross-border digital services changing business models and national policies?

Closing the Digital Divide

While digital technologies enabled hundreds of millions to participate online during the pandemic, the 3.7 billion people without internet connectivity have fallen further behind. What are the most urgent and promising innovations in bridging the digital divide?

The Future of Digital Infrastructure

Public sectors with effective digital infrastructures have greater flexibility and resilience to deal with future risks and uncertainties. How will the role of 5G, quantum computing and AI at the edge evolve for the next generation of the public sector?

Digital Payments: Realizing the Vision

COVID-19 accelerated the uptake of cross-border digital payments, making it convenient for consumers to purchase goods and services around the world, but significant challenges persist. How can businesses, policy-makers and regulators reduce friction and improve connections between digital economies globally?

Future-proofing Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 90% of businesses and half of employment worldwide, yet their slow adoption of new technologies risks exacerbating economic inequality and dragging down global industrial productivity. How can we make SMEs “future-ready” in a context of rapid technological change?

To discover the full list of events, visit the dedicated page from the World Economic Forum :


At the heart of the digital divide is a yawning innovation gap. Many national policies and strategies — even in developed countries — often fail to close it.

This has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, putting countries with low digital technological capabilities at an increasingly significant risk of marginalization.

The result?

Talent is unfulfilled, small- and medium-sized enterprises are struggling, and slow digital transformation of communities is hampering progress on reaching the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The question is: how can we foster innovation to ensure that advances in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, and mobile communications are widely and fairly distributed?

The role of standards

International standards are part of the answer. They are an essential aid for developing countries to build their infrastructure and stimulate economic development. Standards development must underpin global efforts to build back better from the pandemic.

Standards also drive competitiveness — not just for individual businesses, but throughout the entire global economy — by fostering efficiency, effectiveness, responsiveness, and innovation.

Standards development has been central to the work of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for over 150 years, from the telegraph to fifth-generation (5G) mobile technologies.

Each new technical standard normally stems from a collaborative process of several years between ITU Member States, equipment manufacturers, network operators, standards development organizations and academia.

Most recently, ITU published the detailed specifications for IMT-2020 radio interface technologies, which can leverage the advantages of 5G for a wider range of uses, from autonomous vehicles to smart cities.

This builds on the innovative 5G applications we have already seen in healthcare, public safety, manufacturing, and education during the pandemic.

Collaborative spirit

Building trust is at the heart of all that we do in the standards community. The collaborative spirit, exemplified by ITU’s public-private membership, is why I am pleased to participate in events like the United Nations Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation, together with eminent speakers from government, the private sector, academia and civil society.
Multi-stakeholder co-operation is also characteristic of a major ITU-led forum, the World Summit on the Information Society.

COVID-19 continues disrupting progress on all aspects of sustainable development as well as inflicting loss of life and damage to livelihoods around the world. Consequently, the need for collaboration, cooperation and coordination across sectors and borders has never been more important than today.

In challenging times, we each need to bring our own specific competencies to the table, avoid duplication of efforts, and pool resources to build vibrant digital-innovation ecosystems.

What is at stake, ultimately, is nothing less than the future of our economies, our societies, and our planet. The enabling technologies for digital transformation can be harnessed to put the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development back on track.

Only then can we turn today’s digital revolution into a true human development revolution for all.

Based on Mr Johnson’s remarks during the sixth annual Multi-stakeholder Forum on Science Technology and Innovation for the Sustainable Development Goals (STI Forum), where he opened a virtual side event, “Fostering STI Ecosystems for Impact: Enabling Technologies Advancing Human Infrastructure”.


Heads of WTO member delegations today exchanged views about issues on which they can realistically reach agreements in the run-up to the 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) later this year, and what needs to happen to make such deals possible. Fisheries subsidies, agriculture and the COVID-19 pandemic featured prominently in the discussions, with several members stressing that delivering concrete negotiated results was critical for the WTO’s credibility. The 3 May gathering was both a formal session of the Trade Negotiations Committee and an informal meeting of Heads of Delegation.


Summing up members’ interventions at the end of the day, WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said what she had heard matched what she had been told in her own consultations: “Views are coalescing around the most feasible priorities for delivery between now and MC12 — although of course there are gaps on how we get there and on the content of prospective results.”

She said three concrete deliverables stood out: an agreement to curb harmful fisheries subsidies; outcomes on agriculture, with a focus on food security; and a framework that would better equip the WTO to support efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic and future health crises.

Looking to the weeks and months ahead, the Director-General expressed hope that by July members would be able to finalize an agreement on fisheries subsidies and achieve clarity about what can be delivered by MC12, scheduled to run from 30 November to 3 December in Geneva.

On fisheries subsidies, she urged members to exercise the necessary flexibility to overcome the remaining hurdles. With ministerial involvement likely required to finalize an agreement in July, she called on delegations to work with the chair of the negotiations, Ambassador Santiago Wills of Colombia, to prepare a draft negotiating text with a minimal number of outstanding issues for ministers to resolve. “We are almost there, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, stressing she stood ready to help members and the chair translate increased flexibility into an agreement.

Noting that for many members, meaningful outcomes on agriculture were necessary to make MC12 a success, DG Okonjo-Iweala said that the pandemic, and rising hunger around the world, made a strong case for a WTO “food security package”. Elements for a prospective package included public stockholding, the proposed exemption from export restrictions of World Food Programme humanitarian purchases, domestic support and transparency, with some delegations also raising cotton and the special safeguard mechanism.

The Director-General welcomed the view expressed by many delegations that MC12 can deliver concrete responses on trade and health. The WTO’s spotlight on export restrictions and the need to increase vaccine production volumes was gaining attention and engagement from leaders, she said.

Reporting on a 14 April event where vaccine manufacturers, international organizations, civil society and members looked at how the WTO could contribute to efforts to combat the global scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines, she said it was clear that underused manufacturing capacity existed in several developing countries.

DG Okonjo-Iweala praised members’ support to India amid the upsurge in COVID-19 cases there, which followed India’s own exports of a large number of vaccines. “That is what the WTO membership should be about — working together, supporting each other,” she said. She asked members to bring the same sense of common purpose to bear on engaging in text-based negotiations on the TRIPS waiver proposal aimed at finding a pragmatic compromise that works for all.

With regard to dispute settlement, where many members called for resolution to the impasse over the Appellate Body, the Director-General expressed hope that by MC12 members “can reach a shared understanding on the types of reforms needed”.

The General Council chair, Ambassador Dacio Castillo of Honduras, is consulting on proposals about issues specific to least-developed countries such as the G-90 proposals on special and differential treatment as well as on small economies and areas such as the e-commerce Work Programme, she said.

She noted that groups of members had signalled a desire to move ahead in areas such as services domestic regulation, e-commerce, investment facilitation, women’s economic empowerment, micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises as well as issues related to trade and climate change.

For issues not in a position to be concluded this year, the Director-General said members had called for post-MC12 work programmes on multilateral issues relating to agriculture, services, and special and differential treatment as well as in joint statement initiatives in areas including plastics pollution and environmental sustainability.

DG Okonjo-Iweala said that in the coming days, she would intensify her own outreach with heads of delegation, organizing meetings “in various configurations large and small” to support the chairs of negotiating groups in their efforts to broker compromise among members. She reiterated her commitment to ensuring adequate representation and transparency in these meetings. “Nothing will be done behind closed doors that people don’t know about,” she emphasised. She indicated that she would work closely with the General Council chair and the chairs of the negotiating bodies as well as MC12 chair Kazakhstan to conduct these meetings.

Emphasising the tight timeframe for members to resolve their outstanding differences, the Director-General said the “path to July” would involve a large number of intensive meetings aimed at narrowing gaps. “Week in, week out, this is what we will do now.”


The pandemic has, however, resulted in mixed fortunes for some e-commerce companies, reversing the profits of firms offering services such as ride-hailing and travel.

The dramatic rise in e-commerce amid movement restrictions induced by COVID-19 increased online retail sales’ share of total retail sales from 16% to 19% in 2020, according to estimates in an UNCTAD report published on 3 May.

UNCTAD released the report as it hosted a two-day meeting on measuring e-commerce and the digital economy.

According to the report, online retail sales grew markedly in several countries, with the Republic of Korea reporting the highest share at 25.9% in 2020, up from 20.8% the year before (Table 1).

Meanwhile, global e-commerce sales jumped to $26.7 trillion globally in 2019, up 4% from 2018, according to the latest available estimates.

This includes business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, and is equivalent to 30% of global gross domestic product (GDP) that year.

“These statistics show the growing importance of online activities. They also point to the need for countries, especially developing ones, to have such information as they rebuild their economies in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics.


Table 1: Online retail sales, selected economies, 2018-2020

Economy Online retail sales

($ billions)

Retail sales

($ billions)

Online share

(% of retail sales)

2018 2019 2020 2018 2019 2020 2018 2019 2020
Australia 13.5 14.4 22.9 239 229 242 5.6 6.3 9.4
Canada 13.9 16.5 28.1 467 462 452 3.0 3.6 6.2
China 1,060.4 1,233.6 1,414.3 5,755 5,957 5,681 18.4 20.7 24.9
Korea (Rep.) 76.8 84.3 104.4 423 406 403 18.2 20.8 25.9
Singapore 1.6 1.9 3.2 34 32 27 4.7 5.9 11.7
United Kingdom 84.0 89.0 130.6 565 564 560 14.9 15.8 23.3
United States 519.6 598.0 791.7 5,269 5,452 5,638 9.9 11.0 14.0
Economies above 1,770 2,038 2,495 12,752 13,102 13,003 14 16 19

Source: UNCTAD, based on national statistics offices.


Mixed fortunes for some firms

The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in mixed fortunes for leading B2C e-commerce companies, according to the UNCTAD report.

Data for the top 13 e-commerce firms, 11 of which are from China and the United States, shows a notable reversal of fortunes for platform companies offering services such as ride-hailing and travel (Table 2).

All of them experienced sharp declines in gross merchandize value (GMV) and corresponding drops in ranks.

For instance, Expedia fell from 5th place in 2019 to 11th in 2020, Booking Holdings from 6th to 12th and Airbnb, which launched its initial public offering in 2020, from 11th to 13th.

Despite the reduction in services companies’ GMV, total GMV for the top 13 B2C e-commerce companies rose by 20.5% in 2020, higher than in 2019 (17.9%). There were particularly large gains for Shopify (up 95.6%) and Walmart (72.4%). Overall, B2C GMV for the top 13 companies stood at $2.9 trillion in 2020.


Table 2: Top B2C e-commerce companies by GMV, 2020

Rank by GMV Company HQ Industry GMV

($ billions)

GMV change


2020 2019 2018 2019 2020 2018-19 2019-20
1 1 Alibaba China E-commerce 866 954    1,145 10.2 20.1
2 2 Amazon USA E-commerce 344 417 575 21.0 38.0
3 3 China E-commerce 253 302 379 19.1 25.4
4 4 Pinduoduo China E-commerce 71 146 242 104.4 65.9
5 9 Shopify Canada Internet Media & Services 41 61 120 48.7 95.6
6 7 eBay USA E-commerce 90 86 100 -4.8 17.0
7 10 Meituan China E-commerce 43 57 71 33.0 24.6
8 12 Walmart USA Consumer goods retail 25 37 64 47.0 72.4
9 8 Uber USA Internet Media & Services 50 65 58 30.5 -10.9
10 13 Rakuten Japan E-commerce 30 34 42 13.6 24.2
11 5 Expedia USA Internet Media & Services 100 108 37 8.2 -65.9
12 6 Booking Holdings USA Internet Media & Services 93 96 35 4.0 -63.3
13 11 Airbnb USA Internet Media & Services 29 38 24 29.3 -37.1
Companies above 2,035 2,399 2,890 17.9 20.5

Source:  UNCTAD based on company reports.
Note: Alibaba year beginning 1 April, Walmart year beginning 1 February. Figures in italics are estimates. GMV = Gross Merchandize Value (as well as Booking Value).


Business-to-business sales dominate e-commerce

The report estimates the value of global B2B e-commerce in 2019 at $21.8 trillion, representing 82% of all e-commerce, including both sales over online market platforms and electronic data interchange (EDI) transactions.

The United States continued to dominate the overall e-commerce market, ahead of Japan and China (Table 3).

B2C e-commerce sales were estimated at $4.9 trillion in 2019, up 11% over 2018. The top three countries by B2C e-commerce sales remained China, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Cross-border B2C e-commerce amounted to some $440 billion in 2019, an increase of 9% over 2018. The UNCTAD report also notes that the share of online shoppers making cross-border purchases rose from 20% in 2017 to 25% in 2019.


Table 3: E-commerce sales: Top 10 countries, 2019

Rank Economy Total e-commerce sales

($ billions)

Share of total e-commerce sales in GDP (%) B2B e-commerce sales

($ billions)

Share of B2B e-commerce sales in total e-commerce (%) B2C e-commerce sales

($ billions)

1 United States 9,580 45   8,319 87   1,261
2 Japan 3,416 67   3,238 95      178
3 China 2,604 18   1,065 41   1,539
4 Korea (Rep.) 1,302 79   1,187 91      115
5 United Kingdom     885 31      633 72      251
6 France     785 29      669 85      116
7 Germany     524 14      413 79      111
8 Italy     431 22      396 92        35
9 Australia     347 25      325 94        21
10 Spain     344 25      280 81        64
10 above 20,218 36 16,526 82   3,691
World 26,673 30 21,803   4,870

Source: UNCTAD, based on national sources.
Note: Figures in italics are UNCTAD estimates.


E-commerce firms perform poorly in digital inclusion

Despite e-commerce firms’ sizeable fortunes, an index released by the World Benchmarking Alliance in December last year rated them poorly on digital inclusion.

The index ranked 100 digital companies, including 14 e-commerce firms, based on how they contribute to access to digital technologies, building digital skills, enhancing trust and fostering innovation.

E-commerce enterprises underperformed compared to companies in other digital industries such as hardware or telecommunication services.

For instance, the highest-ranked e-commerce company was eBay at 49th place. Overall, e-commerce companies obtained a score of just 20 out of a possible 100.

According to the UNCTAD report, a main factor for the poor performance is that e-commerce companies are relatively young, typically founded only in the last two decades.

“These firms have been more focused on shareholders rather than engaging with a wide group of stakeholders and compiling metrics on their environmental, social and governance performance,” the report says.

Nonetheless, there are some bright spots. For instance, several e-commerce companies provide free training to entrepreneurs on how to sell online including in some cases, specifically targeted at vulnerable groups such as people with disabilities or ethnic minorities.


The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard the economies of many African countries, and pushed many more citizens into poverty, but some countries like Rwanda and Togo have used digitization to keep their economies running.

Speaking during the launch of a Pan-African peer exchange series on the benefits of responsible digital government payments, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Ms. Vera Songwe said the pandemic had a huge toll on African economies with GDP growth estimated to have dropped from 3.3% in 2019 to -2.6% in 2020. It is, however, anticipated that growth would return to 3.3% in 2021.

The ECA further estimates that about 100 million people have been pushed into poverty by the pandemic, Ms. Songwe said, adding the scars of COVID-19 were going to ‘remain with us for a very long time’.

Digitization, the ECA Chief said, presented opportunities for African countries to lift the poor out of poverty.

“Digitizing tax payments and related processes can raise additional resources for African governments to fight COVID-19 and help move countries back to growth,” said Ms. Songwe in opening remarks during the launch of the series that will see policymakers sharing challenges and successes and set a high bar for what can be accomplished on the continent through digitization of government payments.

“As economies digitalize, the benefits from digital payments and e-commerce multiply, thereby accelerating recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, sustaining development, and facilitating achievement of the sustainable development goals, through taxes and wages, among others.”

The ECA has been in the forefront, nudging African countries to turn to and accelerate digitization to not only keep their economies running, but to also respond to the rise in poverty among marginalized citizens.

 Ms. Songwe congratulated Togo and Rwanda for using digitization to manage the pandemic in a way that would have been impossible if there were no digital platforms, including social protection cash payments to cushion citizens from the effects of the crisis.

Sharing her country’s experience of using digital cash transfers to citizens during the pandemic, Ms. Cina Lawson, Togo’s Postal Affairs and Digital Economy Minister, said they built a USSD platform in 10 days, and people who registered, didn’t need Internet connection to connect.

“We had 1. 6 million Togolese registering on this platform. From onboarding to receiving cash, it was all digital. If the platform deemed you eligible, you would straight away receive an SMS with the money. It takes a minute from onboarding to receiving cash,” she said.

The number of people who registered onto the platform represented about 44% of the population, and 840,000 people became beneficiaries, which is approximately 22% of all Togolese, explained Ms. Lawson.

She said the platform guaranteed transparency as transactions were traceable. An independent firm was hired to audit the transfers daily. The country is using the same platform to register citizens for COVID-19 vaccinations.

For his part, Rwanda’s Minister of State, National Treasury, Mr. Richard Tusabe, in sharing his country’s experience with digitization, spoke about the ‘Ejoheza savings scheme’, an inclusive scheme which targets both salaried and non-salaried workers and has a social component. He said about 95% of Rwandan citizens are not covered in any pension scheme hence the need for the savings scheme which came in handy during the pandemic.

“So, to capture the 95 per cent to start to save and be able to retire with dignity, Ejoheza was started in December 2018. It is also a USSD platform. The government then set up a matching fund, and when you save up to $18, the government gives you a matching equivalent,” said Mr. Tusabe.

The two ministers shared experiences, challenges, and good practices and undertook to keep learning from each other’s experiences in using digital innovations to improve the productivity of businesses and ensure positive economy-wide benefits.

In her remarks, Ms. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the United Nation’s Better Than Cash Alliance, commended the two countries saying; “This is what we need. You understood what your citizens needed, and you responded quickly with responsible digital payments.”

Ms. Goodwin-Groen lauded the partnership with the ECA to launch the series, adding this was a unique opportunity for governments to convene and collaborate by sharing experiences, challenges, and key learnings from responsibly digitizing payments.

The launch will be followed by a series of three round-table workshops over the next two months for policymakers only. Each round-table workshop is specifically designed to focus on a critical aspect of digital government payment, such as Government to People (G2P) and People to Government (P2G), for example tax, pension, and health care. The final session will share insights and recommendations from the workshop participants and will be an open session.

Click here to access the series launch recording:

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