Noticias

CNUCYD

ICT services grew to almost 14% of total services’ exports worldwide in 2020, while the long-term upward trend in digitally deliverable services trade rapidly accelerated.

COVID-19 has provided a strong impetus for businesses and individuals to adopt digital tools, helping to drive a 6% increase in worldwide exports of ICT services, according to an UNCTAD technical note on the pandemic’s impact on trade in the digital economy, published on 21 October.

The value of ICT services’ exports worldwide reached $676 billion in 2020 as the usage of communications services, computer services and software were boosted by the lockdown restrictions implemented in many economies.

This took digitally deliverable services to nearly 64% of total services exports, as they contracted relatively little against the backdrop of an unprecedented decline in total services trade.

However, while these shares increased across all regions, the pandemic-related acceleration in digitalization risks further exacerbating digital divides, with least developed countries (LDCs) being left further behind.

“Low levels of digitalization and eTrade readiness are hampering the ability of LDCs to engage in digital trade at a moment when it has suddenly become even more important,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD director of technology and logistics. “It underscores the need to boost the capabilities of those trailing in digital readiness to catch up in the digital economy.”

UNCTAD offers a range of technical assistance and capacity-building to support countries in engaging with and measuring their performance related to e‑commerce and the digital economy.

Digital delivery gains traction

Meanwhile, exports of the wider category of digitally deliverable services – those that can be delivered remotely over ICT networks such as the internet – fell by $58 billion to a value of $3.17 trillion worldwide.

Nevertheless, digital technologies appear to have played an important role in supporting broader international trade and economic activity in 2020.

While total services exports declined by 20% (an unprecedented drop since records began in 1990), worldwide exports of digitally deliverable services fell by only 1.8%. This reflects an increasing reliance on digital delivery to continue services’ trade despite restrictions on movement implemented due to the pandemic.

With ICT services exports increasing and digitally deliverable services exports holding relatively steady in 2020, their share in the greatly reduced overall services exports increased significantly across all regions.

Worldwide, digitally deliverable services went from below 52% of services exports in 2019 to almost 64% in 2020, while ICT services grew from 10% to almost 14%, a marked acceleration of the long-term trend (as shown in the chart below).

Regions fared differently within this overarching picture, however. While the export share of digitally deliverable services increased in all regions and there was a 14-percentage point increase across developing regions, the increase was only 10 percentage points in Africa and 6 percentage points in LDCs.

ICT services’ export share increased markedly less in LDCs compared to other regions – rising just 0.74 percentage points compared to 3.3 percentage points globally.

Global ICT and digitally deliverable services exports, 2005-2020 and 2019-2020 As a percentage of total services exports

Global ICT and digitally deliverable services exports

Source: UNCTAD based on UNCTAD digital economy statistics (unctadstat.unctad.org).
Note: ICT services unavailable for “Developing regions (M49)” and “Asia and Oceania”.

WBG

In a world where access to financial services and high-speed broadband internet is not universal or affordable, fintech can democratize access to finance and the world can move closer to achieving financial inclusion. 

At the World Bank Group (WBG), we look at financial inclusion across three dimensions – ‘Access, Usage, and Quality’ of financial services.  Fintech has the potential to lower costs, while increasing speed and accessibility, allowing for more tailored financial services that can scale. Over the last decade, 1.2 billion previously unbanked adults gained access to financial services, and the unbanked population fell by 35%, primarily boosted by the increase in mobile money accounts.  While globally 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked, fintech is helping make financial services more accessible to an increasing number of people.

Beyond mobile money, fintech has also shown promise in areas such as Government to Person payments and cross-border remittances. Our paper on Digital Financial Services explains how this potential has been apparent during the COVID-19 crisis, when digital delivery channels have helped governments quickly and securely reach vulnerable consumers with cash transfers and emergency liquidity – allowing the transfer of funds with limited physical contact.

Global remittances in particular may see a complete transformation through the use of technology. Cross-border remittances account for $600bn in value and often exceed official developmental aid figures. The average global cost to send these funds in the form of cash is 6.8 percent, while a fully digital transaction drops the cost to 3.3 percent and reduces issues of liquidity.

Digital disruption, however, is not new, and we have long been able to summon movies, food and transportation at the touch of a button. Yet, the impact on the financial sector is different, primarily due to a) the impact it can have on financial integrity and stability b) new entrants with unconventional business models that don’t fit neatly into existing legal frameworks and are difficult to monitor and c) the bearing on consumer protection.

This has led to a dilemma for policymakers worldwide when trying to achieve the right balance between enabling innovative fintech and safeguarding the financial system. They have taken different approaches- such as the use of regulatory sandboxes to direct regulatory amendments, which we highlight in our paper on Evaluating different fintech approaches.

Despite their utility, innovative technologies do have inherent risk. Fraud, issues of competition, data leakage, and unprotected consumer funds number among them. Responsible financial innovation requires balancing opportunity and innovation with safeguards to protect consumers. Our forthcoming paper on Consumer Risks in Fintech provides an overview new manifestation of risks to consumers and emerging approaches that can help mitigate such risks.

At the WBG, we support digital transformation in our client countries by:

  • Building the financial infrastructure and foundational building blocks including the regulatory and policy frameworks, digitally-enabled identity, and robust payment and credit infrastructures for sustainable, technology-led financial economies.
  • Boosting the capacity of governments to harness fintech, data, and expertise while responding proactively to changing regulatory and supervisory requirements.
  • Brokering collaboration between different players- both public and private- in the financial ecosystem to bring about symbiotic positive change.

One specific area where the WBG has been focusing its efforts is on the gender lens and the plight of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). For instance, in India and in Ethiopia we are supporting women-led MSMEs – mostly vendors, seamstresses or marginal farmers – in using digital platforms. Working closely with the governments and fintechs on the ground, we are developing an application to support digital literacy while delivering targeted business insights and advice. Moreover, this data along with other alternative data such as repayment of store credit and collaborative behaviors will contribute to a credit score providing a route for access to finance to those without formal credit histories. The use of alternative data is gaining popularity in a number of other countries from Chile to Sierra Leone where  innovative solutions harness the value of transaction data from ecommerce and payment platforms, mobile phones, or even social networks as alternative sources of information to assess creditworthiness. This is financial empowerment in action—especially when combined with measures to protect consumers and financial education to prevent over-indebtedness.

Another important technology that is being tested for its role in developing markets and inclusion is distributed ledger technology (DLT). The WBG is working with the government of Haiti to export their high quality mangoes and avocados using DLT. This supports the supply chain and maintains symmetry of information hence de-risking the investment of third parties that conduct the quality control while allowing the farmer to keep ownership until the final sale to the consumer.

Financial inclusion, however, is not only a goal in itself, but also a means to an end as an enabler and accelerator of economic growth.  It has a multiplier effect, contributes to the economic development and stability of a country, and aids the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Through our work, we aim to give the 1.7 billion remaining unbanked —mostly poor, mostly women—access to basic financial services, and we are using fintech to help us. We take a minute to pause and to learn from our experiences, build on the progress made so far, and look into the future—to the next 20 years—as our journey continues.

This article was first published in the Fintech times- Edition 39’.

OMA

In many countries, statistics show a strong uptake of online sales and a big increase in the market share of online as opposed to offline retail since the start of the pandemic. In COVID-19 and e-commerce: a global review, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development reported that Latin America’s online marketplace Mercado Libre, for example, sold twice as many items per day in the second quarter of 2020 as during the same period in the previous year; African e-commerce platform Jumia reported a 50% jump in transactions during the first six months of 2020.

The three members of the Global Express Association (DHL, FedEx and UPS) have also seen a massive increase in the volumes of non-document shipments they carry.  During the first wave of the pandemic – February to June 2020 – their volumes grew by 50%. Part of this increase was medical equipment (PPEs, masks, etc.), but a substantial proportion was made up of other types of items.

Consumers went online – many millions of them for the first time – because they could not go out to the shop round the corner. Some observers believe that many will return to the shops when they re-open, but many will continue to shop online. In other words, the volumes of shipments of goods purchased online will stay strong during the recovery from the pandemic.

It is more difficult to find data on international online sales, but here as well, volumes are reported to be increasing. When the COVID-19 outbreak became global early in 2020, initial uncertainty and transport disruption caused a dip in international online sales, but according to cross-border e-commerce solution provider eShopWorld, they rebounded in April 2020 and then rose to unprecedented levels throughout the course of 2020.

It has in fact been pointed out that facilitating cross-border e-commerce could help with the economic recovery, provided there is due emphasis on the need to ensure that the smallest traders can avail themselves of the export opportunities this brings.

Many countries have established thresholds below which no duties and taxes are levied and only minimal information is required to be provided when a consignment enters a country. While the value of this threshold varies a lot, in most countries the exponential increase in the sale of physical products online translates into an increasing number of “low-value” shipments crossing a border. Controlling this particular flow of goods to prevent the movement of prohibited and restricted goods, and identify consignments which have been split and/or undervalued to evade duties and taxes, presents a number of challenges.

The pressing issue is how to manage this time-sensitive flow of goods without placing a strain on control operations and on the capacity of logistics service providers, and without creating complex procedures and a heavy workload for small businesses and individuals who have limited capacity to meet complex trade regulations.

WCO STANDARDS AND GUIDANCE MATERIAL

To address this issue, WCO Members have been working through a multi-stakeholder Working Group on E-Commerce (WGEC)[1] on the development of international norms and guidance material, which have been brought together in an E-Commerce Package including not only a Framework of Standards on cross-border e-commerce (E-Commerce FoS), but also many tools to support its implementation.

The Framework provides 15 baseline global standards with a focus on the exchange of advance electronic data (AED) for effective risk management. It also encourages the use of the Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) concept, non-intrusive inspection (NII) equipment, data analytics, and other cutting-edge technologies to support safe, secure and sustainable cross-border e-commerce.

Now is the time for implementation, and a broad capacity building action plan which will guide the WCO Secretariat’s activities in the coming months has recently been added to the Package, along with key performance indicators (KPIs) which will make it possible to monitor the implementation of the WCO standards and identify capacity building needs.

In January 2021, the Secretariat started rolling out regional workshops to ensure that all WCO Members had a good knowledge of the Package; these workshops included representatives of the Universal Postal Union (UPU), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Global Express Association (GEA) and e-commerce stakeholders.

As a next step, in 2022 national workshops will be planned for administrations that have notified their intention to implement the E-Commerce FoS, completed an assessment using the WCO KPIs and made an official request to the Secretariat. The Secretariat has already accredited 11 Technical and Operational Advisers on E-Commerce so it can respond positively to such requests for assistance.

MAIN CHALLENGES AND TOPICS DISCUSSED

Areas posing specific challenges were identified during the regional workshops. They include the collection of electronic advance information on e-commerce shipments, the improvement of compliance and data quality, the simplification of duty and tax payment procedures which are often too complex, and the strengthening of risk analysis capacities. The topics discussed included expanding the concept of Authorized Economic Operator (AEO) to include e-commerce stakeholders, the use of advanced technologies, and cooperation with stakeholders such as marketplaces, fulfilment centers and free zones/warehouses.

GOVERNMENTS AND BUSINESS NEED TO MEET THIS CHALLENGE TOGETHER

In the same spirit as the regional workshops, on 28 and 29 June 2021 the Secretariat held its Second Global Conference on Cross-Border E-Commerce, thanks to the financial support of the Customs Cooperation Fund of Japan. Some speakers highlighted the tremendous degree of dynamism and also the variety observed in countries nowadays in the area of cross-border e-commerce approaches, legislation and capacity; for example, the ability to analyse data for risk assessment purposes varies a lot between national agencies and countries. Moreover, while the underlying technology enabling data exchange may be similar in terms of its fundamental logic, the requirements differ from one administration to another.

One of the objectives of the workshops and the Conferences has been to enable Customs to share processes and procedures, as well as to better understand the e-commerce “ecosystem” and its business models. Other forums also exist at the national level, with more and more Customs administrations creating working groups with e-commerce stakeholders as they review their legal and operational frameworks. At a higher level, companies have started building their own cooperation frameworks with some governments in order to explore new policies and rules in support of trade.

DOSSIER CONTENTS

For the “Dossier” in this Edition, we have invited several administrations to share information on the initiatives they are taking to enhance their capacity to control the compliance of “low value” shipments.

We start with an article by Argentina Customs, explaining how the Administration is reviewing its legal, policy and operational framework to ensure it is aligned with the WCO E-Commerce FoS and other WCO guidance material. The article does not describe the procedures in place to process the flows of goods generated by online sales in Argentina, but interested readers can consult the WCO Compendium of Case Studies on E-Commerce to which Argentina Customs contributed. Instead, the article focuses on the various steps of the review process.

This is followed by an article by United States Customs and Border Protection about two test programmes it recently conducted to assess the possibility of collecting certain advance data related to shipments potentially eligible for release under its de minimis entry process, and to implement a new entry process for such shipments.

Next, the use of three types of technology to enhance targeting capacities is described in an article by the Korea Customs Service. These technologies are blockchain, artificial intelligence and big data. The Administration also shares some interesting lessons, highlighting the fact that successful technology-focused projects aim to find solutions to actual issues faced by operational officers, and that teamwork between ICT and Customs experts is critical.

The last article introduces Peru Customs’ new clearance process for express shipments, as well as the web platform and mobile application it has developed to enable importers to track the status of their shipments and pay duties and taxes at authorized banking institutions. Not only has the new process enabled the Administration to improve its risk management procedures, it has also significantly reduced the time required for the release of goods.

Even if every country’s situation is unique, I believe that it is still important to ensure experiences are shared and initiatives explained. More and more Customs administrations are looking at how to review or enhance their legal and operational frameworks in line with WCO standards and guidance tools. I warmly encourage them to contact us should they wish to communicate on their eff

[1] The Working Group comprised representatives from governments, the private sector, international organizations, E-Commerce stakeholders, and academia.

WBG

The World Bank approved a $150 million grant from the International Development Association (IDA) in support of the Government of Mozambique’s Digital Governance and  Economy Project (EDGE), which focuses on increasing access to civil identification, digital public services and improving digital business opportunities.

“Sixty percent of the Mozambican population lacks official civil identification.This leads to disenfranchisement and leaves large portions of the population, a majority of whom are women, without legal identity, preventing them from accessing schooling, and later in life financial services, pensions, formal jobs, entitlement claims and property transactions,” noted Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Mozambique, Madagascar, Comoros, Mauritius and Seychelles.

The EDGE project comprises investment and technical assistance activities, and is structured around four mutually reinforcing components as follows:

  • Component 1 will focus on two critical aspects of digital transformation: institutional capacity and government connectivity. The objectives of this component are to strengthen the government’s capacity to leverage technologies for improved service delivery, while increasing public sector connectivity across the country.
  • Component 2 will facilitate access to legal identification for all citizens, while supporting the development of digital government services. The main beneficiaries of this component will be citizens who lack legal identification, public service users, as well as public and private organizations relying on identity credentials for the provision of services.
  • Component 3 will support the growth of the digital private sector by supporting digital SMEs to take advantage of business opportunities created through digitalization efforts in the public sector. Activities under this component, in collaboration with the private sector, will also seek to reduce the gender gap in the technology sector.
  • Finally, Component 4 will support effective project implementation, and ensure that the necessary coordination and change-management processes are carried out in a timely manner.

“Leveraging technology for service delivery requires putting users first, combined with strong institutional capacity to design, implement, procure and coordinate digital efforts across government. This is one important challenge this project has set out to address to achieve services that are faster, cheaper, and better,” added Tiago Peixoto, Senior Public Sector Specialist and the project’s lead.

“The project will support the development of Mozambique’s digital business ecosystem in order to take advantage of business opportunities that digitalization efforts will create. It will also promote local digital start-ups and SMEs, which have the potential to grow and spur job creation,” concluded Eva Clemente Miranda, Private Sector Specialist and the project’s co-lead.

The project will leverage an existing coordination mechanism within the Ministry of Science and Technology. This project is in line with the country’s priorities outlined in its five-year plan and the World Bank’s partnership framework with Mozambique for FY 2017-22.

* The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 75 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.5 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 113 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $18 billion over the last three years, with about 54 percent going to Africa.

DiPLO

Trade Ministers of the G7 – a group of wealthy nations composed by the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy, and Canada – agreed on principles to govern digital trade. The principles covered the issues of open digital markets; cross border data flows; safeguards for workers, consumers, and businesses; digital trading systems; and fair and inclusive global governance. With regards to data flows, G7 Members expressed concern with growing data localization measures, and reinforced their support to the principle of “data free flow with trust” (DFFT). This principle had been enshrined before in the G20 Osaka Leaders Declaration from 2019. On that occasion, the ‘Osaka Track’ was launched, a process that aims to intensify efforts on international rule-making on the digital economy, especially on data flows and e-commerce. Three G20 members, India, Indonesia and South Africa, opted out of the Osaka Track.

The recently agreed G7 principles expressed indirect support to ongoing negotiations taking place at the WTO’s e-commerce Joint Statement Initiative (JSI), among a subset of the WTO membership. The WTO is mentioned as the organization where ‘common rules for digital trade should be agreed and upheld’. The G7 also expressed support for rendering the WTO Moratorium on Customs Duties on Electronic Transmissions permanent, an issue that will be discussed in the next WTO Ministerial Conference (MC-12), scheduled to take place from 30 November to 3 December in Geneva.

The G7 principles have significant political importance, as they show the will to overcome differences between the US and the EU when it comes to regulating data flows, in particular different approaches to personal data. The principles could serve as a first step towards a common rulebook of digital trade among Members. The G7 also sends a message to third parties, as they express their ‘opposition to digital protectionism and digital authoritarianism’. The principles were called a ‘genuine breakthrough’ by British officials. The UK holds the Presidency of the G7 in 2021.

UPU

Digital transformation has exploded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Around 91 per cent of Posts worldwide now provide financial services, either directly or in partnership. These figures are likely to increase as e-commerce booms. It is estimated that e-retail revenues are likely to grow to 4.88 trillion USD in 2021, as the numbers of consumers continue to order goods online.

These staggering figures provided the backdrop for a 13 October discussion on digital transformation at the Parcel and Parcel Expo 2021 held in Vienna, Austria. During a “question and answer” session held at the beginning of the panel session, Pascal Clivaz, the Deputy Director General of the Universal Postal Union told the audience he had witnessed a transformation in the international postal sector over his career.

Although posts were at different levels of development, Mr. Clivaz said the sector had reinvented the postal dimension. “Posts were a public enabler and we should not fear the future,” he said. He, however, went on to say that Posts must also be willing to negotiate and to enter into partnerships.

The UPU was also an essential strategic partner for the international postal sector. Mr. Clivaz said the UPU was a trusted partner that had great credibility across the sector. “The UPU can organize the dialogue, we have the independence, and we are not an e-commerce player.”

In describing the UPU’s role, the Deputy Director General told the audience that the UN specialized agency for postal matters was a “global motorway” for the industry. One that could help the entire sector on its digital journey. But, he cautioned, to achieve success there was a need for a pragmatic approach.  Asked about how the postal sector could transform, Mr. Clivaz said, «It is a long journey to achieve economic growth. We have the tools, but there is a need for financing.»

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the pace of embracing digital processes has accelerated. Prior to the global spread of the virus, digitization was merely a business choice; it is now a must as customers are likely to expect “contactless delivery” for the foreseeable future.

Delivery innovation, such as the use of parcel lockers and electronic signature capture are also being developed to provide flexible delivery options in this new environment. Given the global gaps in digitization, the UPU is now piloting projects to connect developing countries with the UPU’s digital networks through the Customs Declaration System, International Postal System, and other IT tools.

UPU’s goals when working with the international postal sector on digital transformation are to reinforce the national postal network; meet market needs and adapt the offer of postal services to new technologies; build an innovative and modern image of the Post in the eyes of stakeholders, particularly governments and the postal sector; and facilitate social and financial inclusion.

The Abidjan Business Strategy is the culmination of this thinking on digital transformation. It is the first fully data-driven strategy in the organization’s history, and also includes essential elements such as the Postal Vision 2030. This is the UPU’s advocacy message for the sector and is designed to inspire the different categories of stakeholders to take action in their respective fields.

e-Residency

E-resident Fabrice Amalaman’s inspiring story about building PayQin, a mobile bank for Francophone Africa

PayQin is the brainchild of Fabrice Amalaman, a native of the Ivory Coast, or Côte d’Ivoire, a nation of 25 million in West Africa where the official language is French. While mobile banking solutions are available for Anglophone countries like Nigeria, Amalaman believed that there needed to be a solution for French-speaking Africans. PayQin was born, providing secure transactions using virtual cards for customers in the Ivory Coast, Senegal,  Cameroon, and Mali, run by an Estonian company headquartered in Tallinn’s Karjamaa District.

It was the latest chapter in Amalaman’s country-hopping life. Born in the Ivory Coast, he moved to Paris to study, working at EPI Capital and BNP Paribas in the investment sector, before moving to Stockholm and later Riga being part of the first Fintech batch accelaretor with Swedbank and Startup Wise Guys .

It was while in Stockholm that he decided to start PayQin. “I got the idea to build something for Africa, because I knew the problem of online banking there,” he says. Indeed, many Africans do not have bank accounts and rely on mobile solutions, such as pay cards, for online transactions.

“Our product allows people who don’t have access to financial services to generate virtual cards to pay online,” says Amalaman, noting that soon they will be able to order physical plastic cards. Users can transfer funds within the four Francophone West African countries, free of charge.

“One of the interesting use cases we have is for small business owners who use our service to promote their businesses online,” notes Amalaman. PayQin currently has about 70,000 users. “People are using it and it’s growing.”

PayQin was initially incorporated in London, but given the UK’s exit from the European Union, and Amalaman’s desire to operate the firm within the EU, he began to look around for alternatives.

“Brexit happened and at that point, Estonia was the easiest way to incorporate the company and manage it remotely,” says Amalaman.

He adds that the company maintains an office in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast, and he is frequently working between the two countries, which made the suite of digital services made available via e-Residency a sensible decision for the firm.

Amalaman was also familiar with Estonia and had visited the country many times, to attend its Latitude59 startup conference, for example. PayQin OÜ was incorporated in Estonia in March 2020, and around that same time, Amalaman also applied for a startup visa, which allowed him to set up in the country. His e-Residency meantime was finalized by that summer and with the help of a Tallinn-based service called MoveMyTalent, he was able to find an apartment. “They did everything and it was quite straightforward,” says Amalaman. He adds that after stints in Stockholm and Riga, settling into Estonia wasn’t difficult. “I am very used to the weather and everything,” he says. “It’s more or less the same thing.”

Amalaman is now laying the grounds for the European office of PayQin and has hired a growth manager in Tallinn and will soon hire more. In total, the firm has 17 employees.

Earlier this year, the company also raised €300,000 via a network of Estonian investors to support PayQin’s growth. Amalaman says the company plans to launch money remittance from Europe soon, which will allow people in Europe to deposit money straight into their PayQin accounts. As noted, the firm also plans to make plastic cards available to users and is working with a local bank in Africa to do so.

While Amalaman’s path to date has been mercurial, from the Ivory Coast to France to Sweden to Latvia and now Estonia, he says he has no plans at the moment to move on from PayQin just yet.

“It’s never good to do one thing forever, but right now, I am 100 percent behind this idea,” says Amalaman.

ONUDI

In celebration of World Standards Day 2021, celebrated on 14 October every year, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) is pleased to announce the launch of a brochure, “Standards and Digital Transformation: Good Governance in the Digital Age”.

In the spirit of this year’s World Standards Day theme “Shared Vision for a Better World”, the brochure provides insights into the key drivers of the digital transformation and its implications for sustainable development, particularly people, prosperity and planet. Noting the rapid pace of change of the digital transformation, with the COVID-19 pandemic serving as an unanticipated accelerator, the brochure highlights the role of standards in digital transformation governance. It further considers the principles necessary for guiding the collaborative development of standards in the digital technology landscape to ensure that the technologies remain human-centered and aligned to the goals of sustainability.

This year’s World Standards Day theme highlights the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) representing a shared vision for peace and prosperity, for people and planet. Every SDG is a call for action, but we can only get there if we work together, and international standards offer practical solutions we can all stand behind.

This brochure is a summary of a publication set to be released in November 2021.

Download it here.

ONUDI

The United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) organized a series of webinars and an on-site panel discussion within the framework of the third Eurasian Women’s Forum held on 13-15 October 2021 in Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation.

Six thematic webinars focused on the following different aspects of women’s role in the modern economy: women in post-COVID-19 recovery; women-led SMEs and start-ups; women in the attainment of SDG-9; women in research, development and innovation; the gender digital divide; and women in modern creative industries.

The six webinars had around 500 participants from all around the world. The objective was to take stock of the existing best practices and seek innovative solutions and particular policy actions targeting the most acute challenges to the economic empowerment of women in the digital age.

One of the speakers, Anita Bhatia, Deputy Executive Director for UN Coordination, Partnerships, Resources and Sustainability of UN Women, said, “We need to ensure that those who are designing technology are doing so through a gender-sensitive lens,” adding, “Governments and policymakers need to ask themselves whether any women were sitting at the table when the decisions were made or initiatives designed.”

The key takeaways from the webinars were brought to the on-site panel discussion at the third Eurasian Women’s Forum. Moderated by UNIDO Goodwill Ambassador, Veronika Peshkova, the panel included policymakers, business leaders and representatives of international organizations and academia.

Elena Avdeeva, Member of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, said, “UNIDO and the Council of the Eurasian Women’s Forum have cooperated in many activities within the framework of the Joint Declaration signed in 2019.” She added, “New digital competencies are becoming an advantage on the labour market, and UNIDO with the Council worked together to establish a new education programme to develop the digital skills of women.”

The participants also agreed that in order to bridge persistent gaps, it is crucial to start by upgrading existing ecosystems and advancing the global discourse around the role of women and girls in the global economy. Therefore, showcasing successful role models, promoting mentoring and peer learning, as well as further utilizing international platforms for continuous thematic dialogue, remain key tools for overcoming biases and nourishing inclusivity.

Fatou Haidara, UNIDO Managing Director, said, “The new digital age, which was given an impetus by the current COVID-19 crisis, entails a range of opportunities for narrowing the existing inequalities. The greater integration of women and girls in the context of Industry 4.0 has an ever-growing potential to help transform economies and foster the sustainability and resilience of families and local communities.”

Additional details about the webinars and the panel discussion are available here.

Since 2018, with financial support provided by the Government of the Russian Federation, UNIDO has been implementing a project to foster women’s economic empowerment, entrepreneurship and leadership in the region of Europe and Central Asia and beyond. UNIDO, together with its counterparts, has been carrying out networking, knowledge-sharing and capacity-building activities to support women’s integration in the modern development landscape.

More information about the project and other activities is available here.

UPU

South Africa Post Office (SAPO) has created a new partnership with a United States-based online marketplace, Wish, to provide a faster, high-quality service to customers ordering products from the e-commerce site.

“The project ensures that SAPO remains relevant, active in the e-commerce space, and that our revenue increases,” said Sekano Kgalenyane, the head of Logistics for SAPO. “It also makes us more top-of-mind to the customer.”

SAPO approached Wish with the proposal to collaborate, Kgalenyane said, and negotiations led to the practical proposal that would provide good service levels.

The partnership with Wish was effective on May 9, 2021. It is the first partner of this nature for SAPO, Kgalenyane said, but its progress paves the way for other similar partnerships.

Key features of the Wish-SAPO collaboration, according to a press release, include an average of approximately 50 per cent faster transit times; end-to-end tracking visibility and delivery confirmation; bundled shipments for multiple items; and SMS and physical notifications when deliveries are ready for collection.

The collaboration has led to simpler and faster import, processing and customs clearance procedure for Wish.com items. This is because the items receive a South African tracking number at the point of posting, which facilitates tracking in the country.

When the acceptance scan at a branch is done, the customer automatically receives a message alerting him or her that the parcel is ready for collection.

“Wish.com has access to the entire process and can see exactly what the progress with processing each parcel is,” Kgalenyane said. “It keeps us on our toes!”

The evidence of the partnership’s success was highlighted in an article on the South African website Businesstech.co.za shortly after the SAPO-Wish collaboration launched.

The article discussed the website’s recent test of three online shopping sites and their delivery experience.

The testers placed an order from Wish on May 10 and received a delivery estimate of the end of August.

“The biggest surprise comes from Wish,” the article states. “Despite this long wait time, Wish sent an email notifying that the parcel had been delivered at the local post office on 26 May – just two weeks after it was initially ordered. … The impressive delivery from Wish is likely the result of a new deal that has been struck between Wish and the South African Post Office.”

Kgalenyane said customers have already noticed vastly improved delivery timelines and it has been a great morale booster for SAPO employees, as well.

“E-commerce is the future for postal services,” Kgalenyane said. “It’s great to be part of the worldwide wave of new business. Wish.com has been remarkably understanding and easy to work with. We are very thankful for the opportunity to bring items from all over the world to South Africans, even those in remote rural areas.”

This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Union Postale.

WTO

The co-convenors of the negotiations on e-commerce have urged participating members to intensity their efforts and to make further progress ahead of the WTO 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12) starting in late November. In the current global context and with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing, stakeholders are expecting this initiative to continue to yield results, they said at a plenary meeting held on 13 October.

 

Ambassador George Mina (Australia) said that the co-convenors — Australia, Japan and Singapore — are available to help drive convergence and they urged members to show flexibility in the negotiations. It is important for the initiative that the participants achieve the target of securing a package of 10 to 12 agreed articles for the future e-commerce agreement by MC12, and members should keep that in mind as they continue their discussions in small groups formats, he added.

Ambassador Mina said: “MC12 is not only an opportunity to deliver momentum but it is an opportunity for the group to present what we are doing to the world. The world’s eyes will be on us at MC12 and we will be looked to as an important part of the rulemaking function of the WTO. We have a big opportunity to showcase what we’re doing”

Ambassador Kazuyuki Yamazaki (Japan), a co-convener of the initiative, whose remarks were delivered by his deputy representative, welcomed the recent establishment of the two small groups on electronic invoicing and cybersecurity. He appreciated all the efforts the facilitators of small groups have been making to move the discussions forward by suggesting compromise proposals and showing flexibility. He hoped that members would maintain this momentum up until MC12 and beyond and achieve substantive progress.

Ambassador Yamazaki said he believes that the ongoing work in the small groups on open internet access, paperless trading, electronic transaction framework and electronic invoicing is very promising. He said the initiative should discuss important topics such as data-related issues and noted that the discussions on personal data protection in the plenary meeting were very relevant to members.

Reports from small groups and revisiting proposals

Facilitators of small group discussions reported on the work done in recent weeks to find common ground on proposals in the areas of source code, paperless trading, open internet access, and electronic transaction frameworks. The facilitators of the two recently-established working groups on cybersecurity and electronic invoicing also reported on the work these groups have begun on existing proposals.

Members also revisited proposals on two issues: the protection of personal information or data, and on information and communication technology (ITC) products that use cryptography. The proposals on the first topic aim at ensuring that the personal data of users of electronic commerce is protected, so that users’ confidence in electronic commerce is enhanced as a result.

Ahead of the discussions on these two topics, Ambassador Yamazaki said that in the development of e-commerce activities, appropriate protection of personal information is essential. At the same time, transparency, predictability, and interoperability of applicable rules is also necessary for cross border e-commerce activities. This issue is a very important aspect of the negotiations on digital trade rules. Likewise, he noted, the topic of cryptography is also an important contributor to business trust in commerce.

The proposals on ITC products that use cryptography aim to make trade in these products less restrictive, with certain exceptions. Cryptography, or encryption, a feature widely available in ICT products such as tablets, smartphones, computers and software to ensure secure communications.

In his concluding remarks, Ambassador Hung Seng Tan (Singapore), co-convenor of the initiative, noted that issues of privacy and ICT products that use encryption are complex, and that the deep discussion members had at the plenary on this issue were necessary to foster better understanding and trust among members, as they formulate provisions that are meaningful for business and consumers.

On the upcoming Ministerial Conference, Ambassador Tan said that members should leverage MC12 as a milestone to showcase progress to stakeholders, in particular by achieving the target of 10 or 12 clean text articles. He urged members to finalise work in the small groups where a clean text is within reach. He added that it would be helpful to set a target for the negotiations that will guide members towards the finishing line and demonstrate to stakeholders that there is a resolve to conclude the negotiations in a timely fashion.

After MC12, ministerial involvement will be necessary to maintain momentum in the negotiations and ensure timely political guidance to resolve political issues, Ambassador Tan said.

BID

THE FIRST EDITION OF IDB LAB FORUM WILL BE HELD FROM OCTOBER 26 TO 28 WITH THE OBJECTIVE TO PROMOTE INNOVATION FOR INCLUSION IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN.

The Inter-American Development Bank, through its innovation laboratory, IDB Lab, and in collaboration with IDB Invest, launch IDB Lab Forum, a high-level, global event with regional reach that puts innovative entrepreneurship at the center, highlighting how technology, digital solutions and new business models are improving lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. Microsoft has joined as a founding partner of this event, which will include the participation of important players in the innovation ecosystem. IDB Lab Forum will be held from October 26 to 28 and will be free and primarily virtual, although it will have a face-to-face component in Miami on the 26th.

Irene Arias Hofman, CEO of IDB Lab, emphasized that “IDB Lab Forum will play a key role for the region by providing a unique space for mobilizing business, ideas, and connections to develop and scale innovative solutions for an economic recovery that is inclusive, green, and resilient, in line with the Vision 2025 priorities defined by the IDB Group”.

In the words of Mariana Castro, Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Operations at Microsoft Latin America, “Our collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank has always been focused on jointly accelerating the growth of Latin American markets through technological solutions. Today we are excited to be a part of the launch of the IDB Lab Forum, an initiative that represents a commitment to SMEs and Digital Native Companies of Latin America and the Caribbean, who accelerate the economy and social recovery of the region with their creation of new businesses and the use of new technologies. It is an innovative initiative that will promote the generation of ideas and strategies to outline a path towards digital maturity in the region.”

Among the participants in the forum are founders of innovative ventures, managers of venture capital funds, executives of large companies, including technology companies, representatives of accelerators, universities and global innovation hubs, thematic experts, impact investors, policy makers and officials of public entities dedicated to promoting innovation.

The event will have different interaction points, such as panels, business meeting points, an ecosystem showcase, pitch sessions, and a launch platform for products and initiatives, among others. The agenda is divided into three blocks:

  1. “Undertaking and Innovating,” which will include practical content, visibility opportunities, ad networking spaces for entrepreneurs and the innovation ecosystem that supports them.
  2. “Businesses that improve lives,” which will include sessions on how new business models are having an impact on inclusion through sectors such as edtech, agtech, fintech, and healthtech, among others.
  3. “Impact that scales,” which will provide spaces for global and regional partners that connect innovations at scale.

Registration for the virtual sessions will remain open until the day of the event through the link: https://forum.idblab.org/en.

UPU

The UPU’s World Leaders Forum had postal sector leaders gather online to discuss driving the Post’s role in facilitating sustainable global trade.

Opening the forum, Deputy Director General Pascal Clivaz noted the day’s theme – “One Ocean – Many Currents: Facilitating Sustainable Global Trade” – would have speakers touch on “the biggest issue of our time: climate change.” He added it would also provide a chance to highlight the sector’s response to the pandemic.

The Forum’s first panel gathered industry insights from CEOs in different regions. They remarked that the pandemic had further accelerated the decline of the traditional letters business, forcing them to prioritize digitization and diversification, and manage services with fewer resources.

Singapore Post CEO Vincent Phang remarked that, “Covid has accelerated the inevitable changes facing the postal sector.” He described his organization’s “Future of the Post” project, which includes a raft of newly digitized services.

Automation and digital tools has also helped Iceland Post increase services while cutting costs, explained CEO Þórhildur Ólöf Helgadóttir. She emphasized the necessity of global electronic advance data (EAD) in meeting new needs and decreasing the costs imposed by manual errors. Correos de Mexico Director General Rocío Bárcena echoed the increased importance of traceability across the market.

Bringing in the perspective of small island developing states, Post Fiji CEO, Anirudha Bansod described how disruptions to international postal traffic the Post to reevaluate its portfolio of services. As a result, the Post was able to focus on new and necessary services, such as grocery delivery and insurance.

New Zealand Post CEO David Walsh pointed towards increased communication with customers and the collection of data to determine what services should be prioritized.

Sustainability in focus

The second panel collected inputs from PostNord President and Group CEO Annemarie Gardshol, An Post CEO David McRedmond and UPU Director of Policy, Regulation and Markets Siva Somasundram, on sustainability within the sector. They remarked on the importance of collaboration across the supply chain and among stakeholders.

To illustrate this. Ms. Gardshol described a PostNord project to develop more streamlined e-commerce packaging to prevent waste which included working with partners across the logistics chain, as well as academics. The concept is now being tested with a local telecommunications provider.

“Sustainability is built around a holistic approach,” added Mr. McRedmond, who noted the importance of engaging governments, businesses and civil society on the issue. While he noted that it was within the postal culture to “act in the common good,” he suggested that the sector’s work was challenged by the rise of the “gig economy,” which he said could shirk labour laws and sustainability best practices to offer their services at a much lower cost.

From the UPU perspective, Mr. Somasundram added that it was important for posts to consider the deeply interconnected nature of the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs) in their sustainability programmes.

“The climate actions we take must also support our contribution to social and economic sustainability initiatives we’re undertaking,” he said, adding that the UPU was in the best position to act as a platform to coordinate action on the SDGs.

Transformation, trust and partners

The last panel of the day had industry experts reflect on the journey ahead, touching on the need for digital transformation, potential to leverage trust in the Post and the necessity of partners.

Brody Buhler, CEO of Escher Group, noted that a new kind of customer experience would be required as the parcels market grows. He noted that control, insight, visibility and interaction were becoming imperative parts of the customer experience as customers rely heavily on mobile services coming out of the pandemic.

Speaking from his role as the Chair of the UPU’s Postal Operations Council, La Poste’s Jean-Paul Forceville added that this work must proceed faster on the international level. He suggested that more advanced countries should work to help those who are less advanced adopt the necessary practices and tools to offer services expected by global customers. This would entail investments in technology as well.

The private sector could also be a resource for best practices and tools to help Posts foster digital inclusion of their customers, added Mike Froman, a Vice Chairman and President of Strategic Growth at Mastercard. He added that private sector expertise could help maintain trust as the Post branches into new dimensions.

Tomaž Kokot, CEO of the Slovenian Post, noted that respect and open communication with employees would help build on that trusted relationship with customers, who view postal employees as “the face of the State.”
Panelists noted that partnerships and trust among all stakeholders would also be key to their work on sustainability across the sector.

Ms. Helgadóttir, who rejoined the last panel, added that customers should be partners in the Posts sustainability initiatives. They would have to accept that the way they receive their parcels may change as Posts work to reduce their carbon footprint.

WEF

Almost two years into the pandemic, the world continues to rely heavily on technology for everyday life activities – and it does not seem that this will change any time soon. It is estimated that global internet traffic in 2022 will exceed all the internet traffic up to 2016. And while COVID-19 has accelerated a global transition towards a digital economy, the crisis has also shed even more light on the digital divide.

Today, access to the internet remains a luxury for many, leaving those who are unconnected behind. Almost half of the world is still offline (3.7 billion people), and yet 85% of the world’s population is covered by at least a mobile network. To ensure an inclusive future, it is crucial to address inequalities in access to technology, as well as gaps in affordability, adoption and use of digital services.

“As the world is fast becoming digital, today more than ever we must work together, collaborate and pool our resources to ensure no one is left behind,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau at the Telecommunication Development Bureau (ITU). “We need to find new ways to overcome connectivity barriers, level-up affordable access to technology and empower everyone, everywhere with the opportunity and choice to access life-changing, enabling, digital services.”

The digital divide in terms of internet connectivity and use is compounded by a data-related divide Image: UNCTAD

Innovative financing for inclusive development
The challenge to enable affordable digital services for billions of people is significant – estimated at $2.1 trillion. This includes the pipeline to teach digital skills, enhance trust in technology, and develop digital solutions in key areas such as health, education, and financial services. Traditional financing mechanisms – and the traditional digital infrastructure actors – cannot address either the solutions or the financing alone. There is therefore a pressing need for innovative instruments and mechanisms to encourage more players to participate in the financing of digital inclusion.

As a result of the realization through the pandemic of the central role digital participation plays in social and economic inclusion, there is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm from businesses and policymakers to close the digital divide. This has created a unique opportunity to capitalize on the momentum and find new and creative ways to invest in access, inclusivity and equality, so that the most vulnerable are connected.

Trillions of dollars are being invested in environmental, social and governance (ESG) projects from both the public and private sectors. Investors, operators, and other players are deploying new financial arrangements on initiatives promoting digital inclusion as these are key enablers for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This shift towards sustainable and social financing creates an opportunity to unlock capital that will advance digital inclusion and contribute to the SDGs.

“Digital technologies are unlocking new pathways for rapid economic development, job creation and access to services in finance, education and health which would have been unimaginable only a decade ago,” said Riccardo Puliti, Vice President for Infrastructure at the World Bank. “Yet, there is also a growing ‘digital divide’ and increased cyber risks which need urgent and coordinated action to mitigate. Countries around the world have an unprecedented opportunity to harness the digital economy as a driver of growth and innovation.”

Some innovative financing arrangements that are emerging and broadening the base of contributors include earmarking proceeds from ICT sector participants, reforming Universal service and Access Funds (USAFs), creating an international fund, and issuing bond financing for digital inclusion – enabling organizations to leverage existing market frameworks to tap into the $500 billion ESG bond market to finance investment in digital infrastructure and services.

Establishing shared principles in the digital economy can also help provide a foundation to ensure an inclusive financial system. The development and implementation of resources, policies and regulation, and services that are inclusive by design, interoperable, digitally-led, economically sustainable, trusted, and informed by data will foster an environment for rapid uptake of digital solutions.

A cross-sector approach to building inclusive, sustainable societies

The United Nations aims to bring 75% of the world online by 2025, with the internet costing no more than 2% of earnings. Mobilizing public-private collaboration is crucial to bridge the financing, regulatory, and policy gaps to reach universal broadband access within the next decade. With greater access and more affordable digital services, we can stop the widening of existing divides and ensure that the other half of the world gets connected.

For the world to build back better, governments must embed digital within all other national priorities and set up horizontal and whole of government approaches to facilitate the necessary policies, regulatory, and economic environment to connect the unconnected while also progressing toward the achievement of the SDGs.

“Now is the time to make use of the increased profile and political awareness of the advantages of digitization,” said Mats Granryd, Director General at GSMA “to stimulate all levels of government to actively support policies that lead to long-term digital strategies and promote the private investment required to deliver them.”

The World Economic Forum’s EDISON Alliance is prioritizing digital inclusion by fostering collaboration between governments, companies and other organizations globally. Through the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, the Alliance will accelerate digital inclusion for 1 billion people through affordable and accessible digital solutions across, at least, health, finance, and education by 2025.

ISOC

The Internet Society will host its fifth annual Indigenous Connectivity Summit, bringing together a diverse group of stakeholders under a common goal: connecting Indigenous communities in North America to fast, affordable, sustainable Internet.

Indigenous communities are among the most underserved in terms of Internet access in Canada and the United States. In Canada, the majority of on-reserve homes – more than two-thirds – do not have high-speed Internet. In the United States, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), nearly 630,000 tribal households lack access to standard broadband, a rate more than four times that of the general population.

This year’s Summit will take place 12-15 October, and is the second to be held virtually. Indigenous leaders, community network managers and operators, Indigenous-owned Internet service providers, community members, researchers and policymakers will join in community-led discussions to share the latest on connectivity solutions, funding sources, next-level advocacy, and success stories from Indigenous community networks in Canada and the United States.

Each year the Indigenous Connectivity Summit focuses on what can be done collectively to narrow the digital divide and expands on efforts from previous events. At the center of discussions are the pressing issues Indigenous communities in North America face as they work to access the Internet on their own terms, including disaster preparedness and recovery; access to resources, such as infrastructure, spectrum and backhaul; and capacity building.

Highlights from this year’s agenda include:

  • Workshops on Indigenous digital equity, accessing state, federal and private funding, and digital sovereignty, as well as lightning talks on community networks in Hawai’i and Winnipeg; sustainable networks; and the Inuvik Internet Exchange Point (IXP);
  • Research presentations from the University of Hawai’i, the University of Alberta and the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University; and
  • Case studies highlighting Indigenous communities pursuing innovative and independent ways to connect the Internet and their unique challenges to connectivity, including Pu’uhonua o Waimanalo in Hawai’i.

The Summit will culminate in the presentation of the 2021 Policy Recommendations to help policymakers in the United States and Canada make more inclusive decisions.

Impact Over Five Years

The Internet Society, a global nonprofit organization working to promote an open, globally connected, secure and trustworthy Internet, has worked with Indigenous communities to find and implement sustainable access solutions that meet their needs. The organization formally established the Indigenous Connectivity Summit in 2017 and it remains the only community-led event of its kind.

The Internet Society offers two training courses for Summit participants. The first is the technical training, which focuses on building and operating sustainable, secure community networks.

The Policy and Advocacy training offers introductory sessions on broadband policy and advocacy, and how-to classes on government consultations and funding opportunities. The participants lead the Summit session on crafting policy recommendations, which will guide advocacy efforts through the coming year.

Over the course of five years:

  • The Summit has trained nearly 300 participants as part of both the pre-Summit Community Networks and the Policy and Advocacy trainings.
  • The Summit has issued 47 total policy recommendations from 2017 through 2020. These recommendations have been reflected in such reports, policies and legislation as the 2019 Arctic Council’s report Improving Connectivity in the Arctic, rural development strategies and funding criteria in government programs in Canada and the U.S.
  • Seventeen Indigenous Community Networks have been supported in both the United States and Canada, including Pu’uhonua o Waimanalo in Hawai’i and Ulukhaqtuk, Northwest Territories, among others. As part of this year’s Summit, a team will be recruited to help install a second Community Network at Pu’uhonua o Waianae in Hawai’i.
  • In 2020, the Internet Society assisted tribes navigating the Tribal Priority Window (TPW), providing free advice and support to tribes, including webinars and application walk-throughs. More than 400 tribes applied for a license through the TPW, and as of August 2021, 270 tribes have been issued licenses.
  • In 2019, the Summit was recognized by the U.S. House of Representatives for “working to strengthen the digital bonds between America’s Native communities.”
The Internet is indispensable to how we learn, work and access critical services, but too often Indigenous Communities find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. An open and trustworthy Internet, available in the manners and methods which serve users’ needs, is essential in ensuring Indigenous communities are able to fully participate in this global resource. It is vital we help cultivate policies, both technical and legislative, that ensure Indigenous Communities have affordable, high-quality and sustainable Internet access.”
Mark Buell, Regional Vice President for North America, Internet Society

Learn more about the 2021 Indigenous Connectivity Summit.

WEF

Almost two years into the pandemic, the world continues to rely heavily on technology for everyday life activities – and it does not seem that this will change any time soon. It is estimated that global internet traffic in 2022 will exceed all the internet traffic up to 2016. And while COVID-19 has accelerated a global transition towards a digital economy, the crisis has also shed even more light on the digital divide.

Today, access to the internet remains a luxury for many, leaving those who are unconnected behind. Almost half of the world is still offline (3.7 billion people), and yet 85% of the world’s population is covered by at least a mobile network. To ensure an inclusive future, it is crucial to address inequalities in access to technology, as well as gaps in affordability, adoption and use of digital services.

“As the world is fast becoming digital, today more than ever we must work together, collaborate and pool our resources to ensure no one is left behind,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of the Telecommunication Development Bureau at the Telecommunication Development Bureau (ITU). “We need to find new ways to overcome connectivity barriers, level-up affordable access to technology and empower everyone, everywhere with the opportunity and choice to access life-changing, enabling, digital services.”


The digital divide in terms of internet connectivity and use is compounded by a data-related divide. Image: UNCTAD

Innovative financing for inclusive development

The challenge to enable affordable digital services for billions of people is significant – estimated at $2.1 trillion. This includes the pipeline to teach digital skills, enhance trust in technology, and develop digital solutions in key areas such as health, education, and financial services. Traditional financing mechanisms – and the traditional digital infrastructure actors – cannot address either the solutions or the financing alone. There is therefore a pressing need for innovative instruments and mechanisms to encourage more players to participate in the financing of digital inclusion.

As a result of the realization through the pandemic of the central role digital participation plays in social and economic inclusion, there is a tremendous amount of enthusiasm from businesses and policymakers to close the digital divide. This has created a unique opportunity to capitalize on the momentum and find new and creative ways to invest in access, inclusivity and equality, so that the most vulnerable are connected.

Trillions of dollars are being invested in environmental, social and governance (ESG) projects from both the public and private sectors. Investors, operators, and other players are deploying new financial arrangements on initiatives promoting digital inclusion as these are key enablers for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This shift towards sustainable and social financing creates an opportunity to unlock capital that will advance digital inclusion and contribute to the SDGs.

“Digital technologies are unlocking new pathways for rapid economic development, job creation and access to services in finance, education and health which would have been unimaginable only a decade ago,” said Riccardo Puliti, Vice President for Infrastructure at the World Bank. “Yet, there is also a growing ‘digital divide’ and increased cyber risks which need urgent and coordinated action to mitigate. Countries around the world have an unprecedented opportunity to harness the digital economy as a driver of growth and innovation.”

Some innovative financing arrangements that are emerging and broadening the base of contributors include earmarking proceeds from ICT sector participants, reforming Universal service and Access Funds (USAFs), creating an international fund, and issuing bond financing for digital inclusion – enabling organizations to leverage existing market frameworks to tap into the $500 billion ESG bond market to finance investment in digital infrastructure and services.

Establishing shared principles in the digital economy can also help provide a foundation to ensure an inclusive financial system. The development and implementation of resources, policies and regulation, and services that are inclusive by design, interoperable, digitally-led, economically sustainable, trusted, and informed by data will foster an environment for rapid uptake of digital solutions.

A cross-sector approach to building inclusive, sustainable societies

The United Nations aims to bring 75% of the world online by 2025, with the internet costing no more than 2% of earnings. Mobilizing public-private collaboration is crucial to bridge the financing, regulatory, and policy gaps to reach universal broadband access within the next decade. With greater access and more affordable digital services, we can stop the widening of existing divides and ensure that the other half of the world gets connected.

For the world to build back better, governments must embed digital within all other national priorities and set up horizontal and whole of government approaches to facilitate the necessary policies, regulatory, and economic environment to connect the unconnected while also progressing toward the achievement of the SDGs.

“Now is the time to make use of the increased profile and political awareness of the advantages of digitization,” said Mats Granryd, Director General at GSMA “to stimulate all levels of government to actively support policies that lead to long-term digital strategies and promote the private investment required to deliver them.”

The World Economic Forum’s EDISON Alliance is prioritizing digital inclusion by fostering collaboration between governments, companies and other organizations globally. Through the 1 Billion Lives Challenge, the Alliance will accelerate digital inclusion for 1 billion people through affordable and accessible digital solutions across, at least, health, finance, and education by 2025.

OIT

I work as a freelancer on a digital platform. Like millions of other young people around the world, I find odd jobs on the web. So far, nothing special, except that when I log on to the internet to surf the ads, I do it from Kakuma, one of Kenya’s largest refugee camps.

I arrived in Kakuma twenty years ago with my uncle, fleeing the situation in South Sudan. We came with nothing.  But I love to study and thanks to the education opportunities I found in the camp, I managed to complete high school and got a social work degree and a diploma in primary education. Now I am a primary school teacher and a social worker.

Thon Mabior Jok stands in a dry landscape with little vegetation, with buildings of Kakuma camp in the background.

I have lived in Kakuma camp in Kenya for the past twenty years. © Thon Mabior Jok

At the end of 2020, I participated in a course organized by the Refugee Employment and Skills Initiative (RESI) of the International Trade Center (ITC), and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), in partnership with Upwork, a global freelancing platform.I already had a diploma in computer applications that helped, and I learned enough to be able to manage on digital platforms. For several months now, I have been finding jobs on the web, mainly as a translator of Dinka and Juba Arabic – languages mainly spoken in South Sudan – as well as Swahili.

Young people look at laptop screens in the internet centre in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.

The only place where I can work online in the refugee camp is at the internet centre. © Thon Mabior Jok

This work provides me with much-needed extra money, but it’s not enough to make a living and it’s not always easy: the connection is not always good, and you can’t work from home. You need to go to the internet centre, which is only open at certain times of the day.The chances of a refugee landing a job on a digital platform are actually very small. Sometimes there are not enough jobs for everyone. There is always a lot of competition. And it is not easy to find a job that pays well. When there is an advert there will be a hundred applications, that’s the main challenge. Of the hundred or so students who attended the course, barely a dozen have found work.

If we want to make working on digital platforms a reality for refugees, we need a lot more help.

If we want to make working on digital platforms a reality for refugees we need a lot more help: new computers, better connectivity, more opportunities. Otherwise, it will remain something we do from time to time.And it’s not just technical problems. As refugees we do not have permanent identification. We have an alien card that expires every five years. This makes it much more difficult for us to get hired and paid, although the good thing about working as a freelancer is that you are not required to have a work permit.
Girls in purple school uniforms play chess.
My former students at the chess club. © Thon Mabior Jok

When I am not on the web, I like to come back to see my students from the chess club. I teach them new moves and how to improve their critical thinking, so they become better players in chess, and in life.

Fast facts

  • Kakuma refugee camp is home to 160,000 refugees from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia, and Uganda. It is one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
  • Sixty-eight per cent of Kakuma refugees live below the poverty line of $1.90 per day.
  • According to an ILO report on refugees and digital labour platforms, refugees must overcome many obstacles to work on digital platforms including low internet access, educational levels and IT skills; a lack of suitable payment systems; and a lack of labour regulation of platform work.
  • The ILO is a partner in the PROSPECTS programme, funded by the Government of the Netherlands, which seeks to improve access to employment, education and protection for refugees and host communities.
  • Under PROSPECTS , the ILO is looking at unlocking some of the challenges faced by digital workers like Thon, including partnering with online platforms that have regular work from international firms.

Find out more

  • Report: Towards decent work for young refugees and host communities in the digital platform economy in Africa: Kenya, Uganda, Egypt
  • Digital labour platforms offer young refugees a possible route to decent work
  • Partnership for improving prospects for forcibly displaced persons and host communities (PROSPECTS)
  • Global Call to Action for a Human-Centred Recovery
  • The UN Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth
WEF

The World Economic Forum’s latest Agenda Dialogues looked at the challenge of closing the digital divide and ensuring equitable access to the opportunities that internet connectivity affords.

Taking part were: Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information and communications technology and Innovation of Rwanda; Omar bin Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy and Remote Work Application of the United Arab Emirates; Achim Steiner, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme; Tan Hooi Ling, Co-Founder, Grab; Robert F. Smith, Founder, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Vista Equity Partners; Adrian Lovett, President and Chief Executive Officer, World Wide Web Foundation.

The session was chaired by Børge Brende, President, World Economic Forum, and moderated by Adrian Monck, Managing Director, World Economic Forum.

COVID-19 a ‘catalyst’ for digital transition

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the digital transition, all the panelists agreed. As Paula Ingabire explained, it’s been a ‘catalyst’ for digital transformation in many countries – both in fighting the pandemic and using digital tools to ensure essential services could continue.

But a digital divide and disparities persist, she added, and the current pace of digital adoption is exaggerating this divide.

And while technology helped tackle many of the challenges thrown up by the pandemic, there are broader issues still to tackle, explained Omar bin Sultan Al Olama. It’s not enough to just give a child a tablet – you need to ensure their learning environment is appropriate, he said.

Access, in spite of the acceleration we’ve seen during the pandemic, remains a major hurdle though, the panel agreed.

A whole-society approach

Inclusion needs to be at the centre of the digital transformation, urged Achim Steiner. You need to consider society as a whole, he said. You need to build digital ecosystems that work for start-ups, for entrepreneurs, for coders and programmers, but also ensure people aren’t left behind.

Connection alone isn’t enough. Steiner asks: How can we build education systems that will allow young people to thrive in digital economies?

And meaningful connections are important, urged Ingabire and Adrian Lovett. It’s not binary said Lovett – whether you’re connected or not – it’s about ensuring people have infrastructure they can rely on and a connection they can access regularly.

The potential of closing the gap

There are enormous opportunities if we can close the divide, from education to employment. There’s ‘massive economic impact’ in uplifting communities, if we can take advantage, summarized Robert F. Smith.

And as Lovett explained, the returns on investment are significant – we just need the resources.

Figure 5 – Growth in GDP from increased connectivity only, cumulative by developing country region. Total: $8.7 trillion
How GDP grows with increased connectivity. Image: Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

 

Digital technology also helped those who suffered the disruption caused by the pandemic, said Tan Hooi Ling. Her technology company Grab was able to offer a lifeline to many who had seen other forms of income disappear, she said.

«The economics of this works,» summarized Al Olama. We just need people to understand the potential and to encourage the public and private sector to work together to convince investors.

The role of public-private partnerships

The panelists were united on the need for collaboration between the private and public sectors – and civil society, added Lovett.

The involvement of the private sector is already driving progress in the United States, explained Smith. There are already various initiatives underway to improve connectivity in communities around the country. And it’s important that US businesses are encouraged to engage with the public sector.

This is true across the world, explained Tan. As a social enterprise, Grab asks itself how can it work together with other companies and with governments to create products and services that are really needed.

A «unified effort» is needed from the public and private sectors, believes Al Olama.

It’s not a question of how one is better than the other, concluded Steiner. It’s a question of how one can enable the other.

The World Economic Forum’s EDISON Alliance is focused on ensuring everyone across the globe is able to affordably participate in the digital economy. You can read more about it here.

CNUCYD

Without key enabling and supportive government policies, the real benefits of new and frontier technology will remain locked away.

This was the message from science, technology and innovation (STI) ministers and experts who spoke at UNCTAD’s 15th quadrennial conference (UNCTAD15) on why policy is crucial to ensuring new technologies and data are harnessed in ways that boost economic recovery, reduce inequality and foster sustainable development.

Panellists of the conference’s fourth ministerial round-table discussion held on 7 October outlined actions that governments, development partners and civil society actors can take to harness the true potential of technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, drones and gene editing, while minimizing their potential harms.

“The impact of technology on the quality of economic, social and environmental outcomes is not deterministic,“ said UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant, who opened the discussion.

Policies can influence the tech trajectory

“The trajectory of technological change can be influenced by policy choices, and sometimes by the absence of any informed choice,” Ms. Durant said, adding that governments had a key role in shaping the impacts of frontier technologies.

She related how cutting-edge technologies had on one hand enabled the development of COVID-19 vaccines at an unprecedented rate, “but on the other hand, we see appalling inequality in access to these same vaccines.”

She urged the international community to note that while everyone in the world is affected by technological change, not all countries and social groups can make their voices heard and have their interests considered when the course of technological change is decided.

Ms. Durant said UNCTAD’s two flagship publications released this year, the Digital Economy Report and the Technology and Innovation Report, offered strong, evidence-based messages to policymakers on how to craft inclusive responses to the issues raised by rapid technological change.

An unmissable opportunity

Developing countries can’t afford to miss the current technological revolution as they had missed others in the past, said Douglas Letsholathebe, Botswana’s minister of tertiary education, research, science and technology.

He said the failure to catch previous technological waves had contributed to the existing inequalities between developed and developing countries.

Mr. Letsholathebe urged developing countries to better harness frontier technologies by raising their productive capacities and boosting structural economic transformation, while addressing social and environmental challenges.

“What we need is the widespread upgrading of science, technology and innovation capacity across the developing world that will promote global development and benefit all of mankind,” he said.

“Becoming ready requires active policy design and implementation,” he added, calling for stronger policy efforts at the national level in developing countries to build research and development, technological and innovation capacity.

Digital readiness crucial

“In the process of digital transformation, digital readiness is a pre-requisite to maximize the benefits of the digital economy,” said Pan Sorasak, Cambodia’s minister of commerce.

Mr. Pan said an eTrade readiness assessment conducted in Cambodia in 2017, UNCTAD’s first evaluation of a country’s e-commerce ecosystem, had been critical in helping the country boost its digital readiness and harness new technologies.

He outlined various policies, laws and regulations designed by his government to steer the impacts of technological change towards shared prosperity, sustainability and sustainable development.

They include measures governing e-commerce activities, promoting the development of e-commerce ecosystem, and addressing potential risks related to data protection, cyber security, cybercrime, consumer protection and competition.

Building digital skills is key

The Dominican Republic’s minister of higher education, science and technology, Franklin Garcia Fermin, underlined the importance of building digital skills to keep pace with rapid technological change.

He said the pandemic had accelerated digitalization, making it necessary to “think and rethink everything related to education and digital skills to guarantee sustainable development and social prosperity.”

Mr. Fermin called for more international collaboration to bridge digital divides (including the gender gap), reduce technological gaps between countries, tackle ethical questions and develop normative frameworks to guide a fair, transparent and accountable development of frontier technologies.

Small digital businesses need help

UNCTAD eTrade for Women advocate Clarisse Iribagiza from Rwanda urged stakeholders to tackle hurdles that hinder small and medium-size digital businesses, especially those owned by women, from growing.

These include limited access to growth capital for early-stage and women-led digital businesses. For example, she said $3 billion in funding had been raised in 2021 by over 500 African digital entrepreneurs, but only 6% had gone to women-led businesses.

Ms. Iribagiza highlighted the need to bridge the digital skills gap and make the business environment less risky for digital entrepreneurs.

She also called for more investment in demand-driven capacity-building programmes that target women digital entrepreneurs, such as UNCTAD’s e-Trade for Women masterclasses, co-designed with women entrepreneurs to meet their needs such as building networks and engaging with role models.

OMPI

Data is the fuel for the emergence of frontier technologies driving the fourth industrial revolution, and understanding the interaction between data and established IP systems is critical, WIPO Director General Daren Tang said in opening the most recent session of the WIPO Conversation on IP & Frontier Technologies.

 

The fourth session of the WIPO Conversation took place in a virtual format, with over 1,000 people from 113 countries tuning in live to participate in a discourse including contributions from the academic sectors, government and international organizations – highlighting the role of data in the digital economy and the regulatory challenges it creates. A number of innovators and creators described how they use data. This was followed by a discussion by academic and legal experts on the role of data in the current IP system.

Underlining the economic impact of frontier technologies, Mr. Tang said that frontier technologies now represent a $350 billion market, which could become a $3.2 trillion market as soon as 2025.

“From work by Zoom to 5G, cryptocurrencies to telehealth, the digitalization of our lives and work has been accelerated by the pandemic. This has significant economic, social and cultural implications, including for how we build back better and face a number of global challenges,” said Mr. Tang: “If digitalization is the engine of the future economy, then data is its fuel.”

As an intangible asset, data highlights the increasingly important role IP is playing in the global economy and raises several complex questions for the international IP system.  Understanding the nature and value of data, and how data fits into the IP system, is going to be key for designing appropriate regulatory frameworks for the emerging data ecosystems, he said.

The Fourth Session of the WIPO Conversation set out to do just that.

The first day of the Conversation focused on building awareness and understanding of what data is and why it plays such a central role in the digital economy. The day continued with an overview of the mesh of interlinked regulatory frameworks governing data and hearing stories from some innovators and creators explaining how they are using data to grow their business.

The second day focused on the key discussion of how data fits into the existing global IP system, and whether these current provisions are sufficient. This topic was introduced by five experts who discussed data and IP in the context of patents, copyright, trade secrets, sui generis database rights and contract law. This was followed by an open discussion in which around 25 interveners from member states, IP Offices, enterprises and individuals took the floor.

WIPO will continue the Conversation IP & Frontier Technologies with two to three sessions a year. One of the possible topics for future sessions could be to look at what data and frontier technologies can do for the IP system. Another possible topic could be a practical approach to handling AI inventions, including examination guidelines.

In between sessions, WIPO will be trialing a number of new formats, including a webinar on national data strategies.

Dates for the 2022 sessions of the WIPO Conversation and details about the upcoming webinar will be announced soon. If you would like to receive the most up to date information, please get in touch to subscribe to the frontier technologies mailing list.

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