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An assessment of the e-commerce ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire will help businesses in the sector adapt to COVID-19 challenges and comply with new regulations.
UNCTAD’s eTrade readiness assessment of Côte d’Ivoire, launched on 8 April, will help the country’s e-commerce businesses better adapt to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and comply with new regulations, according to one of the country’s leading digital entrepreneurs.
Patricia Yao, founder and chief executive officer of QuickCash, a platform providing mobile payment services to rural customers, said the assessment would help policymakers and businesses better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the sector.
“The assessment will help us adapt the responses of the digital ecosystem in Côte d’Ivoire, taking into account the challenges and opportunities raised by the current crisis,” said Ms. Yao, UNCTAD’s e-Trade for Women Advocate for west Africa.
Progress and challenges
The assessment found that Côte d’Ivoire has made significant progress in recent years to improve access to the digital economy and e-commerce.
The country’s digital economy program is integrated into its national development plan and includes the digitalization of a series of financial as well as government services.
It also includes and the expansion of critical information and communications technology infrastructure, with the implementation of a national broadband network project.
Despite these important strides, and its relatively vibrant economy, Côte d’Ivoire needs to tackle the challenges hindering its e-commerce growth.
These include costly and limited internet access, inefficient physical addresses, low public awareness on online commerce and limited digital skills of micro, small- and medium-sized businesses to effectively engage in e-commerce activities.
“It’s important to take priority actions to accelerate digital transformation in Côte d’Ivoire and allow e-commerce players to seize available opportunities. This is especially important in the wake of COVID-19 and in an increasingly integrated west African region,” said UNCTAD Acting Secretary-General Isabelle Durant.
“The valuable recommendations of this report will provide an important framework for future policy action, with a view to accelerating e-commerce uptake in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the country’s trade and industry minister, Souleymane Diarrassouba.
The assessment report is a product of a consultative process that brought together representatives of the government, the private sector and development partners.
Ms. Yao said the assessment’s multi-stakeholder approach would facilitate the implementation of future regulations and policies.
“By bringing all the concerned actors around the table, it will be easier to implement new measures because they have been previously discussed and agreed upon,” she said. “In the past, when new laws were adopted, they were difficult to comply with because those affected hadn’t been involved in their formulation.”
The assessment was funded by the German government and prepared in cooperation with the Universal Postal Union, International Trade Centre and Consumers International.
UNCTAD has conducted such assessments in 27 countries, fostering coordination and dialogue between various stakeholders and helping them overcome structural barriers to make e-commerce an engine of inclusive and sustainable development.
UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women advocate for Eastern Europe explains her journey to e-commerce greatness, discusses the impact of COVID-19 and encourages women to take a seat at the policymaking table.
Nina Angelovska has always been a trailblazer. From the age of 21, she’s been shaking up North Macedonia’s digital economy with her startup-turned-mega company, Grouper.mk. Now she’s advocating for more seats for women at the e-commerce policymaking table.
Co-founder of the online shopping platform Grouper.mk, she’s also the president of North Macedonia’s eCommerce Association and the country’s former finance minister.
How did she become a force to be reckoned within the e-commerce space? UNCTAD explores five things to know about Ms. Angelovska that catapulted her to the top.
1. A small grant of $5,000 got Ms. Angelovska on her feet after she won the most innovative business plan award from the North Macedonian National Centre for Development of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Learning at just 21.
She started Grouper.mk with the money in 2011. She saw the potential in group buying at a time when e-commerce was non-existent in North Macedonia and blazed a trail in the new field. Grouper.mk is now recognized as the game-changer in the market. When starting up, Ms. Angelovska says they practically educated thousands of customers to make their first online transaction and encouraged hundreds of merchants to join the e-world for the first time.
2. The company she co-founded and led, Grouper.mk is now 10 years old.
Her firm has grown from strength to strength. Today, it is much more than a group-buying website, it is a platform that connects 3,550 merchants from all sectors to over 250,000 buyers, contributing to growing the country’s digital ecosystem.
3. She was her country’s first-ever female finance minister.
“The private sector is where the magic happens, while the public sector provides the enabling environment to facilitate the magic,” Angelovska said. She’s been pushing for change both on the inside and outside these spaces. After she became North Macedonia’s first-ever female finance minister in 2019, she managed public finances amid the biggest global crisis the world has ever experienced – the coronavirus pandemic. She brought her digital acumen to the role and used it to help speed up COVID-19 support to North Macedonians. Her goal: induce positive change, speed up progression to a cashless society, digitalization and de-bureaucratize many processes.
4. Her big insight on her entrepreneurial journey.
“The key in life is to solve the problem you enjoy solving. Just keep wondering and never stop learning. This is what makes you unique and truly defines who you are,” she advises all would-be entrepreneurs.
5. On the powerful potential of women entrepreneurs.
Angelovska says the growth of our economies is at stake if we don’t include more women. “There is so much potential to be unlocked if we have more women entrepreneurs, in tech, in leadership positions and in policy. The countries that do this are the ones that will enjoy faster, more sustainable and definitely more inclusive growth,” she says. Ms. Angelovska takes her digital gender advocacy seriously, amplified by her role as UNCTAD eTrade for Women Advocate. In 2019 UNCTAD appointed her as one of seven women global advocates to advance the place of women in the digital economy. Working with the United Nations is both a great opportunity and a great responsibility to advance gender equality. In her role she’s inspiring and supporting other women entrepreneurs to harness the power of technology and the digital economy to change lives, and influence policy.
What does the future hold?
Ms. Angelovska’s journey is still in its early days, she believes. Her experience at the coalface of the COVID-19 crisis, both as finance minister and president of North Macedonia’s eCommerce Association, has given her new impetus to help people, governments and businesses go digital, especially developing nations.
“I will keep pushing for change and for digital transformation. I will keep striving to inspire and motivate as many women as I can because we really need to unlock the powerful synergy of women entrepreneurship and tech,” she said.
Masterclass seeks to empower and build the skills of women digital entrepreneurs in East Africa as well as explore opportunities amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Advocates from UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative are working hard to ensure women digital entrepreneurs in the developing world are building both the network and resilience they need to thrive in the digital economy now and in a post-coronavirus context.
The first virtual masterclass for East African women digital entrepreneurs, to be held from 8 to 10 July, is well timed to advance this cause.
It brings together women founders of digital businesses from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, reflecting the dynamism and variety of the digital landscape in the region.
The women share the drive to acquire new skills, make a positive impact in their communities and help them recover better from the economic blow of COVID-19.
While the pandemic is a human health and economic tragedy, it is also an accelerator for digital transformation and e-commerce.
“We need to use this moment to ensure women, especially those in the developing world, have a seat at the table and are able to harness the digital gains,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s technology and logistics director.
The e-commerce potential
Like much of Africa, the region has low internet penetration. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2019 only 28% of Africans used the internet.
Of the total African population, 34% of those using the internet are men, while only 23% are women.
Online shoppers are also relatively few. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia and South Africa are the only countries where the share of online shoppers exceeds 8%. In most other countries, it is below 5%.
Internet subscriptions and smartphones are relatively costly, contributing to the low rates of e-commerce in the region. Other factors include weak and unsupportive policy and regulatory frameworks.
However, with the coronavirus pandemic accelerating digital transformation globally, the window of opportunity offered by e-commerce is widening.
Learning to thrive in times of crisis
The three-day event targets established women digital entrepreneurs from selected East African countries and includes networking, learning and policy engagement sessions.
It will be hosted by eTrade for Women advocate for anglophone Africa, Clarisse Iribagiza from Rwanda, CEO and co-founder of HeHe Limited, in conjunction with eTrade for all partners, thanks to support from the Netherlands.
Emphasizing the role of the digital economy in promoting development, Ms. Iribagiza said small businesses need technology to level up.
“Small businesses create lots of jobs and help solve local problems,” she said. “But they face many challenges such as high cost of production, lack of access to energy and poor infrastructure. Technology can help reduce their costs and enable them to operate more efficiently.”
Ms. Iribagiza said the masterclass would help women digital entrepreneurs better harness the benefits of the digital transformation of their economies and societies.
Tackling urgent business needs
The masterclass will tackle the entrepreneurs’ most urgent business needs, from designing a value proposition canvas to rebooting business post-COVID-19 and going from local to regional markets, offering them practical solutions for their businesses.
Experienced trainers will lead sessions tailored to help the entrepreneurs thrive in the digital economy while operating more resilient businesses in times of crisis.
In addition, the event is a unique opportunity to examine gender-related challenges and foster more inclusive policymaking.
It includes a high-level policy dialogue on creating a vibrant digital economy in times of COVID-19, which will feature case studies and best practices from some East African countries.
The masterclass is one of the ways that UNCTAD is helping build communities of female digital entrepreneurs in developing countries, while advocating for an environment conducive to more inclusive digital policymaking.
The eTrade for Women initiative is supported by the Netherlands and Sweden in cooperation with eTrade for all partners.