The Projector Foundation, with the support of the International Trade Centre (ITC), a United Nations agency, is launching a series of marketing courses for women from Ukraine free of charge.

Starting in June, all women residing in Ukraine can apply for training in Affiliate Marketing, Facebook & Instagram Targeting, and Search Engine Optimization (SEO Beginning). The courses are comprehensive, with hands-on learning experiences and continuous feedback. Upon graduation, scholarship recipients will not only have new skills but also a portfolio for their job applications.

The acquired digital skills will increase women’s employability – especially for remote work – at companies seeking to improve their market access, branding, and online presence. Digital skills training, tech expertise as well as successful female role models and mentors are set to boost the country’s digital ecosystem and improve small business market access.

These courses are part of the International Trade Centre’s project “Building economic resilience of displacement affected communities”, funded by the Government of Japan.

The deadline for registration varies by course (either 9 or 14 June). Applicants should visit the Foundation’s official website for detailed information about the courses and how to apply.

About the International Trade Centre – The International Trade Centre is the joint agency of the World Trade Organization and the United Nations. ITC assists small and medium-sized enterprises in developing and transition economies to become more competitive in global markets, thereby contributing to sustainable economic development within the frameworks of the Aid-for-Trade agenda and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

  • Njideka Harry set up the Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF) to help girls in some of the world’s poorest settings develop vital digital skills.
  • One of the areas YTF works is southeastern Nigeria, where it intervenes to prevent young girls from becoming victims of trafficking.
  • The majority of the girls YTF helps go on to study at university, including a high percentage pursuing STEM subjects.

“Many of the girls that we work with have no basic even digital literacy skills. And not only do we introduce them to digital literacy, we also introduce them to some of the more advanced technologies such as 3D printing,” Harry says.

About 60% of the girls that YTF helps go on to pursue science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) studies at university.

Harry is one of the social entrepreneurs contributing to the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, a sister organization to the World Economic Forum, which was set up to accelerate outstanding examples of social innovation.

The proficiency with 3D modelling software she mentions, for example, not only gives young women relevant skills, but has also been used to create products which have been used to solve real-life problems within their own communities. In some instances, these skills have also created a source of income – one girl has printed her own jewellery which she sells locally.

Building STEM expertise

A large part of the drive to create YTF comes from Harry’s desire to address the fact there remains a shortage of women and girls in STEM studies and careers.

“I have three daughters, and they ask me challenging questions – ‘How can we pursue science? Can we pursue technology?’ Because the classrooms are very biased towards boys in science and often girls get made fun of if they like maths or like science and physics,” she says.

Of the students YTF helps, 80% go on to tertiary education, and the significant majority of those study STEM courses.

The frontier between humans and machines is shifting. Image: World Economic Forum

The next generation of changemakers

Many of the YTF students that don’t go to university take an entrepreneurial track, potentially working in their family business or starting their own ventures.

“There is something about starting an entrepreneur journey at a very young age that leads a young person to become a changemaker for life,” Harry believes.

“It’s about that one person whose life you are able to change. We all know that talent is universal, but opportunity is not. And so these communities that we work with, they are [full of] young people that are extremely talented. They just have to have the right opportunity to be able to unlock their fullest potential.”

Digital skills are increasingly in demand in the workplace. Image: World Economic Forum

Building skills for the future

Through education and digital skills development, Harry wants to empower young people to realize that they have the potential to be changemakers. Part of this is about putting them “in the driver’s seat for their own development”. They need to be included in conversations about their communities, career paths and the future of work, she believes. This also means ensuring they are involved in creating and shaping the technology which will drive the future.

“We don’t really know exactly what the future of work will look like. But we do know that these transformative technologies, these industry 4.0 technologies, will have a place in the future of work,” she says.

It’s a sentiment echoed by the Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, which found that “artificial intelligence, a key driver of potential algorithmic displacement, is expected to be adopted by nearly 75% of surveyed companies and is expected to lead to high churn – with 50% of organizations expecting it to create job growth”.

“So whether it’s 3D printing, or it’s the Internet of Things, or it’s artificial intelligence,” says Harry, “it is imperative that young people growing up in developing and developed countries alike understand these technologies and know how to use them for good.”

This article contains edited quotes from an interview with Njideka Harry. You can listen to the conversation in full here: LINK

UNCTAD supports Rwanda to develop a strategy to ease digital trade and make progress towards leaving the group of least developed countries.

As a landlocked economy undergoing massive transformation, Rwanda is increasingly gaining international attention for its forward-looking digital policies.

Such policies, in part, aim at boosting the country’s emerging digital economy through a coordinated “whole-of-government” approach, and could be strengthened by a national e-commerce strategy as outlined in a report recently published by UNCTAD.

“E-commerce growth is a unique opportunity to open access to international and local markets for our small and medium-sized enterprises. It can help strengthen the private sector’s contribution to national growth,” says Jean Chrysostome Ngabitsinze, Rwanda’s minister of trade and industry, in the report’s foreword.

The UNCTAD report outlines a five-year strategic plan to foster an enabling e-commerce environment in Rwanda, with detailed frameworks for governance, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.

“The strategy would support e-commerce development and ease digital trade in Rwanda through actionable initiatives,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics.

These initiatives cover areas such as e-commerce platforms, data, entrepreneurship, innovation, financial services and digital payment solutions, as well as access to finance.

“It would further bolster Rwanda’s efforts to promote sustained and inclusive development through digitalization and e-commerce,” Ms. Sirimanne said. “It could also inspire other countries in the region.”

Lever to exit least developed country status

Rwanda, one of the most densely populated nations in sub-Saharan Africa, has made progress towards graduating from the UN’s category of least developed countries, where it has been since 1971.

For example, over the past decade, mobile phone ownership has steadily increased, reaching 78.1% of Rwandans in 2022.

With such a strategy, Rwanda will be better equipped to capitalize on e-commerce for the benefit of businesses and consumers, as well as optimize the delivery of government services.

The report is the result of a long-standing partnership between UNCTAD, the Rwandan government and the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Germany’s development agency known as GIZ, the International Trade Centre and the UN Commission on International Trade Law also contributed to the strategy.

Helping women thrive in e-commerce

Another key aspect of the strategy is enabling more Rwandan women – particularly those living in rural areas – to benefit from the digital economy.

This would require reducing telecommunication costs, while making it more affordable for women to use and own devices such as smartphones and computers to ease e-commerce.

Other initiatives featured in the report aim to improve women’s digital skills and knowledge, as well as access to financial services to help grow their businesses.

These initiatives would further bolster existing programmes in support of Rwandan women’s participation in e-commerce.

These include UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative, under which Rwandan entrepreneur Clarisse Iribagiza served as one of UNCTAD’s first cohort of seven eTrade for Women advocates to inspire and support the next generation of women digital entrepreneurs in developing countries.

More broadly, UNCTAD’s e-commerce and digital economy programme assists developing economies to enhance their readiness to engage in e-commerce in a beneficial manner and integrate into the global digital economy.

UNCTAD will hold its eWeek 2023 event from 4 to 8 December 2023, bringing together ministers, thought leaders, industry experts, civil society representatives and practitioners from around the world to explore the key trends, opportunities and challenges that will shape the future of the digital economy.

Experts examine the challenges to overcome to level the digital trade playing field for women in developing countries and boost gender equality.

o make e-commerce a greater driver of shared prosperity, the world must urgently tackle the challenges facing women small business owners in developing countries.

That was the message from experts at a meeting held during the UN Trade Forum 2023 on 9 May, where UNCTAD launched a new policy review of e-commerce through a gender lens.

The policy review examines the opportunities for women – particularly those living in developing countries – to harness digital trade for economic empowerment, and the challenges they face.

The report cautions that the shift to digitalization, if not strategically managed, can reinforce pre-existing development and socioeconomic inequalities. It urges stronger policy action to create enabling conditions for all.

“Overcoming existing North−South disparities and addressing gender inequalities in society and the economy is vital, if e-commerce is to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Simonetta Zarrilli, head of UNCTAD’s trade, gender and development programme.

Cascading gender disparities risk exclusion

The report calls attention to the growing gender digital divide, a major hindrance to inclusive e-commerce.

While developed nations have almost closed the disparities between men and women with internet access, a much larger gap of 13% persists across least developed countries (LDCs), where 43% of men and 30% of women used the internet in 2022.

Besides, women entrepreneurs in LDCs, including e-business owners, often lack access to credit and other productive resources. They also have limited basic digital literacy, a requirement to engage in the digital economy.

Such obstacles can lock more women e-traders into high-volume but low value-added activities, with limited prospects to leverage e-commerce to grow and diversify their businesses.

The report also points out the dominance of major digital platforms, the cost and requirements to access them, raising questions on how much smaller enterprises can benefit from them or bargain with them.

“These disparities have cascading gender impacts and act as productivity barriers and drivers of exclusion,” said Anita Gurumurthy, executive director of IT for Change, an India-based non-profit focusing on gender, education and digital justice.

“What women’s enterprises need is a fair game, and we need to make the platform economy work for all,” Ms. Gurumurthy added.

Women need more policy support

With the rise of cross-border e-trade, experts call on countries to shore up gender considerations in e-commerce policymaking and negotiations, following the approach adopted in the landmark Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment.

“It is crucial to identify the specific barriers female-owned and -led firms face using microdata and design evidence-based policies that allow them to take advantage of the immense possibilities opened by digital technologies,” said Christian Volpe Martincus, principal economist at the integration and trade sector of the Inter-American Development Bank.

What UNCTAD is doing to help

UNCTAD, in collaboration with its partners, has long made calls to unlock women’s potential in the digital economy.

It supports countries to boost their capacity in producing gender-disaggregated data on e-commerce, which is key to designing policies that benefit women.

The work incorporates deliberations from the intergovernmental working group on measuring e-commerce and the digital economy, and a joint programme on trade and gender statistics.

The UNCTAD-led eTrade for Women initiative empowers the next generation of female digital entrepreneurs in developing countries.

The initiative also elevates the voices of women leaders in e-commerce in policymaking circles at local, regional and global levels.

The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) is inviting private sectors innovators to submit proposals on digital innovative solutions to support micro to medium scale Pacific Agribusinesses.

The Pacific Agri-MSME Digital Innovation Challenge will offer grants of up to USD 80,000 and a range of support services to design and launch digital solutions that support the development and expansion of agribusiness models and solutions. Proposed solutions must be carried out in one or more of the following countries in the Pacific region: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tonga, Timor-Leste, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

The goal is to support the development and growth of digital agribusiness models and solutions to alleviate financial and other constraints for agribusinesses and smallholder farmers, particularly women and youth, in the region following the disruptions caused by COVID-19 in agricultural value chains.

The Digital Innovation Challenge focuses on areas identified in the Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap (the Strategy), endorsed by Trade Ministers in 2021 and coordinated by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. These areas are access to markets, access to finance or capital, access to inputs, efficient business processes, and access to information and skills. Winning innovative solutions carry the potential to enhance agribusiness activities and support inclusive trade by promoting digital and innovative solutions to address unique agricultural challenges in the Pacific.

The Digital Innovation Challenge is possible thanks to the Pacific Digital Economy Programme, which is jointly implemented by UNCDF, the UN Development Programme and the UN Conference for Trade and Development. The programme is supported by the Government of Australia and the European Union.

Deadline: Monday 12 June 2023

Countries: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tonga, Timor-Leste, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

For more information and to apply: click here

In March, the ECA Office in North Africa and the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Morocco (AFEM) held a webinar on “Female entrepreneurship in North Africa: the role of finance and digital skills.” This was the first in the series of policy dialogues towards fostering productive female entrepreneurship in North Africa that the Office will organize in 2023, with the next webinar set for June 7th.

Participants underscored the need to seize new opportunities for encouraging female entrepreneurship to ensure inclusive and resilient crisis recovery in North Africa. One such area is the accelerated digitalization that the Covid-19 pandemic brought about. It underscored the importance of digital skills for women’s effective production, marketing and management as well as for use of digital finance and e-commerce.

The webinar emphasized that given the wide spectrum of constraints that women entrepreneurs face, policymakers, financial sector institutions and development partners need to adopt a multiple-pronged approach to address them. A conducive business environment is important, including stable macroeconomic conditions with monetary policy allowing for adequate supply of credit to the private sector.

In addition, all stakeholders should join forces to accelerate the shift in mindsets about the so far underutilized contributions of North African women to the formal economy. Women’s paid work (often informal and less paid than men’s), and female-led firms (mostly micro and small enterprises in services) have been hit particularly hard by the multiple crises that have affected North Africa since 2019. This has led to a rise in female unemployment, exceeding 20% in Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and averaging 23.4% for the North Africa region in 2022, up from 20.8% in 2019.

North Africa’s middle-income countries have a low female entrepreneurship rate

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, despite a high prevalence of entrepreneurial intentions, only about 6% of adult female population (ages 18 -64) in Egypt and Morocco were either starting or operating new firms in 2021. This is less than in most other middle-income countries (MICs), but it also reflects that North African MICs have some of the lowest female participation rates in the labour force globally.

One possibility of encouraging female entrepreneurship is promoting family firms. “Our analysis shows that in North African MICs, family enterprises are a particularly promising avenue for bringing more women into the labour market” said Zuzana Brixiova Schwidrowski, Director of the ECA’ North Africa Office. “These enterprises warrant policymakers’ support, which should be supplemented by childcare infrastructure in support of women balancing household and work responsibilities”.

Bringing more women in North African MICs into the labour force is also a key tool for mitigating emerging demographic trends. “We are underestimating how fast North Africa is aging. By 2050, the majority of the population in North Africa will be aged 64 and more. Against the rising old-age dependency ratio, women’s contribution to the economy is going to be critical,” said Senior World Bank Economist Helena Bardasi.

Access to finance is a longstanding key obstacle for female entrepreneurs in North Africa. The subregion’s 18 percentage point gender gap (the largest in the world) limits the growth of women-led businesses and confines them to the informal sector. Moreover, most female entrepreneurs rely on their or family savings rather than borrowing as their main source of capital. While the lack of financial and digital education as well as soft skills contributes, legal constraints also limit women’s borrowing options especially when collateral is required. Other constraints are the traditional gender roles, family duties and limited mobility due to safety concerns.

Changing laws and mindsets will require a set of complementary interventions

“There is no silver bullet”, said H. Bardasi, who explained that governments need to create an enabling environment for female entrepreneurship to reach their potential. Actions would include, for example, introducing regulations that facilitate women’s access to property or amending the requirements imposed in terms of guarantees to secure loans. To ease social constraints such as women’s traditional roles, there will be a need for both top-down and bottom-up approaches to change and opinion leaders and men will have to be included in the conversation to change mentalities.

In her first presentation of the preliminary results of the upcoming, joint ECA-Oxford Economics Africa report on gender-lens investment, Calle Davis, an economist at Oxford Economics Africa, focused on improving access to financing by women-led SMEs and establishing a more gendered entrepreneurship ecosystems.

The AFEM President Leila Doukkali underscored that while availability of funding is a frequently mentioned issue, how female entrepreneurs apply for it is also a part of the challenge. Insufficient financial education is also an obstacle to female entrepreneurship. The reality on the ground is that the changes we are seeking require financial and digital training, she explained.

AFEM vice-president for digital transformation Souad Tarmidi elaborated that digital technologies give women an opportunity to utilize online trade networks. She insisted that ICT training for women needs to be tailored to their needs, and away from stereotypes that surround women in relation to these technologies.

This help should also translate into additional support and mentorship for female owned businesses, whose exit rates in the region are higher than of those run by men, said Ihssane Iraqui a Women in Business Manager at the EBRD offices in Morocco who currently also prepares with the North Africa office a series of EBRD-ECA training workshops for women entrepreneurs.

The webinar on “Female entrepreneurship in North Africa: the role of finance and digital skills” took place on International Women’s Day and as part of the preparations for the 55th Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development of the Economic Commission for Africa (COM2023) scheduled in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) on 15-21 March 2023 under the theme: “Fostering recovery and transformation in Africa to reduce inequalities and vulnerabilities.”

The next webinar on productive female entrepreneurship will take place on June 7, 2023.

Connect to the Economic Commission for Africa YouTube channel to watch the whole webinar on Female entrepreneurship in North Africa: the role of finance and digital skills

A founding member of the Better Than Cash Alliance, the Philippines has paved the path in transitioning to responsible digital payments, providing many key lessons and insights for other countries embarking on a similar journey.

In 2013, digital payments accounted for only 1 percent of total payments by volume in the Philippines. By 2020, the country had surpassed its original target of 20 percent, with digital payments accounting in 2021 for an impressive 30 percent of total payment volume.

This case study examines the success story of the Philippines by diving into the key decisions made by the government and private sector in accelerating the adoption of responsible digital payments, including:

  1. Continuous evaluation of progress against transparent targets
  2. Proactive policymaking to satisfy evolving needs
  3. Institutionalizing data systems and building internal capacity to collect and analyze data

Dr. Felipe Medalla, Governor, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas

“Our strong commitment to accelerating responsible payment digitalization over the last decade has helped broaden financial inclusion and participation in an increasingly digital economy for millions of Filipinos, including women. We hope the lessons from our experience in the Philippines can also offer useful insights for other countries on a similar journey.”
Dr. Felipe Medalla, Governor, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas

While the Philippines’ path towards responsible and inclusive digitization of payments is unique, other governments can apply the lessons learned, such as fostering a multi-stakeholder approach:

  1. Build consensus across government and private sector champions
  2. Invest in data-driven policymaking
  3. Be intentional about the subject and cadence of tracking

Ruth Goodwin-Groen, MD, Better Than Cash Alliance, speaks about the social promise of digital money.

“The Better Than Cash Alliance celebrates the Government of the Philippines’ and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ leadership of this remarkable responsible payment digitization journey. It is with great pleasure, we share the key lessons and good practices from their ten-year data-driven success story.”
Dr. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director, Better Than Cash Alliance

Thirty-four women from across Cameroon have benefitted from a three-day digital business bootcamp designed to equip them with the skills necessary to scale up their businesses globally.

The Commonwealth Secretariat partnered with the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) on the bootcamp, which ran from 2 May to 4 May 2023 in Yaoundé, focusing on upskilling women business owners in Cameroon.

Research reveals that women entrepreneurs are at a disadvantage in accessing digital infrastructure and participating in e-commerce platforms. The bootcamp aimed to help address that deficit by providing skills and resources in entrepreneurship, financial literacy and digital know-how.

One of the entrepreneurs attending the bootcamp, Buma Emeline from the Fonds Régional Pour la Promotion de Santé du Centre – an organisation working in Cameroon to ensure patients are offered quality medication and health facilities – said the workshop would help her better market her products and medical advice, and learn how to engage more partners to reach more citizens.

Opening the bootcamp, Secretary General of Cameroon’s Ministry of Trade, Brusil Miranda Metou, said:

“To better leverage the benefit from e-commerce, you need to master its contours… The training that you will receive over the next three days will enable you to diversify your activities and facilitate your inclusion in the national, regional and international value chains.”

Ms Metou thanked the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) for organising the bootcamp, which, she said, would strengthen the role of women in the e-commerce process and development of Cameroon.

The bootcamp was part of a wider initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the ITFC, which has been supporting the Government of Cameroon with technical assistance and capacity building on trade opportunities.

Under the initiative, the Secretariat and ITFC facilitated the development of an e-commerce strategy for Cameroon, produced a training manual on leveraging e-commerce capabilities and hosted two training sessions for women entrepreneurs in Cameroon. With this bootcamp, 100 entrepreneurs have been trained through the initiative, with the goal of training at least an additional 50 women.

Speaking at the bootcamp, Opeyemi Abebe, Head of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Trade Competitiveness Section, said:

“To facilitate trade and e-commerce, our focus should not only be on developing modern digital infrastructure and restoring the financial systems but also on embracing skills development.

“The lack of knowledge of business management, marketing, finance and logistics particularly impedes the progress of women entrepreneurs. Bridging this gap will enable women entrepreneurs to succeed and grow their businesses exponentially and this is what we collectively aim to achieve through the bootcamp.”

Nasser Al-Thekair, General Manager of Trade and Business Development at ITFC, said:

“E-commerce is widely acknowledged as a significant instrument for innovation, competitiveness, job creation, and growth. This bootcamp will provide women entrepreneurs in Cameroon with a chance to broaden their horizons and enhance their involvement in the global e-commerce trade.”

Micro, small and medium-sized businesses constitute a significant percentage of Cameroon’s private sector. The contribution of these businesses to job creation and poverty reduction in Cameroon is substantial. Their impact on the economy could be significantly greater if these businesses are able to take full advantage of domestic and export market opportunities and participate in global supply chains through e-commerce.

The initiative’s goal is to make it easier for more Cameroonian entrepreneurs to expand their market reach and make their goods and services available globally. The entrepreneurs will leave the bootcamp with concrete skills and resources, including how to attract an international audience, navigate payment systems, advice on supply chain management and a mock-up for their website.

Let’s talk about the transformative role of infrastructure investments in driving economic development.

Public infrastructure can be used by policymakers as a formidable means to promote growth and reduce inequality. Our previous literature review found that public investment in infrastructure can have a “multiplier” effect—meaning measurable economic impact for each dollar of government spending—particularly high in the case of periods of crises.

Academic research over the last four decades has provided strong evidence of the positive contribution of infrastructure investments towards development objectives, including output and productivity, poverty and inequality, labor market outcomes, human capital formation, and trade.

Figure 1: The development impact of infrastructure (by sector). Source: Authors’ elaboration based on more than 3,000 observations (individual regression results) from more than 300 studies. Data illustration: Giannina Raffo.

Our recent research from the World Bank Infrastructure Chief Economist’s Office offers insights for practitioners seeking to maximize the development impact of infrastructure. The Impact of Infrastructure on Development Outcomes: A Qualitative Review of Four Decades of Literature synthesizes over 300 studies conducted between 1983 and 2022, providing a comprehensive overview of the main findings in digital, energy, and transport infrastructure. This is one the most significant attempts to date to understand the impact of infrastructure on development outcomes.

Our four overarching takeaways are:

Digitalization boosts employment and economic growth  

Recent studies on digital infrastructure show that the arrival of broadband internet enhances firm productivity and employment—particularly for highly skilled labor. For instance, Hjort and Poulsen (2019) found that the probability that an individual is employed increases between 3.1% and 13.2% when fast internet becomes available in Sub-Saharan African countries. Increased broadband access also boosts household welfare and reduces poverty as in the case of Senegal, where 3G coverage is associated with a 10% decline in extreme poverty rate ($1.9 per day). 

In many developing countries, people use mobile broadband to access the internet. A 10% increase in mobile broadband adoption boosts economic growth by creating a 0.6% to 2.8% increase in GDP according to a cross-country study. In addition, the availability of mobile phones improves coordination between producers and traders reducing the price dispersion of agricultural products—especially the perishable ones that cannot be stored—and increases market efficiency as in the case of Niger and India.

Electricity access enables structural transformation and human development, with notable benefits for women

Electrification is a key enabler of the structural transformation process by pushing more workers out of primary sectors in low- and middle-income countries. At the household level, electrification increases labor force participation, especially among women, and supports the establishment of non-farm and female-owned businesses (as in the case of Ghana). For example, electrification in El Salvador led to a 46 percentage-point increase in women’s participation in non-farm employment. Extending the lighting hours with electrification also acts as a powerful channel to enhance human capital development, as in the case of El Salvador where studying at home increased by 78% after the grid connection.

Transport Infrastructure is critical for market access and work

The literature is particularly rich when it comes to transport-to-development linkages, especially for rural roads in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the context of Tanzaniaon average, road quality improvements decreased the probability of migrating away from a rural location by 7.2% in the surveyed communities, likely due to the associated positive and significant impact on per capita consumption.

Improvements in roads also facilitate the specialization of localities as in the case of MexicoA 10% increase in market access results in a 2.9% to 6.5% increase in employment for the period 1986–2014, with the largest impact in the commerce and services sector, and a 13% increase in output specialization.

In addition, improved transport infrastructure translates into an increase in firms’ exports and thereby on employment within a country. Peru is such an example with a distance elasticity of exports of around 1.2. New roads built in Peru between 2003 and 2010 contributed to about 4% of the net new jobs created by firms expanding exports. 

But there may be unintended consequences, such as conflict and deforestation

The overwhelming balance of evidence suggests that infrastructure improvements are critical in supporting the development process. However, infrastructure might also play a role in contributing to social tensions through protests and violence. Areas with full 2G mobile phone coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa triggered collective action by enabling people to acquire and spread information to organize a civic response in Sub-Saharan Africa between 1998 and 2012. A fall in GDP growth of 4 percentage points leads to a differential increase in per capita protests between 8% and 23%. In a similar vein, the availability of cell phone coverage significantly increases the probability of violent conflicts by improving cooperation and coordination within rebel groups.

Several papers explore the unexpected socioeconomic costs of other infrastructure such as the impact of the expansion of trunk roads on deforestation. They highlight the importance of measures to be taken to overcome potential negative social and environmental externalities.

Is there a “true” impact of infrastructure on development?

In conclusion, despite some mixed results, academic research over the last four decades has demonstrated with some caveats the largely positive contribution of infrastructure investment on development. However, the findings vary in terms of magnitude and significance not only across countries, but also within the same country.

💡 In Part 2 of this blog, we’ll dive into the results of a meta-analysis conducted in a companion paper, revealing the “true” impact of various infrastructure types. Stay tuned to learn about the impact of infrastructure investments and how they can drive sustainable development for years to come.

Akalisa is a 19-year-old student at a teacher training college in Rwanda. During the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, Akalisa struggled to access the online lesson materials even when she borrowed her neighbor’s smartphone. Now that she is about to enter the job market, she needs to register online get a job and pay for her teacher certification fee using mobile money. Akalisa is anxious that she is losing out on opportunities and will be left behind, especially by her male friends who access and use digital media more easily than her.

Whether an urban or rural dweller, formal or informal sector worker, teacher, principal, or student, digital skills are now an essential aspect of our daily lives, and it is important for everyone to be digitally literate. Digital skills are used from communicating or connecting with others, to searching for a job, finding information, in the workplace, studying remotely and doing business.

In Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), there is a gender digital divide of 43% regarding access to the internet. According to UNESCO, only 21% of women in Kampala and 20% in Nairobi use the internet, compared to 61% and 57% of men, respectively. This gap is due to factors such as lack of digital skills, poor access to internet, divisive social norms and stereotypes, and general unaffordability of data and devices.

Africa’s digital economy is expanding fast. The International Finance Corporation (IFC) estimates that 230 million jobs in Sub-Saharan Africa will require digital skills by 2030, and nearly 65% of individuals recruited for jobs at African companies require at least basic digital skills. Rapid expansion, if not targeted for equity, can lead to widening gaps between different sections of the society. Women without basic digital skills will face continued barriers to accessing jobs and developing financial independence.  It is well established that the labor market returns for women with ICT skills are higher than the returns generated by other skills, and the cost of keeping women and girls offline is estimated to be around $1 trillion. Providing digital skills to girls and women is clearly the smart thing to do!

Increasing education attainment helps narrow the digital divide

With each education level attained by girls and women, the gender gap in digital skills decreases. Completion of higher education leads to most equitable access and use of internet among women— around 80% of female higher education graduates use the internet.

Unfortunately, most girls do not get through a complete cycle of basic education. Only a third of African girls and boys of the right age are currently enrolled in secondary education, significantly below the global net average of 66%. Inadequacy of physical and digital infrastructure pose significant barriers to equitable access to education. With the largest share of global out-of-school population, especially of girls, SSA will struggle to manage and capitalize its investments in expanding the digital economy. It is crucial to provide both girls and boys with foundational literacy, numeracy, and digital skills to enable SSA to truly achieve its digital transformation agenda.

Girls need a stronger push to overcome the compounding socio-economic challenges to transition beyond the basic levels of education. Their uptake of and retention in further training or job opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is even harder. In some SSA countries, increasingly more women are pursuing STEM careers. They represent over 30% of STEM graduates (the global average) in Cabo Verde, Rwanda, and Madagascar; while in Ghana, Mozambique, and Niger they represent 20% or less. However, even when women graduate, there is a “leaky pipeline effect” as they are more likely than men to shift out of STEM careers once in the labor market.

So, what can be done?

To support girls and young women in SSA, we propose some policy recommendations that can promote their participation in and use of digital skills training:

Start early: Research shows that changes in girls’ self-efficacy around digital skills occur at upper primary levels and become more pronounced as they progress through secondary school. Therefore, encouraging girls’ interest in and use of ICT at an early age is crucial.

Be holistic: To encourage girls in ICT, a comprehensive approach is necessary. This involves aligning various components such as teacher training, communication campaigns and advocacy, support for continuing education, access to the right equipment and infrastructure, and engaging the wider ecosystem, including the private sector. This is because changing mindsets is a complex undertaking that requires engaging the community, parents, teachers, and students themselves. The following components are critical:

  • Teachers: Gender awareness modules should be included as part of teacher professional development and ongoing training on digital skills to address any exclusionary practices that could affect girls. For instance, teachers should allocate equal time with devices to both boys and girls. Additionally, having more female STEM teachers at secondary and tertiary levels should be encouraged.
  • Communications: Campaigns and advocacy should target girls and their families to raise interest in STEM and explain the tremendous opportunities available for girls. They should emphasize real-life use and tangible benefits of digital skills, address concerns and fears, and emphasize how digital skills can help increase girls’ security online.
  • Higher education, STEM, and jobs: Empowering girls through cash transfers, paying fees at lower levels, and providing scholarships at higher levels have proven impactful. At post-secondary level and beyond, strong mentorships and networks promote persistence in STEM fields among female graduates. Role models provide examples of success that girls and young women can aspire to, witnessing that someone from their community or region is pursuing that career path.
  • Access to right equipment and infrastructure: Schools with labs, devices, learning materials (including digital libraries) where girls and boys can learn in an engaging and collaborative way are necessary.
  • Engagement with the wider ecosystem: The private sector can play an important role by providing financial support (for devices and infrastructure), promoting communities of practice, and providing information that countries can use to reduce the skills mismatch. Additionally, at the government level, a multisectoral approach should be pursued, involving the ICT and energy sectors.

Today marks Girls in ICT Day. This year’s theme, “ Digital Skills for life,” gives us the opportunity to work towards reducing the gender digital divide to ensure that women are not left behind.  To help millions of women such as Akalisa reach their full potential and succeed in their careers. We must prioritize education and training programs that empower women and girls with the digital skills they need to thrive in a rapidly changing digital landscape. This will support them in the ICT or STEM intensive sectors or will give them a strong advantage in any other field they may choose to pursue. By doing so, we can unlock the potential of millions of women and help build a more inclusive and equitable society. Education’s promise for a better future and access to more opportunities for girls is at stake.