Mona Ataya, a Palestinian-Lebanese entrepreneur who runs the largest online marketplace for women in the region, is one of UNCTAD’s six eTrade for Women advocates.

When COVID-19 struck, many people found themselves shopping online for the first time in the Middle East, a region where e-commerce was weak, according to an UNCTAD index.

But thanks to Mumzworld, a Dubai-based online marketplace, over 300,000 products for babies, children and mothers were at their fingertips.

Mona Ataya, a founding partner and CEO of the marketplace, was ahead of the curve when she set up the company in 2011.

As a working mother raising three children, she experienced first-hand a market gap. “Access to products for mothers was limited, prices were very high.”.

Ms. Ataya became motivated to empower mothers through e-commerce, giving them access to the best products at the best prices – and the support they needed.

“We believed that if we were able to create an e-commerce ecosystem around us, we would be able to help solve these very important needs and fill the gaps in the market,” she told a special session of UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week 2022, running from 25 to 29 April in Geneva and online.

As an eTrade for Women advocate for the organization, she’s now on a mission to empower women entrepreneurs in the region by inspiring them to take the digital leap.

Trust and loyalty

By helping solve the challenges mothers faced in the region, Ms. Ataya has built a business that reaches 2.5 million homes and employs over 350 people.

It has become one of the go-to marketplaces for global brands wanting to reach Middle Eastern consumers.

But she had to overcome many challenges on her road to success, including building trust and loyalty among sceptical suppliers and customers.

“Suppliers didn’t believe in e-commerce,” she said. “They believed baby products needed to be touched and felt.”

Mumzworld also had to build customers’ trust in online payments and in buying a product they were looking at on a screen instead of in a store, Ms. Ataya said.

“A mother will not buy her baby products from you unless she trusts and loves you.”

She says she won them over by providing an online experience that gives choice, transparency and immediacy.

Thanks to artificial intelligence, her online store can also personalize the services and products it offers each customer.

“The consumer of today needs to be able to get what she wants, when she wants it and needs to be confident that she got the absolute best choice.”

More women needed in e-commerce

Despite having faced challenges, Ms. Ataya encourages younger women to follower her path.

“It’s not an easy route, but it’s not an impossible route,” she said.

“The digitalization of the global economy is key to the way the world is moving,” she said. “Women remain very underserved, and we need to bring more of them on board.”

She said her new role with UNCTAD allows her to share her knowledge, skills and successes with more women in the region and beyond.

“When you see women doing things that are big, that are successful, that are inspiring, you summon the courage to do the same thing.”

Mumzworld, she says, is proof that women can succeed in e-commerce if they have a strong vision, build a team that shares it and satisfy an unfilled need for customers.

“Whatever you do, ensure that it’s creating value. Don’t do things for just the commercial gains.”

UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative is supported by the governments of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.

Day 2 : April 26th, 2022
UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week is the leading forum to discuss the development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy. This week’s edition, held under the theme “Data and Digitalization for Development”, puts a special emphasis on data and cross-border data flows, as well as the crucial role they play in economic and social development. With this bulletin, CUTS is keeping you posted on the proceedings.


Promoting inclusive data policy through capacity building

This session organised by DiploFoundation, the International Trade Centre and CUTS International, Geneva reflected on ways to build the capacities of developing country players in policy discussions on data flows. The three organisations have been partnering for several years on delivering a digital commerce online course to geneva delegates and capital-based policymakers.

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Financing the new digital frontier

The session focused on the role and importance of fintech, which has provided a new wave of financial solutions supported by smart technologies. It also highlighted the rise of blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which can facilitate democratised finance, deliver customer-centric offerings, bank the unbanked and give them access to the digital world, thereby enabling more people to take part in the digital economy in the near future. Subsequently, these can also lead to catalysing social change and supporting an innovative entrepreneurship ecosystem.

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Strengthening individuals worldwide in protecting their data

The session aimed to understand the current state of data protection in different parts of the world, and discuss the role of both individuals and institutions in protecting people’s data. Large digital firms are increasingly thirsty for data, and some voices are advocating for greater digital self-determination of individuals and tackling the data supremacy of large firms.

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ECOWAS E-commerce Regional Assessment

This session presented the Regional ECOWAS eTrade Readiness Assessment, in the context of the preparation of the E-Commerce Strategy by the ECOWAS Commission with the support of UNCTAD. This regional assessment served as a diagnosis – the first step of the forthcoming strategy that aims at supporting the region’s efforts to use technology to accelerate structural change and development, and foster regional integration, including through economic diversification, job creation, and more inclusive trade activities.

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Unlocking the value of data for all through the Datasphere Initiative

The Datasphere Initiative is a global network of stakeholders fostering a holistic and innovative approach to data governance to build agile frameworks to responsibly unlock the value of data for all. The session discussed how governing the Datasphere will determine the future of human society in the 21st century and why technical, policy, and institutional innovations are needed to unlock the value of data for all.

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Cross-border e-payments as a facilitator of digital trade in Africa

This session discussed recent initiatives that introduced effective and user-friendly systems of cross-border payments, and explored issues surrounding data in the payment environment in Africa. It highlighted initiatives such as The Smart Africa Alliance’s e-Payment Blueprint and the Afreximbank’s new Pan-African Payment System (PAPSS), which are designed to solve major payment barriers to intra-African trade. Challenges and ways to drive forward cross-border e-payments for the facilitation of digital trade across Africa were also discussed.

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There’s no app for that! — What it takes to leverage the promise of data for MSMEs and cooperatives in the digital economy

This session explored what kind of institutional support MSMEs and cooperatives in the global South require to effectively participate in the platform economy. It also discussed possible features of data governance frameworks which could help small businesses and cooperatives take advantage of data-related opportunities. Discussions built on empirical experiences from India, Kenya and other developing countries of what it takes for MSMEs, social enterprises and cooperatives to embrace the promise of data and digitalisation.

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Powering an inclusive digital economy: The critical role of development cooperation

This high-level session discussed the importance of development cooperation in facilitating an inclusive digital transition in developing countries, along with potential solutions to current challenges facing stakeholders in this transformation. Ensuring that digital transformations contribute to more inclusive outcomes requires that national efforts in developing countries are effectively supported by the international community. Building the capacity of low- and middle-income countries to participate in and shape the digital economy will require smart solutions based on partnerships and transparency, while avoiding duplication of efforts.

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Boosting participation of women in the digital economy of developing and LDCs

This session focused on the importance of digitalisation for women’s economic empowerment in LDCs. Digitalisation offers a variety of opportunities for female empowerment and for a more equal participation of women in markets and entrepreneurship. Yet, women face numerous challenges and inequalities. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought many entrepreneurs to move their businesses online, which has been particularly challenging for women entrepreneurs in LDCs and developing countries.

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Understanding the development impact of digital services trade

As one of the fastest-growing areas of trade, digital services trade holds great potential to open new markets and improve productivity, along with other economic benefits. This session presented key findings from a recent German-funded study on digital services trade in developing countries. Panellists evaluated the impact of digital services trade on sustainable development, and identified potential areas for improvement and growth. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in this sector were also discussed.

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Democratizing digital intelligence: Maximizing the value of data for businesses in emerging markets

To compete in today’s data driven economy, it is important for businesses to understand how to harness the power of data to improve their operations and innovate further. However, in emerging markets, there are certain barriers for businesses such as limited skillset to understand and analyze the data, limited resources to acquire tools and limited access to datasets. If this issue is not addressed, it will widen the global gaps of productivity and profitability between companies and local ecosystems. While the adoption of technology and harnessing the value data is essential, it is also important to consciously consider the risks of privacy, cyber threat and surveillance. In this context, this session discussed the ways in which civil societies, business associations and policy makers can support businesses to harness the use of data for their operations and how can the safeguards be developed to mitigate risks.

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ITC provides technical support to Uzbekistan’s national e-commerce strategy, highlighting the country’s digital development as driver of economic growth.

Uzbekistan is currently finalizing its national e-commerce strategy. Under its EU-funded ‘Ready4Trade Central Asia’ project, the International Trade Centre has offered the country technical support in designing the strategy.

Since last year, ITC has worked closely with Uzbekistan’s Ministry of Investment and Foreign Trade and Ministry for Development of Information Technologies and Communications, as well as the country’s E-commerce association in turning the design process into reality, producing a draft document ready for the Government’s endorsement. The process of finding practical solutions to developing e-commerce included multiple consultations with public and private stakeholders.

The Central Asian nation recognizes more and more that e-commerce can be a solid catalyst for trade and economic growth, particularly for developing economies and economies in transition. The relative ease in which businesses – from start-ups to small businesses – can benefit from an online presence, is accelerating the growing trend in “going digital”.

The digital pathway

The development of the digital economy is defined as the main “driver” of economic growth with an increase in its share by at least 2.5 times, as stated in the New Uzbekistan’s Development Strategy for 2022-2026 Decree, signed 1 February 2022.

With a population of around 35 million people, the largest within the Central Asian countries, Uzbekistan offers a significant domestic market for e-commerce firms. This is important because most Uzbek e-commerce companies will first target the domestic space before branching out to cross-border e-commerce.

Those that have the capacity to target new markets are already trading successfully through renowned online platforms such as Etsy, eBay, Amazon, and others.

A recent statement by the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan, H.E. Shavkat Mirziyoyev, at the Opening Ceremony of the First Tashkent International Investment Forum, held 22-24 March 2022, indicated Uzbekistan’s intention to reach new export markets.

In view of the path towards digital transformation, wide-scale reforms in the fields of IT and e-commerce are currently underway in the country.

Finetuning Uzbekistan’s national e-commerce strategy

Several developments are shaping the national e-commerce strategy in Uzbekistan.

Among these is the formation of the National E-Commerce Strategy working group in July 2021. The working group consists of public-private players and development partners, who identify important activities for the e-commerce strategy action plan. Once endorsed by the government, implementation of the strategy will officially commence.

A new version of the e-commerce law was adopted by the Legislative Chamber in the first reading in March 2022. Other developments include creating digital payment solutions, courier companies, and logistics systems.

The Center for Digital Transformation was recently assigned by the Presidential Decree as the organ that will oversee the development of e-commerce.

These developments coincide with online giants such as Amazon and Alibaba’s expression of intention to launch operations in the Uzbek market. Amazon recently added Central Asian states to the list of countries permitted to register and sell their goods on its platform.

Meanwhile, a cooperation agreement with China’s largest e-commerce player, Alibaba Group, intends to provide Uzbek entrepreneurs with unique access to the electronic B2B system and a separate e-commerce section, thus providing them with an opportunity to use the online marketplace.  

About the project

With the project ‘Ready4Trade Central Asia’, the European Union and the International Trade Centre are joining forces to contribute to the overall sustainable and inclusive economic development of Central Asia by boosting intra-regional and international trade in the region. Beneficiaries of the Ready4Trade Central Asia project include governments, micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular women-led enterprises, and business support organizations. The project operates in five countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Countries today started implementing the first United Nations agreement dedicated entirely to accelerating cross-border trade digitalization at the first session of the Paperless Trade Council, convened in Bangkok under ESCAP auspices.

The Framework Agreement on Facilitation of Cross-Border Paperless Trade in Asia and the Pacific is a UN treaty developed by ESCAP member States to accelerate the implementation of digital trade facilitation measures for trade and development.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has seriously disrupted global supply chains and accentuated the importance of international trade as a key means of implementation of sustainable development,” said Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. “As the pandemic continues and new crises unfold, accelerating the implementation of trade facilitation measures and digitalizing procedures is more crucial than ever to make trade more resilient and inclusive in Asia and the Pacific.”

The start of the Paperless Trade Council demonstrates the Asia-Pacific region’s high-level commitment and leadership in digitalizing trade procedures. The Chair of the meeting, Mr. Mohammed Abdul Hye, Ambassador and Permanent Representative to ESCAP, noted the importance of the Agreement in economic development and encouraged delegations to speak about the benefits of digitalization. As successful implementation of cross-border paperless trade requires sustained collaboration to develop the necessary legal and technical solutions, the neutral and dedicated space provided by the Framework Agreement will facilitate these efforts. Full implementation of the treaty is expected to decrease trade cost by over 13 per cent on average across the region.

Unlike many other international treaties, the Framework Agreement is action-oriented and includes a provision on institutional arrangements for establishing different levels of bodies for its implementation, including the Council, Standing Committee and working groups, encouraging parties to meet regularly to jointly work on actions and issues for facilitating cross-border paperless trade.

The Framework Agreement entered into force on 20 February 2021, in accordance with Article 19, as five ESCAP member States (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, China, Islamic Republic of Iran and the Philippines) ratified or acceded to it. Timor-Leste became the sixth Party when it acceded on 5 April 2022. Several other countries in the region are expected to finalize accession in the coming months.

The newest digital training centres of the African Development Bank’s Coding for Employment program will set aside half of their initial training slots to women applicants, the Bank said on International Girls in Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Day.

The Coding for Employment program, which equips African youth with the digital skills they need to contribute meaningfully to the global digital economy, is part of a foundational pipeline for girls and young women to pursue science and technology-related careers.

Coding For Employment held virtual and in-person ribbon-cutting ceremonies for three new centres of excellence on 8 March 2022. Two of the centres are in Nigeria—at Covenant University in Ogun State and at Gombe State University, Gombe State. The third centre of excellence is situated on Kenya’s University of Nairobi campus. The ceremonies took place at Covenant University and the University of Nairobi. Bank representatives, Coding for Employment partners and university staff attended.

“This launch is a reflection of the Bank’s strong commitment to creating a world where gender equality is true in the classroom, in the boardroom, and in every sector of the economy in order to build a more inclusive, innovative, and resilient African society,” Martha Phiri, Bank Director for Human Capital, Youth and Skills Development said in virtual remarks.

Initially, the centres will serve participants in Coding for Employment’s Digital Ambassadors program, a new, intensive peer-to-peer training model set to expand digital skills to more African youth, especially in rural communities where internet connectivity is low.

The launch event also included a virtual discussion on the role of women in Africa’s digital economy as well as persistent gender disparities in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

According to the International Telecommunication Union, which organizes the Girls in ICT Day, only 30% of the world’s tech science and technology professionals are women.

“Socio-cultural norms, beliefs, and bias have long informed how women are perceived and limited the opportunities for women to pursue careers in the technology field. Breaking these biases requires exposing young girls to coding and to STEM-related fields very early on, for them to see it as a viable career path,” said Olatomiwa Williams, Microsoft’s Nigeria country manager. Microsoft is a Coding for Employment partner.

The new centres of excellence are equipped with 50 computers, ergonomic furniture in classroom-style learning stations, and informal networking areas. Students enrolled in Coding for Employment programs gain access to free courses in web design, app development, data science, and digital marketing, among others.

The Coding for Employment Program is a key component of the African Development Bank Group’s  Jobs for Youth in Africa Initiative, which aims to put Africa’s youth on a path to prosperity. By 2025, the Jobs for Youth in Africa Initiative aims to equip 50 million youth with employable skills and create 25 million jobs in agriculture, information, communication and technology fields, and other key industries across Africa.

The centres’ opening brings to seven the number of Coding for Employment-branded learning spaces across the continent, including in Rwanda, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire. Coding for Employment plans to open 130 centres across Africa by 2025.

To watch the virtual ceremony and gender-themed discussion.


Learn more about Coding for Employment: is external)

Alphonso Van Marsh, Principal Digital Content and Events Officer, email: A.VANMARSH@AFDB.ORG(link sends e-mail)

Technical contact:

Jessica Muganza, Senior ICT and Digital Education Officer, email: J.MUGANZA@AFDB.ORG

Digital technologies are fuelling the climate crisis. Only drastic behaviour change will make them work for people and the planet.

While digitalization comes with many economic benefits, its effect on the environment is often overlooked.

But the rapidly growing digital ecosystem is exacting a heavy toll on the planet, warned Gerry McGovern, author of the book “World Wide Waste”, on 26 April during a session of UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week 2022.

“We are killing the planet through the use of technology,” Mr. McGovern said.

He cited the 120 trillion spam emails sent every year, creating 36 million tons of CO2 emissions. About 3.6 billion trees would need to be planted every year to offset the pollution.

Mr. McGovern drew attention to digitalization’s enormous material impact on the Earth and living systems.

A smartphone, for instance, can contain 1,000 materials. Humanity pulls some 100 billion tonnes of raw materials out of the fabric of the planet annually, equivalent to destroying two thirds of the mass of Mount Everest every 12 months.

Digital development not ‘ecologically neutral’

UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant had earlier underlined that digital development is not “ecologically neutral”.

Every time we download an email, tweet or search on the web, we create pollution and contribute to global warming, Ms. Durant said. “So paradoxically, digital is very much physical.”

She added: “Data centres are not in the cloud. They are on Earth, in massive physical buildings filled with energy-intensive computers.”

Digitalization seems invisible and is often sold to us as free technology, she said.  “But it’s not. And it’s something we need to seriously consider in how we develop and use digital tools.”

Massive waste problem

Mr. McGovern said only 5% of data is managed while the rest is digital waste. “There’s a massive waste problem in digital. Most of the massive data created has no value.”

He criticized big tech companies for designing devices that need to be updated or replaced frequently and are difficult to recycle, warning that waste from old phones, computers and screens is piling up fast.

Less than 20% of e-waste is recycled, he said, and most of the “recycling” is done in a way that is highly polluting – often dumped by “ships of doom” in developing nations, causing untold environmental harm.

Digitalization could help the planet

But a different digital future is possible. If used wisely, Mr. McGovern said, digital tools could help save the planet by making things more efficient and more environmentally friendly, while improving living standards.

This requires a rethink about technology, warning that business as usual would lead to “environmental Armageddon”.

Mr. McGovern urged radical behaviour change in the use of digital tools, saying people should delete as much digital data as they create.

He also called for more training and education to boost people’s skills in organizing information and data. “These are skills that are not expensive technologically but bring a lot of benefits to the society,” he said.

Underscoring the need to change the culture of waste, Mr. McGovern urged people to think twice before upgrading a gadget.

“Keep things until they break and then fix them. We must make things that last and make things last.”

The UNCTAD-led eTrade for all initiative marks a new milestone with the enrolment of the International Chamber of Commerce as its principal private-sector counterpart.

A new strategic partnership between the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the eTrade for all initiative seeks to strengthen efforts towards more inclusive development outcomes from the digital economy.

The partnership was announced on 25 April during the UNCTAD eCommerce Week held in Geneva and online, following a vetting process among the initiative’s 34 members.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan welcomed the new role of ICC and said: “I am very proud to lead this unique global partnership that leverages each partner’s contribution to make the digital economy work for all.”

Ms. Grynspan added: “By partnering with ICC, we will better leverage a global network of businesses and resources that are active on the ground to help us boost our support and assistance to developing countries for greater impact.”

Role and scope of new partnership

The eTrade for all initiative serves as a global helpdesk for developing countries to bridge the knowledge gap on e-commerce. It provides access to information and resources, promotes inclusive dialogues on e-commerce and the digital economy and catalyses partnerships.

The new cooperation will provide a trusted, neutral and global channel to bring private sector voices to the discussion and enhance coordination.

It will enable consistent, systematic and strategic engagement of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) across all sectors, which are affected by the increased digitalization of economies in developing and developed countries.

ICC Secretary General John Denton said: “I’ve been incredibly impressed by the vision and track-record of UNCTAD’s eTrade for all initiative over recent years. This new partnership provides an opportunity to take this important capacity-building work to a new level.”

He said the partnership would harness the expertise of businesses throughout ICC’s network to deliver targeted support that unlocks the enormous potential of digital trade across the developing world.

“We look forward to working as a trusted partner to UNCTAD and governments to tackle key bottlenecks to digital development, driven by our overarching commitment to enable trade as a driver of peace, prosperity and opportunity for all,” Mr. Denton added.

ICC will serve as the main private-sector counterpart and ensure effective interaction between businesses around the world and eTrade for all. This will involve regular information sharing and ongoing cooperation activities by its members.

Representing more than 45 million companies in over 100 countries, ICC is the world’s largest business organization. It promotes international trade and investment as vehicles for inclusive growth and prosperity through a mix of advocacy, solutions and setting standards.

Digitalization is putting pressure on developing countries

The growth of e-commerce has been massively accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic as people have turned to digital platforms to shop online, with the global share of online retail sales of total retail sales rising from 16% in 2019 to 19% in 2020, a level sustained in 2021.

While digitalization offers immense potential, it also poses huge challenges to people and businesses, and not everyone has been able to harness the potential of digital opportunities.

Only 27% of people in least developed countries (LDCs) use the internet, and while up to 8 in 10 internet users shop online in developed countries, that figure is less than 1 in 10 in most LDCs.

Many small businesses in developing countries are unable to go online due to weaknesses in the digital ecosystems of their countries.

People and countries that are less prepared for the digital economy risk falling further behind, highlighting the urgent need to bridge gaps in digital readiness.

Building the capacity of low- and middle-income countries to participate in and shape the digital economy will require smart partnerships to avoid duplication of efforts and to make effective use of scarce resources.

This new collaboration between the  eTrade for all initiative and ICC is an important step in this direction.

The eTrade for all initiative was launched in 2016 with 14 partners to make e-commerce and the digital economy more inclusive.

UNCTAD eTrade for Women advocate taps into digital tools to grow her food business and build a connection between farmers and consumers.

Helianti Hilman has run Javara, an Indonesian-based food marketing company, since 2008. She started with a physical store in the country’s capital, Jakarta, before transforming her business digitally.

“We had to go digital,” Ms. Hilman said on 27 April at a special online session during UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week 2022.

“We realized that we had to do it if we wanted to achieve more in terms of how we partner with farmers and serve our customers.”

With determination, Ms. Hilman embarked on what she called a “rewarding journey” that got off to an uncertain start.

Overcoming tech barriers

The biggest uncertainty had to do with skills, Ms. Hilman recalled.

Despite being “not at all tech-savvy”, she was willing to learn and adapt, focusing mainly on two areas: enterprise resources management and social media.

With accurate, real-time data synchronized in one place, Ms. Hilman improved her operational efficiency and took cost-saving measures.

“That itself is actually sort of like a payback to the investment that we make to digitize our internal processes,” she said with a smile.

Ms. Hilman also took to social media to promote her products because such “borderless marketing” doesn’t cost much but brings results.

Step by step, Javara’s e-commerce journey took off. In 2021, the business saw a 400% yearly growth through digital channels.

In March 2022, it landed a new contract in Latin America through social media marketing, expanding its reach to customers in over 20 countries across five continents.

Empowering partner farmers

A big believer in branding, Ms. Hilman turned to digital tools to address one of the key problems that faced her suppliers – the hundreds of thousands of Indonesian farmers went unnamed and unrecognized for a long time.

She used digital marketing to help build a connection between the farmers and consumers.

Ms. Hilman has been teaching her suppliers to use mobile phones to take photos and videos as they produce their products, catering to the needs of the mindful consumers keen to know the origins of their food.

With social media, Ms. Hilman even turned some her partner farmers into local celebrities, as public recognition of what they do and how hard they work grew.

“This is a game changer. It’s not really about e-commerce itself. It’s about putting a name, dignity, pride and recognition to their (farmers’) existence.”

eTrade for Women advocate

In 2021, Ms. Hilman became involved with UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women initiative, which is funded by Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland, and is dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in developing countries.

As an advocate for the initiative, she interacts with fellow advocates, strengthening her drive “to go further and faster” as a woman trader.

She says it means a lot for her to be able to inspire other women entrepreneurs with her digital transformation experience.

Although she doesn’t have a technology background, she exemplifies how a traditional business can successfully go digital. And she wants others to think that “if they can do it, we can do it too.”

Day 1 : April 25th, 2022
UNCTAD’s eCommerce Week is the leading forum to discuss the development opportunities and challenges associated with the digital economy. This week’s edition, held under the theme “Data and Digitalization for Development”, puts a special emphasis on data and cross-border data flows, as well as the crucial role they play in economic and social development. With this bulletin, CUTS is keeping you posted on the proceedings.


Opening Session

The opening plenary session introduced the UNCTAD’s E-commerce week and its theme: ‘Data and Digitalization for Development’. In a world where almost 3 billion people remain offline, 96% of whom live in developing countries, data and cross-border data flows are playing an increasingly crucial role in economic and social development. This week’s dialogues will provide opportunities to reflect on governance approaches that make the digital world more inclusive, equitable and beneficial to all.

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Data to measure the digital performance of seaports

It is estimated that only 20 per cent of the 4900 ports of the world have established, or plan to establish, accurate digital capabilities to assure transport chain connectivity. There is a need to support the upgrade of ports’ digital capabilities in their steps to develop their digital maturity responding to the requirements of the smart and the sustainable port of tomorrow. This session discussed ways of measuring the digital readiness and performance of seaports, with a view to possibly proposing a future digital performance index for ports (DPI-Ports).

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Digitalization to facilitate inclusion of MSMEs in e-commerce trade

The session addressed the role and importance of Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSMEs) as they are the backbone of the global economy, comprising over 90% of firms in many markets. The session primarily focused on the experience of the Universal Postal Union in coordinating best practices in international postal policy, as well as the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation in facilitating the digitalization of trade processes for e-commerce. The session also concentrated on the ideal policy and operational frameworks that should be in place to grow digital trade with a specific focus on the needs of MSMEs.

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Keys to harnessing e-commerce strategies for inclusive development

The pandemic has made people aware of the importance of e-commerce. It has resulted in a surge in e-commerce development as evidenced by the emergence of multiple national and regional e-commerce strategies, especially in developing countries. This raises the need for a shared vision towards building an enabling e-commerce ecosystem which includes actions to improve the digital and trading infrastructure, develop affordable digital payments options, and design appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks for online transactions and security, among others. The session aimed at demonstrating the good practices that have been designed and led to improved implementation of the e-commerce strategies in developing countries.

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Building online dispute resolution for Southeast Asian consumers

In 2020, an estimated 1.5 billion people shopped online but many of their transactions went awry. Therefore, the trust-enabling benefits of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) are yet to be fully realised, especially for cross-border B2C e-commerce. ASEAN member States foresee the establishment of a network of national ODR systems. This session presented the ongoing initiatives and discussed avenues for future collaboration among interested stakeholders.

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Creating a level playing field for digital trade

The absence of a systematic global approach to governing cross-border data flows may make it harder for low- and middle-income countries to participate in the global digital economy, by leaving them with limited leverage in negotiations with wealthier jurisdictions and companies that dominate global data flows. It also encourages the proliferation of national data protection adequacy regimes that could further fragment the global digital economy.

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Digital self-determination – an alternative approach to data governance issues

The session presented the idea of digital self-determination as a new approach to data governance. The panelists first presented a roadmap of the digital self-determination concept, which was followed by two practical presentations on how digital self-determination can be implemented in two contexts, namely open finance and migration.

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In conversation with Vint CERF, Internet Pioneer

The session addressed the issues related to access to the internet, data flow, the future of digitalisation, and the challenges associated with it. Advancement in internet services has accelerated over the years, and it has also increased the digital divide. The session also discussed about the important actions that need to be taken to achieve universal and ultimately meaningful access to the internet.

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High-Level Dialogue: Towards Digital and Data Governance for All

Data has become an increasingly important economic and strategic resource, and cross-border data flows are surging. This has opened new opportunities for addressing global development challenges but also created new ones. While data can be processed to generate private profits and social value, it can also be abused and misused by private companies as well as governments. The readiness of countries to harness data for sustainable development is highly uneven. Dealing with data is one of the major development challenges. Therefore, innovative ways to strengthen global data governance are urgently needed to respond to rapid digital transformations. This session focused on the perspectives of the Government and business leaders on how to ensure that the surge of digital data brings benefits to the planet and the people.

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Egypt: How the lack of and inconsistent data affect policymakers to continue measuring e-commerce and take policies/steps to improve

This session discussed possible avenues for policy-makers in Egypt to overcome some of the challenges faced in leveraging data to measure the country’s performance in the digital economy, towards informing policies. It also introduced Egypt’s 2018 eCommerce Strategy, developed in collaboration with UNCTAD.

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How will current proposals for international e-commerce rules governing data flows affect digitalization for development?

In this session, experts from the government, international organisations and think tanks discussed some of the proposed rules on e-commerce at the WTO regarding the governance of cross border data transfers. Panelists explored what such rules may mean for developed and developing countries, what should be the appropriate forum for discussing these rules, and what international rules on data governance would best support developing countries’ use of data flows for development.

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Integrating the digital economy – Global, regional, and national initiatives

The session discussed the multiplicity of governance levels and their involvement in the growth and integration of digital markets, especially in developing countries. It aimed at finding a course for better integration between the different levels of governance to enhance the core building blocks of the digital economy: connectivity, e-skills and digital literacy, and supportive regulatory frameworks. It reviewed first-hand experiences of international experts in implementing policy solutions to boost digital trade at each governance level.

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  • Third edition of IDB, IDB Invest and Finnovista study highlights the rise of the fintech ecosystem in Latin America and the Caribbean, growing 112 percent from 2018 to 2021.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the digitalization of numerous activities and sped up the adoption and consolidation of digital finance from fintech platforms in the region.
  • Besides the payments and digital lending segment, the largest in the region, other emerging relevant verticals include business technology platforms for financial institutions, digital banks, and insurance (insurtech).

The fintech ecosystem in Latin America and the Caribbean has experienced rapid growth and established itself as a key actor to meet the demands and needs of financial consumers in the region, according to the third edition of the study Fintech in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Consolidated Ecosystem for Recovery, published by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), IDB Invest and Finnovista.

The number of fintech platforms reached 2,482 in 2021, a growth of 112 percent from 2018 to 2021. Nearly a quarter of fintech platforms globally – 22.6 percent – are Latin American and Caribbean. Country distribution in the number of platforms changed little since the study’s last edition and is still led by Brazil (31 percent of the total), followed by Mexico (21 percent), Colombia (11 percent), Argentina (11 percent), and Chile (7 percent).

Fintech startups in Latin America and the Caribbean, 2017-2021

Source:  Compiled by the authors using Finnovista’s historical data base (2021).

Growth was fueled by an increasing demand for financial services not provided by the traditional financial sector, an increased demand for digital financial services because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and regulatory changes that enhanced transparency and security for investors using these platforms, the study says.

“The study shows that the fintech ecosystem is becoming a key tool for promoting greater financial inclusion,” said Juan Antonio Ketterer, head of the Connectivity, Markets and Finance division at the IDB.

“At the IDB, we are committed to supporting the development of this sector because we believe fintech platforms hold great potential for expanding credit in sectors such as micro-, small- and medium–sized enterprises and segments of the population that are commonly excluded, such as women. We hope that this study serves as an input to promote an ecosystem where fintech platforms continue to grow and become stronger so they can support Latin America and the Caribbean’s sustainable development,” Ketterer said.

Six countries account for 14 percent of all fintech companies in the region, whose ecosystem is still emerging but posting significant rates of growth. Peru is the leader in terms of the number of currently active fintech ventures, followed by Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.

Main sectors

The study also provides an analysis of the largest fintech sectors in the region over the past three years. Although the payments and remittances sector remains the largest, accounting for 25 percent of the market and driven by recent regulatory developments in Brazil and Mexico, the study notes that the digital loans (19 percent) and crowdfunding (5.5 percent) sectors are registering important growth in the region. These are followed by business technology platforms for financial institutions (15 percent) and business finance management (11 percent), among others.

Other key takeaways from the study include:

  • The number of fintech platforms offering digital banking services, mainly through mobile apps, rose from 28 in 2018 to 60 in 2021.
  • Thirty-six percent of fintech startups polled offer solutions involving segments of the population that are totally or partially excluded from the formal financial system.
  • Results of the poll carried out by the IDB and Finnovista show an increase in the average of fintech initiatives where a woman is a founder or cofounder. Since the last report came out, the average of fintech firms with a woman as founder or cofounder in the region rose from 35 percent in 2018 to 40 percent in 2020.
  • The rise in the adoption of mobile technology led to the emergence of insurtech platforms directly offering insurance products in line with users’ needs. In 2020, 73 percent of  identified entrepreneurial ventures operating actively in Latin America offered insurance products, compared to 60 percent in 2018.

Regulatory progress

The report (download it here) also lists the public policy challenges overcome in the region. To this end, the document features, for the first time, a summary of fintech regulations in the region and highlights the adoption of regulatory innovations, such as the creation of regulatory sandboxes and innovation hubs that have opened up testing or dialogue spaces in countries like the Bahamas, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The report also notes regulatory progress, such as the rise of crowdfunding, in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru, and the enabling of open finance in Brazil and México.


“Even though prospects for recovery in Latin America are still unclear, the fintech sector is currently going through a phase that could be categorized as exuberant. This sentiment is reflected by the investment available for startups, whether in the form of debt or capital, which has grown during a period in which the value propositions offered by fintech platforms have been even more relevant,” said Andrés Fontao, managing partner at Finnovista.

Fintech investment in the region led venture capital investments and accounted for 39 percent of the amount invested in 2021.

About the study

Fintech in Latin America and the Caribbean: A Consolidated Ecosystem for Recovery has been possible thanks to a collaboration between the IDB, IDB Invest and Finnovista, and countries and strategic allies in the region which, since 2016, have published reports that generate interest among the communities that comprise the fintech ecosystem. These reports have become one of the main sources of information on this sector and they support the IDB’s Vision 2025 strategy of promoting the development of small and medium-size enterprises and greater gender equity among its member states.

About the IDB

The Inter-American Development Bank is devoted to improving lives. Established in 1959, the IDB is a leading source of long-term financing for economic, social, and institutional development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The IDB also conducts cutting-edge research and provides policy advice, technical assistance, and training to public and private sector clients throughout the region.

About IDB Invest

IDB Invest is a multilateral development bank committed to promoting the economic development of its member countries in Latin America and the Caribbean through the private sector. IDB Invest finances sustainable companies and projects to achieve financial results and maximize economic, social, and environmental development in the region. With a portfolio of $14.8 billion in asset management and 376 clients in 25 countries, IDB Invest provides innovative financial solutions and advisory services that meet the needs of its clients in a variety of industries.

About Finnovista

Finnovista is an innovation and venture capital company driven by the fintech ecosystem, helping transform finance and insurance to create a better world. Finnovista connects and facilitates the fintech ecosystem in Latin America to make the transformation of the financial industry possible. Through the FINNOSUMMIT conference, Finnovista lead the largest fintech community in Latin America with more than 30,000 entrepreneurs, investors, and industry executives. Finnovista also shares its knowledge of the fintech ecosystem with the public and publishes studies on innovations in fintech and insurtech.