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A new report reveals persistent barriers in the digital finance sector that limit women’s economic empowerment in Africa, while recommending policy responses to overcome them.

Commissioned by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the latest edition of the biennial African Women’s Report was published today. The report analyses the digital finance ecosystem in Africa to examine all its components and how they impact women’s economic prospects.

Barriers

The report pinpoints five key issues affecting the use of digital finance as a catalyst for women’s economic empowerment in Africa. First, despite having more mobile money services than anywhere else in the world, women’s access to digital services, mobile and internet in Africa is limited due to illiteracy, cost, skills gap and social norms.

Second, while impressive gains are made in improving women’s digital finance skills, Africa lags behind compared to other regions. For instance, the share of women with digital finance skills in North Africa has doubled from 12.5 per cent in 2014 to 25.7 per cent in 2018 – surpassing the global average of about 20 per cent. However, the same figure stands at only 12 per cent for the entire continent.

Third, only 33 per cent of women in Africa have a formal bank account compared to 43 per cent of men. This gap, together with limited access to economic assets, escalates women’s vulnerability and exclusion from profitable sectors and formal jobs. Fourth, social norms as well as inherent biases in financial practices, products and services adversely impact women.

Finally, the lack of women’s participation in decision-making processes, as well as in financial and technology fields, means digital finance policies and products are unlikely to include women’s perspectives and meet their needs. In addition, in some African countries, women are nine times less likely to have formal identification than men, which impedes their ability to access, own and use digital finance services freely and safely.

Speaking about the report, Ms. Edlam Yemeru, acting Director of ECA’s Gender, Poverty and Social Policy Division, said: “Africa is a global leader in several transactional technologies such as mobile money but there remains considerable scope to scale up digital finance and ensure that women can take full advantage of the resulting opportunities. This requires addressing a number of barriers related to connectivity, digital literacy, cost, laws and culture.”

She continued: “Our report takes a holistic approach in looking at the digital finance ecosystem and defines policy options for governments to develop the sector further and accelerate financial inclusion while paving the way for women’s economic empowerment – leaving no one behind.”

Responses

The report outlines 10 policy responses for governments to consider in ensuring their national digital ecosystem supports, not challenges, women’s economic empowerment.

Specific responses include prioritising female representation in the sector, up-skilling people – especially women – in digital finance, reforming laws for greater mobile money uptake and designing gender-sensitive policies that combine technology with social development.

The report proposes that sex-disaggregated data on internet usage, mobile ownership and financial literacy should be part of national household surveys to inform the design of relevant policies.

It further recommends embedding digital finance frameworks in national development plans and working with credit bureaus to address the potential for inherent gender biases within credit reporting systems.

Finally, the report urges African countries to establish regional digital finance regulatory and justice frameworks using the African Continental Free Trade Area as a platform to enable digital identities and improve cross-border cooperation.

The African Women’s Report is a biennial flagship publication of the ECA. The latest edition focuses on ‘Digital Finance Ecosystems – Pathways to Women’s Economic Empowerment in Africa’’.

Postal services have changed dramatically as global trade and technology have evolved, making the UPU’s role of facilitating global communications more relevant than ever, as stated in the new Abidjan Postal Strategy and UPU’s development cooperation policy 2022-2025. The newly published UPU Regional Development Plans are designed to help the UPU fulfil this role.

“Governments must provide the necessary enabling environment and ensure that universal postal services are maintained, while postal operators around the world must adapt to the new environment and meet the evolving demands of society and the market through structural reforms, innovative services and constant modernization,” stated in the Abidjan World Postal Strategy.

With this new strategy come the Abidjan cycle’s Regional Development Plans, through which the UPU will focus its efforts on activities specific to each region.

For the Africa Region, the plan centers on three aspects: capacity building, consultations with countries to better understand their needs, and procurement assistance for countries facing difficulties, such as natural disasters or armed conflict, said Amadou Bello, UPU Coordinator, Africa Region and LDCs, SIDS and LLDCs.

“African countries made progress,” Bello said. Some have adopted solutions in e-commerce or digitalization, yet it’s not enough. “We have to push them to be more innovative, because now, if you are not innovative, you cannot survive.”

For the Europe and Central Asia Region, this cycle’s spotlight on cooperation with governments and regulators is an important shift. “Previously, our main focus was on assisting designated operators, but this underestimated the role and importance of governments and regulators in the development of the postal market and in strengthening the role of the postal network in socio-economic development,” explained Andrei Soudakov, Coordinator, Europe and CIS Region and Capacity Development.

Projects include e-commerce development, postal financial services and payment readiness for e-commerce, as well as digital transformation. The UPU will rebuild its presence in the field to ensure greater effectiveness and a higher level of interaction with regional stakeholders. It is also going to implement more than 70 activities, including consultancy missions, technical workshops, and individual training, Soudakov added.

In the Latin America and Caribbean Region, stakeholder involvement, starting with governments, will be equally crucial for supporting the postal sector as it implements the UN sustainable development goals, said Nicolás Bilhoto, Coordinator, Latin America, Caribbean and Postal Sector Modernization.

“Governments are key in implementing changes and improving the regulatory environment for the postal sector,” he said. Projects include e-commerce development and development of postal policies. In the Caribbean, improvements will be made in transportation and connectivity within the region.

The Asia-Pacific Region’s focus this cycle is capacity building for its 19 LDCs, LLDCs, and SIDS by offering training and equipment, said Thakur Subhash Sinha, Coordinator, Asia-Pacific and South-South Cooperation. A million Swiss franc project has been rolled out to supply postal equipment to these countries. Projects in the region are under implementation to improve operations, human resource capabilities, digitization, diversification of services and environmental sustainability, among others.

Last but not least, in the Arab Region, the focus will be placed on helping countries be more resilient, utilizing different strategies for its main postal players, said Hashim Elhaj, Coordinator, Arab Region and Disaster Risk Management. “We’ve identified some countries in our region who are now in the game of e-commerce,” he explained. “We are offering other activities in postal financial payments to help member countries have a wide basket of services and be more resilient for disasters.”

The UPU will offer training workshops, send consultancy missions to help develop action plans, and, in least developed countries, possibly offer equipment, such as servers or computers, to improve the quality of service. Additionally, the region’s field presence will shift to include two offices with two regional experts rather than one office.

With these elaborated, needs-based and forward-looking plans, the UPU is well equipped for another four-year journey of innovation and collaboration in support of postal development and the broader sustainable development efforts.

To learn more about the UPU’s development cooperation work and access all the Regional Development Plans 2022-2025 in multiple languages, click here.

A joint publication entitled “Study Report on Disruptive Technologies” was launched by WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and World Customs Organization (WCO) Secretary-General Kunio Mikuriya at a virtual event today (3 October). The publication reviews how so-called disruptive technologies, such as blockchain, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and machine learning, can help to improve the conduct of international trade and border management.

The report, a follow-up to an edition published by WCO in 2019, notes the benefits of disruptive technologies for Customs administrations and international traders. However, there are still opportunities for broader implementation, the report underlines, highlighting the challenges and opportunities associated with the adoption of these technologies.

In his opening remarks, WCO Secretary-General Mikuriya said: “I’m pleased that we have been partnering with the WTO since early 2021 to get a more comprehensive review of where we are in using technologies in global trade, and its implication for Customs. The extent to which Customs leverages these new technologies to improve its processes can have an important impact on cross-border trade processes and supply chain operations. Hence, the two organizations decided to jointly assist our respective members in their digital transformation journeys.”

In her opening remarks, WTO Director-General Okonjo-Iweala said: “Disruptive technologies … enable new and innovative business models that can contribute to making trade more efficient and inclusive, such as online retail and lean inventory. They also have the potential to significantly reduce border-related fixed costs, which is especially important for smaller firms. Governments must not lag behind as businesses use digitalization to operate more effectively. The good news — as this study makes clear — is that many governments are doing just that. They are using or experimenting with various digital technologies.”

The report identifies the key ways that disruptive technologies support international trade and economies more broadly and pinpoints ways in which they can assist Customs administrations in terms of trade facilitation, security and revenue collection.

In addition, the publication provides a basis for policy actions that will improve the transition to paperless trade and implementation of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade Facilitation.

The launch was followed by short presentations on the experience of deploying disruptive technologies from the Customs administrations of Argentina, the Netherlands, Niger and the Republic of Korea.

The publication can be found here.

Digitizing G2P payments is a cross cutting agenda. The G2Px Initiative brings together the knowledge and expertise across various World Bank Group’s global practices and units–covering social protection, payments systems, financial inclusion, digital development, governance and gender–to improve G2P payments at scale. In this piece they are being represented by three directors for Digital Development, Social Protection and Jobs, and Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation.


The COVID-19 crisis highlighted how digital public infrastructure (DPI) can play a critical role for governments to deliver social assistance quickly and safely. DPI not only allowed governments to reach an unprecedented number of new beneficiaries, it also allowed them to make payments to them remotely. This brought millions of people into the social protection and financial system for the first time. Countries now have the opportunity to learn from, and build on, these experiences to implement G2P (government-to-people) payment ecosystems that are efficient, responsive and inclusive.

The restricted economic activity during the COVID-19 crisis created the need to support vast numbers of people, including urban informal populations, who generally were not receiving any existing social assistance program.

Expanding support systems posed two challenges: identifying who needed support, and making the payments efficiently and safely in the context of a pandemic. Our new G2Px research report, “The role of Digital in the COVID-19 Social Assistance Response,” illustrates how governments met these challenges most successfully when they could leverage existing digital infrastructure – digital databases, ID systems and payment systems.

The unique challenge of reaching new beneficiaries

Registering new beneficiaries during a pandemic and determining their eligibility was a significant challenge. Urban informal workers — as well as other newly vulnerable individuals in need of social assistance — were often hard to identify because they were not part of existing registries. An estimated 1.7 billion people in low- and middle-income countries lived in households that received COVID-response social assistance payments, and in most regions, over half had never had government support before.

Countries with existing digital databases and ID systems were better able to tackle the challenge of registering and determining the eligibility of new beneficiaries. These systems allowed countries to match potential beneficiary information, in a secure and privacy-preserving manner, across different databases to assess eligibility and also to verify their identity throughout the process. Thailand, for example, only asked for a national ID number (and basic demographic information for identity verification) in their COVID-response social assistance program online applications. Using only this unique number, they were then able to make checks against a range of databases and quickly  approve applications from over half of the working-age population.

Countries which couldn’t use existing digital databases or ID systems to cross-check or verify individuals registering remotely reached, on average, only 16 percent of their population with COVID-response support. In contrast, countries with existing digital databases and trusted data-sharing reached an average of 51 percent of their population.

Governments that did not have DPI in place instead had to rely on collecting information at the local level, which translated into error-prone and lengthy processes. The Philippines, for example, initially had to use local government officials to collect data from 18 million households for its first round of COVID-response social assistance payments because its social registry was out of date and its digital ID system, PhilSys, was still in the process of registration. The process led to delayed payments, substantial numbers of duplications (at least 5 percent), and made it harder to reach new beneficiaries. This experience prompted authorities to accelerate their efforts to roll out PhilSys, which has registered more than 72  million Filipinos to date and will be piloted for easing G2P payments by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

The opportunity for inclusion

Once beneficiaries were registered and their eligibility verified, governments faced the second challenge: delivering payments quickly and safely. Many countries used digital payment methods, in several cases for the first time. Sometimes this took the form of transfers into mobile money or traditional accounts. In other cases, individuals received payments through mobile vouchers or tokens they could then use to cash out.

The fact that many countries delivered their payments digitally meant that millions of people opened an account for the first time, significantly accelerating financial inclusion. In Colombia, almost 3 million beneficiaries of the country’s COVID-response social assistance program received their payments through an account,  and over 1.3 million new mobile accounts were created for that purpose. Around 70 million beneficiaries received a payment through Brazil’s COVID-response social assistance program, for which the government set up a digital savings account which allowed individuals to access funds remotely. An estimated 40 percent of these beneficiaries didn’t have an account before the pandemic.

However, other countries missed opportunities to broaden financial inclusion – for example, some sent the payment into a limited account or used a token that could only be used to withdraw cash, instead of also allowing beneficiaries to make digital payments, save, or transfer money. Paraguay for example created 1.5 million new mobile e-wallets, but  they had limited functionality and didn’t allow beneficiaries to save or make transfers, unlike the above mentioned in Brazil. 

Dismantling barriers

The collective experiences of countries which embraced digitization during the pandemic to deliver social assistance payments represents a unique opportunity for progress, but that progress cannot be guaranteed without coordinated action, learning, and investment.

Significant strides were made in digitizing government-to-person payments during the COVID-19 crisis, but there is still a long path ahead to ensure this translates to long-term development outcomes.  For instance, while many countries leveraged digital payments during the pandemic, not all leveraged accounts which can accelerate financial inclusion and contribute to women’s economic empowerment. Neither does the fact that digital systems were used for COVID-response programs mean they will be scaled up — many of these programs were temporary.

Ensuring DPI is developed to support the digitization of government payment schemes across countries and programs  will require decisive action by stakeholders across the public and private sectors. It will also require learning from the successes and pitfalls from the COVID-response experiences to ensure programs can support long-term development goals, including the need to increase financial access points and improving financial products and services.

Countries now have a unique opportunity to build on these lessons to develop digital G2P payment ecosystems, as well as DPI more broadly, that can create efficiency gains for the government and open doors for beneficiaries. Doing so can ultimately provide the shared rails for payments streams which have the capacity to increase convenience, inclusion, and empowerment of their recipients.

In August 2021, following an extensive career in both the Japanese and international postal sector, Masahiko Metoki was elected Director General of the Universal Post Union (UPU), a UN specialized agency and the primary forum for international postal cooperation. His deep experience has included roles in the postal financial field, and with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Japan in Thailand, positions that provide excellent international preparation for his current role.

The role brings rewards, notably being able to lead knowledgeable staff in a rich multicultural environment, all who bring diverse ideas and perspectives to the table. This generates a great sense of responsibility both to the people served across the Union’s 192 member countries, as well as to the staff. As Director General, Metoki notes that he must “ensure the Union considers the needs, challenges and expectations of each of those member countries, and listening to UPU stakeholders within the postal sector and beyond has developed an even firmer belief that the Post plays an essential role in reaching every person all over the world.”

This is the mandate. Whether helping a small business owner in the remote Pacific Island to access the global marketplace through affordable e-commerce services or ensuring that those facing crises — natural disasters or conflicts — continue to have access to humanitarian assistance, the Post is there to deliver.

As the world’s second oldest international organization, the UPU also has a venerable history to communicate, and it does so via World Post Day, celebrated on 9 October. As the rise of globalization from the eighteenth century on created the need for multilateral solutions to support the growth of international communication and commerce, the UPU’s formation on 9 October 1874 provided one of the first solutions to this need. It paved the way for the first-ever truly global forum for postal cooperation and development. Director General Metoki notes that the Post has, perhaps as much as any other international institution, woven together all corners of the world, and the celebration of this pivotal event through World Post Day provides an opportunity to raise awareness about just how essential the role has been that the Post played, and continues to play, in global socioeconomic development by connecting people, businesses and institutions. Its global network of over 600,000 officers comprising over 5 million staff deliver everywhere, over land and sea, to the rural and truly remote. As such, the Post is an important provider not only of communication, but also of trade, financial, social, governmental, and digital services.

Director General Metoki explains how, each World Post Day, a particular theme is chosen that is deemed relevant not only to postal services, but also to the customers they serve. “This year we will celebrate World Post Day under the theme ‘Post for Planet,’ acknowledging the serious nature of the climate crisis and the Post’s role in helping to solve the issue.”

 

Director General of Universal Postal Union, Masahiko Metoki

 
As global society becomes quickly more aware of the need to make urgent changes to reduce environmental impact, the postal sector has naturally needed to react. The e-commerce boom, compounded further by the pandemic, together with the complex network of partners involved in delivering items, has shaped the Post’s approach to environmental sustainability within the sector. This has fundamentally meant an acknowledgment of the Post’s role in helping to reduce global carbon emissions as a key component of the e-commerce ecosystem. This has included huge shifts in developing sustainable packaging for e-sellers, rethinking how postal outlets are powered, finding sustainable transport options (and in doing so, often providing a model for scaling up to mass market adoption), greening postal delivery fleets, and reformulating delivery routes to optimize and reduce emissions. Similarly, the development of the Online Solution for Carbon Analysis and Reporting (OSCAR) is committed to carbon reduction.

Additionally, last year, UPU members passed a resolution that commits the organization to investigate possible emissions reduction targets and carbon-neutral cross-border services in the postal sector. As part of this, knowledge sharing on emissions reduction strategies, climate finance, and climate adaptation will be facilitated.

As a UN organization, the UPU is also collaborating with the UN Secretariat on the Global Digital Compact. In this respect, Director General Metoki points out that there are certain challenges that will be faced in working towards an open, free, and secure digital future for all.

Firstly, digital development can commensurately increase inequalities. The postal sector has already demonstrated how it can bridge such digital divides and reduce inequalities and the national level by supporting the rollout of digital infrastructure, together with the adoption of digital services in all economies, but especially in underserved communities. As an example, some 1.5 billion people worldwide access their financial services through the Post, making the Post the second largest contributor to financial inclusion globally. Many posts already offer some type of digital financial services, while UPU is actively supporting others to digitize their financial service offerings. The Post is a key global player not only for the uptake of digital financial services, but also for e-trade, e-government, and other digital services.

A secondary challenge the Compact may confront is that digital development could also significantly erode people’s trust in institutions. However, since posts are trusted national institutions around the world, they are leveraging this long-term trust to promote the adoption of digital services which, in turn, promote socio economic development across all levels of the economy.

With such ongoing challenges in mind, the UPU, under Director General Metoki’s leadership, is now consulting member states for their thoughts on other ways the Post can contribute to the Compact, and the results of this consultation will be made available soon.

After over a decade of mobile money, customer literacy of digital finance products and services remains low. Are DFS market players failing customers?

Abigail is 24 years old and living in Chainda, Lusaka with her parents. She does odd jobs for her income and supports the family by contributing to some of the bills, including electricity. While she uses mobile money to top up her phone credit, Abigail is reluctant to pay for electricity using her phone as she fears she may be overcharged or she may make a mistake and misdirect money. “Agents charge K5 (US$0.4) to buy electricity. If there are no extra costs, I’d prefer to pay with my mobile money.”

Grace is a widow and vegetable vendor. She has a smartphone but uses cash to pay for her water and electricity because she doesn’t know how to make mobile money payments.

These are just two examples of customers who are unaware that they can pay utilities using mobile money or do not trust this payment modality. Why is this? Especially in a country with a relatively high mobile phone penetration of 83 percent?

Owning a device does not equal using services available

Most utility providers in Zambia have adopted digital channels to receive payments, however customers’ usage of these channels remains a challenge. This can be attributed to customers’ low overall literacy levels, customers not having the technical skill to use a digital method, or not knowing the benefits of the digital payment channels. According to the Bank of Zambia FinScope 2020 Zambia Survey report, only 23.6 percent of the adult population is financially literate, and merely 16.2 percent of adult females and 21.4 percent of adults in rural areas are financially literate. These low levels of financial literacy have resulted in the low uptake of formal financial services by the adult population.

The 2021 FinDex Report indicated that 24 percent of adults aged 15 years and above owned a financial institution account, which includes mobile money accounts, and of these people, 10 percent use mobile money or an online service to make payments and purchases.

In the State of the Digital Financial Services (DFS) Market 2018 Report, customer dormancy was reported to be 70 percent, indicating low usage of existing mobile money accounts. Customer dormancy was attributed to several factors including low literacy of the target populations and low product awareness.

These data indicate low usage of DFS accounts among customers in Zambia. It can be argued that customer education levels are too low to allow the uptake of a wide variety of digital finance products in Zambia, especially among low-income users. Despite widespread efforts on the availability of digital financial services, mobile network operators (MNOs) and other providers have yet to adequately educate users on products and use cases and thus increase uptake of services (and consequently collections for utilities, for example), increase product awareness and build trust in digital financial services. Excluding this demographic from critical services will mean they remain excluded from additional digital products and services and the wider digital economy that is growing in Zambia.

But usage slowly picking up

The past three years, however, has seen an increase in the use of digital financial services, which was bolstered during the COVID-19 pandemic when incentives such as the zero rate of mobile money transfer for specific amounts were introduced by mobile network operators.

According to the FinScope 2020, mobile money uptake increased in 2020 to 58.4 percent, up from 14 percent in 2015. However, those who used these services were most likely to be urban-based, female, aged 16 – 35 years, had attained between grade 10 to 12 level of education, were salaried workers or dependants of salaried workers and were from households in the lower-to-higher incomes ranging from a mean of ZMW826 (US$52) to ZMW2879 (US$180) per month.

Last-mile customers are not prioritized

A scoping visit by a UNCDF team to three peri-urban neighborhoods in three provinces (Lusaka, Central, and Copperbelt) reinforced that those who use mobile money services are not peri-urban, low-income users, with lower-level education. Respondents in the focus-group discussions and key-informant interviews, who were majority youth, women and low-income Zambians, did not have knowledge of all digital payment methods for their utilities and a small number of them did not use mobile money at all.

Customers interviewed indicated that they would use the digital services if they knew about them and if they knew how to make the digital payment. Addressing these two needs would increase awareness and improve literacy at this customer level.

Typically, MNOs conduct extensive training of agents and merchants at on-boarding and product-awareness activities are conducted continually on-ground to drive usage. MNOs also conduct awareness drives for new products being introduced on the market and various payment methods that the companies offer.

According to John Mutobo, the Digital Channels Manager at FINCA Zambia, “The most important reasons for training the agent and customers is that the training helps them make correct decisions regarding financial matters. Further, most of the customers and agents in rural areas have a low savings culture, therefore, these trainings help them change their savings behavior and build more assets. Additionally, training the agents on financial literacy help them to ably handle financial matters on behalf of the bank and help transfer the knowledge to the customers because they are directly in contact with the target market than the bank.”

Agents are a critical touch-point for customers and play a key role in customer education alongside the public and digital financial service providers, but they may not be the most effective channel. Customer education takes time – time required to serve other customers; educating customers to perform transactions independently will eventually result in a loss of their overall commission, as customers will not cash out but, transfer the money from their wallet directly to the provider. Therefore, agents might not be incentivized enough to educate customers. The market needs to find a way of alleviating this loss for agents so they can continue serving subscribers to maintain the usage and demand of digital services.

Many business models focus on agents and merchants, rather than subscribers, especially those from low-income groups, as that is how the distribution of digital financial services is built — on an agent network. If we really want Abigail and Grace to start using their mobile money wallet for payments, providers can direct more effort to educate customers, show customers how to execute transactions, and help them gain trust in the payment platform.

Bridging the gaps

Alongside the private sector in Zambia, the Ministry of Finance is implementing the National Financial Education Strategy 2019 – 2024 on personal finance education through the school curriculum, entrepreneurship programmes and the private sector. However, this strategy does not address the digital component, which has become more prominent in recent years.

Training in digital financial literacy is key to bridging these knowledge gaps. Many stakeholders acknowledge this and have made efforts to bridge the financial literacy and digital literacy gaps. Financial Sector Deepening Zambia (FSDZ) recently re-launched a DFS radio drama called Bank Yako Yako to scale up financial education for DFS through radio in all of Zambia’s ten provinces. Further, the partnership between UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and Viamo aims to do — to provide awareness and training in digital financial literacy for 30,000 women and youth via Interactive Voice Response (IVR) and a WhatsApp chatbot for those who have smartphones. Customers that better understand the availability and usage of services can nudge low-income customers to transact and participate in the digital economy.

The UNCDF and Viamo partnership will address this information and training gap by using mobile-based and in-person trainings. Currently, 75 percent of the population in Zambia have mobile subscription — higher than radio or television ownership, which stand at 57 and 37 percent respectively, according to Zambia Information and Communication Authority (ZICTA). Viamo will leverage a combination of interactive voice response (IVR), WhatsApp channels, and in-person training solutions for customers and staff of utility services.

There are other such interventions on the market and they must be sustained or taken up by mobile money providers to ensure low-income customers are not excluded.

Jointly prioritize customer education

Owning a mobile money account does not necessarily mean the subscriber will use it, however, with better knowledge of what one can do with the account, its use is likely to increase. As the number of digitally-literate people grows, more users will have the confidence and ability to transact on digital platforms – beyond bill payments. These users will be brought into the growing digital economy that is transforming the country. Zambia has made significant strides on its path to digital transformation over the past few years. Progress is particularly evident in digital infrastructure, digital financial services, and digital platforms, while more significant gaps remain in digital skills and digital entrepreneurship. Addressing these gaps, especially the inclusion of last-mile customers, remains a key priority for UNCDF in pursuit of achieving the SDGs. Despite individual efforts from various industry stakeholders, more coordinated and rigorous efforts are needed to boost customer awareness and literacy of digital financial products.

Digital financial services continue to deliver substantial financial inclusion benefits and provide life-changing opportunities to communities, especially in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. In fact, as the latest Findex report shows, account ownership has risen to 76% of the global population and stands at 71% in developing economies.

Despite these encouraging developments, the risks associated with digital financial services from a consumer protection viewpoint remain a concern. New research by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) reveals that there are new consumer risks emanating from advances in digital financial services, centring around fraud, data misuse, a lack of transparency and inadequate redress mechanisms. However, the path to consumer protection in digital financial services is clear. Evidence from research by Consumers International and CGAP in 2021 plainly showed that engagement with consumers is key to strengthening consumer-centred regulations and policies and importantly, building trust with consumers.

To drive forward this change, Consumers International is implementing the Fair Digital Finance Accelerator (FDFA). The FDFA is a unique, proactive community of practice that will strengthen channels of engagement with regulators and provide much needed thought leadership in consumer protection for digital financial services. Through a unique and vibrant community of consumer associations in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, we have established a platform for collaborative action, learning and collective influence on digital finance to shape the future for consumers

Switzerland, the United States, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are the world’s most-innovative economies, according to WIPO’s 2022 Global Innovation Index (GII), with China on the threshold of the top 10. Other emerging economies are also showing consistently strong performance, including India and Türkiye, both of which enter the top 40 for the first time.

The report shows that research and development (R&D) and other investments that drive worldwide innovative activity continued to boom in 2021 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, but challenges are emerging in translating innovation investments into impact.

The GII finds that productivity growth – normally spurred by increased innovation – has in fact stagnated. It also finds that current technological progress and adoption show signs of slowing growth despite the recent flourishing of R&D expenditure and venture capital investments. However, with more careful and attentive nurturing of innovation ecosystems, a new era of innovation-driven growth led by Digital Age and Deep Science innovation waves could take off.

“This year’s GII finds that innovation is at a crossroads as we emerge from the pandemic. While innovation investments surged in 2020 and 2021, the outlook for 2022 is clouded not just by global uncertainties but continued underperformance in innovation-driven productivity. This is why we need to pay more attention to not just investing in innovation, but how it translates into economic and social impact. Quality and value will become as critical to success as quantity and scale.

WIPO Director General Daren Tang

Among the GII’s key findings:

  • The top global corporate R&D spenders increased their R&D expenditure by almost 10 percent to over USD 900 billion in 2021, higher than in 2019 before the pandemic. This increase was primarily driven by four industries: ICT hardware and electrical equipment; Software and ICT services; pharmaceuticals and biotechnology; and construction and industrial metals.
  • Investments in global R&D in 2020 grew at a rate of 3.3 percent, but slowed from the historically high 6.1 percent R&D growth rate recorded in 2019. Government budget allocations for the top R&D spending economies showed strong growth in 2020. For 2021 government R&D budgets, the picture was more varied, with spending growing in the Republic of Korea and Germany, but falling in the US and Japan.
  • Venture capital (VC) deals exploded by 46 percent in 2021, recording levels comparable to the internet boom years of the late 1990s. Latin America and the Caribbean and Africa regions witnessing the strongest VC growth. The VC outlook for 2022 is more sober however; tightening monetary policies and the effect on risk capital will lead to a deceleration in VC.

In its annual ranking of the world’s economies on innovation capacity and output, the GII shows some key changes in the top 15 of the ranking, with the United States climbing to the 2nd position, the Netherlands reaching the 5th position, Singapore reaching 7th, Germany reaching 8th and China up one place to 11th and on the doorstep of the top 10.

Canada is back among the top 15 global innovators (15th). Türkiye (37th) and India (40th) enter the top 40 for the first time. Beyond these, Viet Nam (48), the Islamic Republic of Iran (53rd) and the Philippines (59th) are the middle-income economies with the fastest innovation performance growth to-date.


Global rankings

  1. Switzerland (Number 1 in 2021)
  2. United States (3)
  3. Sweden (2)
  4. United Kingdom (4)
  5. Netherlands (6)
  6. Republic of Korea (5)
  7. Singapore (8)
  8. Germany (10)
  9. Finland (7)
  10. Denmark (9)
  11. China (12)
  12. France (11)
  13. Japan (13)
  14. Hong Kong, China SAR (14)
  15. Canada (16)
  16. Israel (15)
  17. Austria (18)
  18. Estonia (21)
  19. Luxembourg (23)
  20. Iceland (17)

 

Several developing economies are performing above expectation on innovation relative to their level of economic development, including newcomers Indonesia, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. Eight innovation overperformers are from Sub-Saharan Africa, with Kenya, Rwanda and Mozambique in the lead. In Latin America and the Caribbean, Brazil, Peru and Jamaica are outperforming relative to development.

“With their rise in terms of innovation performance in the shadow of shocks to global supply chains, Türkiye and India are positively enriching the global innovation landscape, while Indonesia shows promising innovation potential, ” says GII Co-editor and Dean of the Saïd Business School at Oxford University, Soumitra Dutta. “Other regional champions like Chile and Brazil in Latin America, and South Africa and Botwana in Sub-Saharan Africa, have improved their relative innovation performance.”

Denmark, Finland and South Korea top the 2022 UN e-government ranking.

Despite the multiple crises of the past two years, countries and municipalities have remained committed to pursuing digital government strategies — many implemented specifically to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, many have fallen short in providing adequate online services, according to the 2022 edition of the United Nations E-Government Survey – The Future of Digital Government released today.

Denmark, Finland and the Republic of Korea lead the 2022 digital government ranking of the 193 United Nations Member States, scoring the highest when it comes to the scope and quality of online services, the status of telecommunication infrastructure and existing human capacity. Runners-up are New Zealand, Sweden, Iceland, Australia, Estonia, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore, the United Arab Emirates, Japan and Malta.

Owing to remarkable improvements in telecommunications infrastructure and human capacity development, the global E-Government Development Index (EGDI) average has increased overall. Eight countries have moved to the high EGDI group for the first time: Belize, Côte d’Ivoire, Guyana, Lebanon, Nepal, Rwanda, Tajikistan and Zambia. Overall, 68.91 per cent of Member States are at the high or very high EGDI level.

Although the data shows general increases in online services for vulnerable groups, evidence of pervasive digital divides is stark. All of the countries with the lowest EGDI rankings are those in special and developing situations. A range of human-centred issues related to access, affordability, general abilities, digital literacy and language are explored in the 2022 Survey.

According to the 2022 Survey, the number of countries providing digital services in the education sector has increased by 22 per cent, from 104 to 114 countries. However, while the adoption of digital solutions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to this growth, there has been uneven progress across different regions and different income levels. The recent Transforming Education Summit placed a spotlight on the critical role that equitable access to digital learning can play in advancing sustainable development.

“The Survey results highlight that governments have remained focused on developing digital services and infrastructures, despite the global challenges of recent years. Fulfilling our vision for leaving no one behind will require us to leave no one offline in the hybrid digital future,” said Mr. Li Junhua, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

Digital services are imperative to ensure people’s effective, inclusive and accountable access to essential services across sectors, from online applications for social protection programmes such as maternity care, child subsidies, pensions, housing and food allowances, to business licenses and tax filings. There are also specific digital platforms for e-participation to better engage people, and e-procurement platforms to enhance transparency.

The 2022 Survey shows that digital technologies allowed governments to play a key role in addressing the challenges surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. All regions implemented digital measures, with a majority focusing on distance learning and vaccination services, and others also providing telehealth and online scheduling for medical tests. The proportion of countries offering all four types of services is highest in Europe (90 per cent), followed by Asia and the Americas (71 per cent each), Oceania (65 per cent) and Africa (40 per cent).

The 2022 Survey also continued its study of e-government development at the local level. Despite a digital performance gap between city portals and their national counterparts, most cities have improved their Local Online Service Index scores through greater access to important resources such as a highly skilled workforce, a broad knowledge and skill base, and a dedicated public budget.

The 2022 Survey calls on Governments to strategize and invest more in long-term national digital transformation plans. Meaningful connectivity must be guaranteed for all to help prepare for future crises and shocks. Advances in technology and e-government must ultimately serve the wider goal of supporting sustainable human development—and leaving no one behind.

About the United Nations E-Government Survey
The United Nations E-Government Survey, published by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, is prepared over a two-year period following an established methodology. It looks at how digital government can facilitate integrated policies and services across 193 UN Member States. The Survey supports countries’ efforts to provide effective, accountable and inclusive digital services to all, bridge the digital divide and leave no one behind. In the report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation, the E-Government Survey is recognized as a key ranking, mapping and measuring tool, supporting the digital transformation of countries.

Following the global launch of the 2022 Survey today, webinars and regional information sessions will be held to share further insights and key findings at the global, regional and local levels. The Survey will be made available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, thanks to the collaboration with external partners.

For more information: https://publicadministration.un.org/en/Research/UN-e-Government-Surveys

After struggling for years, Tariq El Helou is now an experienced full-stack website and web applications developer who is optimistic about his future.

Tariq El Helou has suffered many losses in his young life. He lost sight his right eye as a child due to a genetic abnormality. After graduating from university, he lost all his electronic engineering equipment when Israel bombed Gaza, effectively destroying his main source of income as well as his family home.

And then Tariq joined the International Trade Centre’s Go Digital project, and his losses turned into gains.

‘When I was a kid, I had a big dream to change my family life because I lived near the Israeli border and every week we were exposed to bombing from Israel,’ he says. ‘This built fear about the future.’

Even though he pressed on, earning a bachelor’s degree in information and communications technology in 2020 and then finding work in electronic maintenance, losing his job and the situation in Gaza pushed him into a depression.

‘I lost my passion after graduating with my bachelor’s degree,’ says Tariq, who has five younger sisters. ‘I went through a situation I never imagined – I thought it was the end.’

Instead of the end, he got a new beginning. The six-month Go Digital project enabled Tariq, 27, to build a business as a freelancer specializing in website creation and web applications development. He’s learned a range of valuable skills, such as coding and how to write successful proposals, negotiate and win clients – ‘skills I was losing before joining this programme’, he says.

Go Digital’s freelance training helps unlock opportunities for refugees and youth in Gaza by strengthening their technical capability and employability in the digital sector. It provides technical and vocational training by using digital channels as an innovative way for trainees to connect with clients, find jobs and access markets.

‘I was impressed by the incubator’s management at this training. At the end of the training, the hackathon programme changed my thinking greatly, and it was a major part in helping me incubate my idea and build my own company,’ Tariq says, referring to the three-week collaborative event that had all 150 Go Digital trainees working together to tackle different digital challenges.

The training has given Tariq a fresh start. In less than six months, he’s earned $4,000. And he’s got many repeat customers – a sure sign of client satisfaction. He offers his skills – React.js, PHP Laravel, JavaScript, MongoDB and Bootstrap, among others – through freelancer platforms such as FiverrKhamsatLinkedIn and Upwork.

‘Before joining Go Digital, my name was Tariq,’ he says. ‘After I finished this programme, it became React Guru.’

Report of a session organised by Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on September 28, 2022, as part of the WTO Public Forum 2022: Towards a sustainable and inclusive recovery.

This session presented new insights on the nature, evolution, and drivers of digital trade restrictiveness in several regions, drawing on the work undertaken with three UN regional commissions (UNECLAC, UNESCAP and UNECA). Barriers to digital trade can affect the uptake of new technologies, inhibit competition and slow down economic growth and recovery. Understanding the nature and evolution of these barriers is therefore key in ensuring that digital trade works for all. Recent efforts to measure the regulatory environment affecting digital trade, including the OECD Digital Services Trade Restrictiveness Index, have shown that the measures that affect digital trade are on the rise and that there is a wide heterogeneity across regions.

At the start of the session, Panellists shared their common belief that the regulatory environment is critical for digital services to thrive. A panellist emphasised that the regulatory environment is as important as the infrastructure needed for digital trade development in Africa. Speakers then shared findings from the UNECLAC and the UNECA mapping of the digital regulatory environment for digital services trade in Asia and Africa, respectively. The diversity of regulations between countries has been identified as a critical challenge in the Asia Pacific, and recent digital trade agreements have given a forum for harmonisation. The same challenge has been highlighted in Africa and to address it the African Union is working on developing a regulatory harmonisation plan as part of its Digital Transformation Strategy 2020-2030. Furthermore, it was pointed out that 50 per cent of digital services trade-restrictive regulations in covered African countries are concentrated in ICT infrastructure sectors and the limited competition in these sectors. Limited protection of data.

From businesses’ perspective, panellists emphasised that while regulating digital service trade enhances consumer and business trust and eliminates business uncertainties, those of restrictive nature usually hurt small and medium enterprises (SMEs) more than large enterprises. Discussions concluded that achieving “balanced” and “fit for purpose” regulations, that promote competition, transparency and non-discrimination is what matters.

On the panel were Janos Ferencz, Trade Policy Analyst, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); Witada Anukoonwattaka, Economic Affairs Officer, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP); Hildegunn Kyvik Nordås, Visiting Professor, Örebro University; Simon Mevel, Economic Affairs Officer, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA); Tiffany Smith, Vice President, Global Trade Policy, National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC).

The International Trade Centre releases flagship report SME Competitiveness Outlook 2022: Connected Services, Competitive Businesses.

he SME Competitiveness Outlook 2022, released today, puts the spotlight on four types of services – known as connected services – that drive transformation, regardless of economic level.

The four – transport and logistics, financial services, information and communication technologies, and business and professional services – contribute directly to economic growth, with an increasing share of output, trade and jobs. They also contribute indirectly, by making all firms more competitive.

Connected services assist firms to join the global economy through trade, ITC survey research shows. For example, in regions with high-quality connected services, 44% of all companies export, compared with 19% of firms where such services are weaker.

Inclusive growth: Small firms, women, youth

The report also finds that connected services spur inclusive growth favourable to small businesses, including those led by women and young people.

‘Connected services make our societies more equal. As we rebuild from the pandemic, this services-led approach to development can help countries leapfrog and transform their economies,’ said Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre.

‘These services link various parts of a supply chain, and spearhead digital innovation,’ added Ms. Coke‑Hamilton.

Yet most small firms in developing countries do not access these services easily.

The report sets out how companies, governments and business support organizations can improve connected services. The Connected Services, Competitive Businesses Plan entails action for firms to:

  • Grow networks and manage relationships
  • Innovate to deliver quality services
  • Deepen staff skills
  • Use finance to diversify products and markets

Key findings

Among the report’s findings:

  • Connected services’ jobs are growing faster in low-income countries. Employment in connected services grew by about 8% a year in low-income countries in 2007–2019, compared with 4% in manufacturing and 2% in agriculture.
  • Strong logistics services improve inventory management and timely delivery. ITC business surveys reveal that 78% with access to high-quality services have good inventory management – compared with 36% depending on low-quality services.
  • High-quality financial services support innovation. Surveys show that 46% of companies with access to high-quality services often create new products or processes, compared with 31% of companies depending on low-quality services.
  • ICT services help connect to buyers and suppliers. Surveys show that 58% of companies with access to high-quality services have a website, compared with 35% that depend on low-quality services.

The report draws on ITC SME Competitiveness Surveys of firms in 16 countries. These show that while all small firms are less likely to export than larger companies, this export gap in services is half that of manufacturing.

Thought Leader contributions in the report are from: Chipoka Mulenga, Zambian Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry; Doreen Bogdan Martin of the International Telecommunication Union; Shamina Singh of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth; Kanayo Awani of Afreximbank; and Indermit Gill of the World Bank. Six Business Voices recount experiences of entrepreneurs from Costa Rica, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Viet Nam and Nigeria.

Executive Summaries are available in: English, French, Spanish.

Watch our video, SME Outlook 2022: Connected Services, Competitive Businesses in: English, French, Spanish

For more information on the report, visit: www.intracen.org/SMEoutlook

New technologies can help businesses play a bigger part in world trade but more needs to be done to tackle the digital divide, said a high-level panel at the 2022 Public Forum on 28 September. Coordinated action on this issue is more important than ever as the world grapples with an unprecedented series of crises encompassing the pandemic, supply chain restructuring, food insecurity, the energy shortage and economic recession, the panel highlighted.

Gayle Smith, Chief Executive Officer of ONE Campaign, said digitalization could be a key driver of economic growth provided action is taken to level the playing field and support those who are denied digital access. Currently, 40% of the world’s people do not have access to the internet, and many of them do not even have access to electricity, she said.

In reference to the pandemic, she welcomed the decision on COVID-19 vaccine production, which was adopted by trade ministers at the 12th Ministerial Conference in June. But she stressed that the pandemic has persisted longer than it should because not everyone could get access to vaccines. When a pandemic hits, “we should do everything we can to make sure we can fight the virus in a way that is scientifically smart. Trade rules can be a constraint or a facilitator.” She warned: “We have got to think very seriously because this is not the last virus we are going to see.”

Florizelle Liser, Chief Executive Officer of the Corporate Council on Africa, said the pandemic had a severe social and economic impact on Africa. However, thousands of African companies made use of digital platforms during the pandemic to broaden their consumer base and to reach many more countries. There is a massive potential for African businesses to seize digital opportunities, she said, flagging that “Africa has only 2.5% of global trade” and 60% of the African population is under 30.

She highlighted the important role of trade rules, pointing to the ongoing e-commerce negotiations at the WTO. If rule makers can put in place the right rules for e-commerce, she said, not just developed countries but developing countries will benefit as well. She also highlighted the importance of harnessing the opportunities provided by the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which will help remove trade barriers.

Sushant Palakurthi Rao, Managing Director of Agility, outlined small businesses’ essential role in promoting economic prosperity, especially in emerging economies, and highlighted the challenges they face in participating in supply chains. “Small and medium enterprises are key drivers for emerging economies, bearing in mind that over 90% of global businesses are SMEs,” he said. They contribute to 70% of global jobs and up to 50% of global GDP, according to estimates of the International Labour Organization, he added

He said investment should be mobilized to tackle some of the key bottlenecks facing small businesses’ development, highlighting action taken to help build quality infrastructure in Africa.

Helena Leurent, Director General of Consumers International, said “governments and business need to do more” at a time of crisis. Consumer behaviour has changed considerably in response to the multifaceted crisis we are facing, she said. For example, a recent survey showed that “80% of people are changing their budget and spending habits to deal with energy price rises,” she said.

Regarding digitalization, she asked the business community to pay attention to consumer needs, in terms of safety and privacy. The flow of massive data might trigger consumers’ concerns over the safety of their personal information, she said. Consumers’ voices must be heard as WTO members work on new disciplines to govern e-commerce trade, she added.

Ms Smith concluded: “How do we use the expansion of technology to level the playing field? That’s our challenge. But I think it’s doable.”

In a special three-day programme, students from around Madrid saw their understanding of Spain’s postal operations broadened, their critical thinking and teamwork skills stretched, and their creativity showcased during Correos’ participation in the 4th ESO + Business Programme.

This event, developed by the Madrid Regional Department of Education, Universities and Science, connects students in their fourth and final year of compulsory education, called the 4th ESO, with participating organizations, such as Correos, to learn about their business.

And at Correos, these students do more than observe the post’s inner workings, it’s a real hands-on experience.

“The youngest people, in general, associate Correos with the business of letters only, and we provide them a broader vision of e-commerce, other new businesses, digitalization, internationalization, and our commitment to the environment and climate change, among others,” said Elena Fernández-Rodríguez, Director of International Affairs and SDGs.

Education is a key focus for Correos. Within the framework of the post’s SDG Alignment Model, Correos has carried out several initiatives that highlight its commitment to the community, Fernández-Rodríguez said, particularly regarding education.

“We believe that, by participating in this programme, in addition to bringing students closer to the activities carried out by Correos, we can provide them with new points of view and different perspectives that will also be useful to them in their daily lives,” Fernández-Rodríguez said.

The programme brought together young people from different neighbourhoods. Nearly 100 schools applied to send students to Correos. The post was able to offer places to approximately 40 students, two per school.

Students learned about the post and were given a tour through a logistics centre. But it wasn’t just passive learning experience, they were given a task: students were assigned business challenges to address: “Can Correos be a benchmark in an increasingly digital world?” and “How can we create sustainable and circular packaging?”

The students worked in teams of four to develop a product or service that addressed these challenges and took the development through the pre-prototyping phase, taking into consideration the target audience, Fernández-Rodríguez said. These activities allowed them to develop skills such as critical thinking, team building, and creativity.

Solutions ranged from a video game to learn geography and the history of Correos to an app that facilitated sending of parcels while allowing customers to get to know each other through the platform, she explained.

“We believe this initiative is a good example of how companies can engage with the society further from the usual provision of services they offer,” Fernández-Rodríguez said.

  • The Comprehensive Framework for Responsible Development of Digital Assets looks to ensure the sustainable development of the dynamic digital asset industry.
  • A series of recent reports by the US Department of Treasury probed crucial elements of crypto policy and regulations.
  • The US government sees opportunities of digital assets as needing to be consistent with consumer protection policies.

On 16 September the White House released the Comprehensive Framework for Responsible Development of Digital Assets, offering recommendations designed to protect consumers, advance sustainability efforts, and further national security. A response to President Biden’s March 2022 Executive Order (EO) on cryptocurrency, which called upon federal agencies to produce a total of 21 reports exploring the benefits and risks of digital assets, the framework intensifies activity across the US government on digital assets policy.

Just last week, three reports were released by the US Department of the Treasury in response to the EO and a pair of hearings in the Senate probed crucial elements of web3 policy and regulation. This recent redoubling comes on the heels of a busy congressional session in which several bipartisan bills were introduced to bring clarity to the quickly scaling sector. Importantly, policy activity in the US also has implications for other jurisdictions.

1. Emphasis on consumer protection and enforcement

The US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) sees crypto’s potential risks, including disclosure gaps and user confusion, as a challenge to continued innovation and adoption; as Treasury Secretary Yellen stated, “The reports clearly identify the real challenges and risks from digital assets used for financial services […] if these risks are mitigated, digital assets and other emerging technologies could offer significant opportunities.” And these opportunities come in many forms, including potentially reducing the high cost of payments, estimated to be $15B annually, and better reaching the roughly 7 million unbanked adults in the United States.

To mitigate risks, the Crypto Assets report from Treasury calls upon agencies to monitor the sector for unlawful activity, pursue investigations and issue supervisory guidance. Further recommendations include enhancing education for US consumers, investors and businesses to provide access to trustworthy information on crypto-assets and developing mitigation strategies to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing. The Department of Justice also announced the launch of a Digital Asset Coordinator Network to combat the illicit use of crypto. This network of 150 federal prosecutors around the nation will focus their efforts on investigating and prosecuting crypto crimes.

2. Gaps in the current policy landscape need to be filled

Recognizing the need for greater regulatory clarity, Treasury recommends that regulators issue new rules and guidance to provide regulatory clarity to crypto firms. This recommendation is timely, as just last week, two Senate hearings examined critical open questions of crypto policy.

At its annual oversight hearing before the Senate Banking Committee on 15 September, SEC Chairman Gensler was pressed by ranking member Senator Toomey to explain SEC rules for determining whether a token is a security or a commodity in addition to the process for crypto intermediaries to register with the commission.

The hearing invigorated a longstanding critique that the SEC has opted to take a reactive, enforcement position as opposed to a proactive guidance posture. In another hearing with the Senate Agriculture Committee, policy-makers discussed the recently proposed Digital Commodities Consumer Protection Act and debated questions of jurisdictional authority.

While the reports neither provide clarity on the legal status of crypto assets nor delineate clear regulatory swim-lanes, the 21 reports articulate the need for gap filling, amplifying the call for congressional action.

This call dovetails with efforts in the European Union (EU) to develop the Markets in Crypto Assets (MiCA) regulation, which will create rules and guidance for EU member states on crypto assets. As the US and EU move toward developing approaches to crypto regulation, further international collaboration will be key to addressing the global, decentralized nature of web3.

3. The continued need for exploration of a US CBDC

With increasing research and development, there is continued impetus for the US to pursue a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC). As of July 2022, nearly 100 CBDCs are in the exploration stages, including two fully launched digital currencies.

The reports reissued the call for exploring the development of a digital dollar, noting that further research is required to determine whether a CBDC would improve the current payments system. The White House Office of Science Technology and Policy (OSTP) published a report assessing the technical aspects of a digital dollar, while the Department of Commerce report addressed competitiveness. These considerations have been front and centre in other jurisdictions, such as Australia, where a Senator recently proposed a set of disclosure requirements on China’s central bank digital currency.

In the US, the final determination of whether to move forward with a CBDC will come from several parties, including the Federal Reserve, the White House and Congress. Treasury will lead the inter-agency effort that will provide the basis for deciding. The World Economic Forum continues to closely follow the development of CBDC closely and will proceed with further exploration of the topic in upcoming research and discussions.

Image: CBDC Tracker

4. Collaboration is essential to realise the benefits of digital assets

The reports are the product of many months of effort across the government, from Treasury to the OSTP. Still, they call for an enhanced coordinated effort to realise the benefits and mitigate the risks of digital assets.

This collaboration must extend beyond government, engaging the private sector too in developing fit-for-purpose policies and regulations. As National Economic Council Director Deese and National Security Advisor Sullivan noted in a joint-statement, “Together, we are laying the groundwork for a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to mitigating digital assets’ acute risks and – where proven – harnessing their benefits. We remain committed to working with allies, partners, and the broader digital asset community to shape the future of this ecosystem.”

5. Non-financial applications of web3 remain under the radar

The reports share a predominant focus on the financial-use cases of web3 technology. While areas of the ecosystem (like Decentralized Finance) have historically drawn the most attention of policy-makers, broader applications of blockchain, digital assets, and associated technologies may realize greater equity, reduce censorship, and advance sustainability efforts. The lack of focus on web3’s wider promise creates an opportunity for further engagement to ensure that digital assets policy is developed to realize the full potential of these technologies.

Perhaps the most notable exception to this trend is the focus on the environmental effects of crypto. In the EU, policy-makers have long debated measures to curtail the negative impacts of crypto on the environment. In the US, while crypto’s energy usage has historically been a focus for policy-makers, some experts are beginning to see its potential to help tackle perennial environmental challenges.

In a recent report published by the OSTP, the organization explored both the effect of crypto on electricity usage and the grid and the potential for web3 technologies to support climate risk mitigation. The discourse on crypto’s environmental impact has redoubled in recent weeks with the much-anticipated upgrade of Ethereum to a Proof-of-Stake consensus mechanism.

This year the US has witnessed significant activity on digital assets policy across each branch of the Federal Government. Recent agency efforts underscore the increasing importance of web3 technology to the White House. While several reports from the Biden EO provides insight into the benefits and risks of crypto, they leave key questions unanswered. Likewise, other jurisdictions continue to grapple with fundamental issues of digital assets policy.

Continued collaboration across the public and private sectors will be required to achieve the Biden administration’s policy objectives of protecting consumers, building safe, secure, and accessible financial systems, and promoting responsible innovation. This is especially important if the US wishes to lead this innovation through a design consistent with democratic values, privacy, and human rights.

Data is expensive to collect and maintain, and as emphasized in the 2021 WDR, we could better use the limited data we have. So, what is to be done and how?

Small area estimation (SAE) is an old technique that the World Bank helped popularize 25 years ago to generate more granular estimates from data. These traditional techniques are rapidly being updated due to the availability of new forms and sources of data and improved computing power. One important frontier of this revolution is data integration, which combines multiple sources of data to obtain more useful measures than one gets from a survey alone. Harnessing data integration should broadly improve the Bank’s analytics and, by extension, help promote sustainable development.

Traditionally, small area estimation has been conducted by combining survey and census data. But we now have plenty of data, including the widespread free availability of predictive geospatial indicators that can potentially be used instead of census data. Current census data is still the best choice, but censuses are often old and occasionally ancient. Could geospatial data at the village level be the second-best option when the most recent census is old? If so, data integration could potentially generate more accurate and precise estimates for any indicator from any survey that can be linked with geospatial data .

Does Integrating Geospatial Data Improve Estimates?

Our newly released working paper shows that integrating survey and geospatial data significantly improves on survey estimates, in terms of precision and accuracy, of monetary poverty rates in Mexican municipalities. This is a follow-up to earlier work that shows similarly encouraging results for non-monetary poverty in Sri Lanka and Tanzania and female labor force participation in urban Mexico. In 2015, Mexico conducted a large inter census with 5.8 million households, which the national statistics office combined with the 2014 survey to produce official municipal poverty estimates. This provides an excellent benchmark measure of “truth” to try to match by combining the same 2014 household survey with geospatial data. In this case, integrating survey and census data raised the correlation between the sample and the inter census benchmark from 0.8 to 0.86 in sampled municipalities. This is a more significant increase than it may seem, as each correlation point is important when finding the poorest areas. More precise estimates come with increased accuracy, roughly equivalent to increasing the survey size by about a factor of about 2.4. Since surveys routinely cost at least a million dollars to field, and predictive geospatial indicators are freely available, applying small area estimation techniques routinely has the potential to add hundreds of millions of dollars of value.

While the geospatial estimates do well in the Mexican case, estimates from the 2010 census are even more accurate, with a correlation of 0.9, indicating that it would have been better in this case to stick with five-year-old census estimates than update them with current geospatial indicators. Current geospatial estimates may be better than five-year-old census estimates in contexts where spatial patterns of poverty are changing faster.  More research is needed to understand it better.

Methodologies are rapidly evolving, but for now, we feel most comfortable with a model that predicts household per capita income based on geospatial variables matched at the village level. The resulting model is then used to simulate predictions of welfare and poverty using geospatial data for the whole country, which helps fill in the spatial gaps in the sample. A key feature of this model, called the empirical best predictor (EBP) model, is that it uses the survey data as a prior estimate that is updated, in a Bayesian sense, using model predictions.

Should we continue to use linear models or move to more sophisticated tree-based machine learning methods?

These newer methods generate more accurate predictions by better accounting for non-linearities and interactions in predictions, and we expect they will become increasingly common. But for now, tree-based methods are still difficult to understand and explain to non-data scientists. In addition, many new methods lack an established method for estimating uncertainty, which is critically important to know how confident we should be in the estimates. In contrast, the linear EBP model benefits from its roots in linear regression and a well-developed statistics literature that agrees on how to estimate uncertainty. In addition, the linear models value parsimony more than tree-based methods, making them easier to understand and explain.

Which welfare measure to use to target poor villages?

A recent well-known paper used data on assets from 59 countries to predict wealth in 159 countries, which was then used to target emergency cash transfers in Togo. While this is exciting and innovative work, there are key differences between wealth and official measure of poverty based on consumption or income that are not always fully appreciated. Wealth is not always a great proxy for official poverty measures, especially in rural areas and among the poorest. In the Mexican data, the correlation between the asset index with the official poverty measure is only 0.6 across sampled municipalities. This is much worse than the 0.8 correlation when just using the survey data – even though the survey is not considered representative at the municipal level — let alone the 0.86 obtained when adding geospatial indicators in a linear EBP model, and the 0.9 when using the 2010 census estimates. This isn’t a knock on the wealth estimates, which after all never intended to estimate income or consumption-based poverty. The wealth measures do have the advantage of being trained on more data and therefore use more sophisticated machine learning methods. But as long as the Bank continues to treat income and consumption as the official measure of monetary poverty, it’s better to target interventions based on simpler predictions of these official measures rather than fancier predictions of wealth.

Should the model predicting income or consumption be specified at the household or target area?

Both can work well, and there is currently no consensus in the literature on which works better. However, a recently published paper concludes that the household model is biased, and recommends using area-level models if possible. This concern that household models containing village-level predictors are biased seems inconsistent with current practice. It is very common for researchers to include village, county, or state level averages as independent variables in regressions (two of the countless published examples are here and here). It’s also common to include area-level averages in small area estimation models, which can improve the accuracy of both the predictions and the estimated confidence intervals.  But, the paper also shows that models relating household consumption to village characteristics give biased predictions, after a particular sample is selected, due to a mismatch in the means between the sample and the population.

Our new paper finds that this same mismatch is present in area-level models and leads to the same bias, and furthermore is negligible in most practical cases. In addition, if the bias is considered prior to drawing the sample (a more appropriate method), then it disappears in all methods. This is consistent with our empirical results, which show that the household level model generates slightly more accurate predictions than the area-level model in the Mexican context, because it can incorporate geospatial data at the village and municipal level. The household-level model has the advantage of using more spatially disaggregated data, and there is no reason to believe that household-level models suffer from any more bias than area-level models.

There’s a lot more work to do in this area, to experiment with different statistical methods for predicting levels and confidence intervals, different indicators derived from satellites and other non-traditional data, and tools to make data integration easier for clients and the general public. But with every new published paper on this topic, it’s becoming clearer that techniques to integrate different types of data can be usefully applied now to help us better understand the socio-economic landscape of the world around us 

The WTO’s 2022 Public Forum opened on 27 September with Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala warning that the world faces multiple crises which will require new ways of thinking about trade and how the WTO works. The Director-General delivered her remarks at the opening of the Forum, the theme of which is “Towards a sustainable and inclusive recovery: ambition to action.”

The Public Forum brings together governments, the private sector, civil society, academics and consumers to consider how the trading system can help to support and sustain an inclusive economic recovery. Around 3,200 people have registered to attend this year’s Forum, with 147 sessions and more than 670 speakers scheduled over the four-day event.

Speaking to CNN Anchor Richard Quest before a large audience gathered for the opening session, the Director-General noted the 2022 Public Forum is taking place at a difficult time for both global trade and the world economy as well as during a period of geopolitical instability and climate crises. Addressing these challenges will require addressing new issues and adopting new approaches, she said.

“It’s not business as usual because the world is in a very difficult place at this time,” she said. “We have a situation in which we are grappling with multiple crises, which I often refer to as a polycrisis, simultaneous exogenous shocks hitting the world.”

“We have security shocks, we have climate shocks, we have energy shocks, we have food price shocks, all of this hitting countries at the same time,” the DG noted. “So we cannot afford to do business as usual. We have to be able to think out of the box and we have to accomplish things.”

The Director-General also warned that prospects for trade look dim amid growing signs of a global economic downturn.

WTO economists are currently working on a revision to the annual trade forecast issued last April, “but the indicators are not looking too good,” she said. “Global growth forecasts have been downgraded by both the World Bank and the IMF.”

Asked about the likelihood of a global recession, the Director-General said: “I think we’re edging into it but at the same time, we have to start thinking of the recovery. We have to restore growth. It’s too important especially for poorer members of the WTO. We have to think of what we need to do, what policies we need to pursue to restore growth.”

The Director-General said WTO members agreed on many things at the 12th Ministerial Conference in June to address current challenges, including a commitment to refrain from export restrictions on emergency food purchases by the World Food Programme, to make trade in food and agricultural inputs more predictable, to facilitate production of COVID-19 vaccines in developing countries, and to prohibit harmful fisheries subsidies contributing to the depletion of ocean fish stocks.

“All members came together, developed and developing countries,” she noted. “Everyone around the table.”

This success gives hope that the multilateral cooperation demonstrated at MC12 will continue as WTO members tackle the array of challenges remaining, she added.

“Having these successes at MC 12 augurs well,” the Director-General said. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but we have quite an agenda before the WTO members. I think that helps to build the kind of confidence that may lead us to tackle the next set of problems that will help contribute to (resolving) these issues that the world is facing.”

This year’s Public Forum is looking at how trade can contribute to post-pandemic economic recovery. The Forum will examine, in particular, how trade rules can be strengthened, and government policies improved to create a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive trading system.

In a subsequent plenary debate addressing the Forum theme of sustainable and inclusive recovery, a high-level panel focused on two major challenges facing policymakers: recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of future pandemics; and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, cautioned that the world was “not out of the pandemic yet” but that the impact of future COVID-19 variants can be managed through equitable vaccine access.

“There are still two thirds of Africans who haven’t had their primary course of vaccination,” Dr Swaminathan said. “There’s still lots of vulnerable people … we have to stay prepared. But the one big difference today is we have the tools, we have the knowledge. We have the vaccines, the drugs, the diagnostics that if we use wisely and equitably, we don’t have to suffer the effects of the pandemic.”

Bogolo Kenewendo, UN Climate Champions’ Special Advisor and former Minister of Investment, Trade, and Industry in Botswana, said it was important to address the issues of pandemic response and climate change as a global community.

“When you are just focusing on your own little pocket, you think just by solving your problem, you will be immune to the rest of the world’s problems but we know that that is not the case,” she said. “And no one is safe until we’re all safe, so if you do not open up your borders, if you do not open up supply chains, then you will be as affected as everybody else.”

Mariana Mazzucato, Professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London, stressed the need for proper measurement metrics “that hold us accountable towards the common good” and “making sure that the community benefits.” She also highlighted the need to transform manufacturing in highly polluting sectors such as cement and steel while promoting renewable energy as part of the green transformation.

Cameron Saul, Co-Founder of BottleTop, a retailer specializing in accessories made from recycled materials, stressed the importance of meeting UN Sustainable Development Goals through individual efforts.

“Focus on the issues that matter to you as a person,” he said. “Choose the SDG that actually resonates with you and stand behind it. Think about how you can take action on that in your homes, in your immediate communities and around the world.”

ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Romania will elect next management team for UN system agency and chart path for global digital transformation.

The highest decision-making body of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) opened today with delegates from around the world pursuing digital cooperation and transformation for the good of all.

ITU’s 21st Plenipotentiary Conference, known as “PP-22″, features elections for the organization’s top management posts – Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General, and Directors for Radiocommunication, Telecommunication Standardization, and Telecommunication Development – along with the 12-seat Radio Regulations Board and 48-seat ITU Council.

Digital networks and technologies have empowered billions of people worldwide, facilitating business, education, government services, trade, and social interactions through the toughest phases of COVID-19. Yet Internet uptake has slowed over the past year, leaving 2.7 billion people – or one-third of the world’s population – unconnected.

“We are in the middle of a digital revolution that enables and provides the means for the development of new industries and converged services, such as smart vehicles, healthcare, smart cities, and homes,” said Romania’s Vice Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu in his opening speech to PP-22.

“At this turning point in technological development, we must not forget our essential duty to respect the human being,” he added, stressing the need “to protect the freedom and prosperity of future generations, in whose lives the technologies we see today as emerging will play a determining role.”

ITU is the United Nations specialized agency for information and communications technologies (ICTs). As the conference opened Monday morning in the Romanian capital, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said efforts must be expanded to make technology accessible and affordable to everyone, everywhere.

“Equitable access to ICTs is not just a moral responsibility, it is essential for global prosperity and sustainability,” said Zhao, who has led the organization for the past eight years. “The decisions made here in Bucharest will determine our direction and priorities in line with the evolving needs of ITU’s diverse and growing global membership, helping shape the future of the information society in both developed and developing countries.”

Shaping global digital growth

Delegates at the quadrennial conference include government ministers and officials, representatives from national, regional, and international bodies, academic institutions, and the private sector –companies dealing with telecommunications and the Internet – reflecting an aspect of ITU’s membership mix that is unique in the UN system.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted “the opportunity to form common positions that will shape global digital transformation for years to come” and urged delegates to “seize the opportunities of digital technology while protecting against its risks.”

In a pre-recorded video message, he called on the high-level audience from government and industry “to put humanity’s progress at the centre of your discussions” over the next three weeks.

How the conference works

The Plenipotentiary Conference, held every four years, enables nations and governments to reach coordinated decisions on the advancement of vital technologies. PP-22 provides a crucial forum for governments spanning every world region to build consensus on the radio and satellite harmonization, telecom standardization, and digital development.

The election for ITU’s next secretary-general is set to open during the morning of Thursday, 29 September. Elections for ITU’s senior management team will follow.

After all elections are concluded, an expected 2,500 delegates from ITU’s 193 Member States will decide on the organization’s strategic and financial plans, as well as set out its roadmap for connecting the world over the coming four-year period.

“In a world increasingly dependent on technology, ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference is an opportunity to address crucial topics that will shape our digital future for generations to come,” said Sabin Sărmaș, PP-22 Chair-designate and head of Romania’s parliamentary Information Technology and Communications Commission. “Our primary goal – to improve people’s lives – can only be achieved by adopting a shared policy blueprint reflecting green, gender, and youth inclusion priorities. This is what I, along with the Government of Romania, will stand for during PP-22.”

PP-22 takes place between 26 September and 14 October at Bucharest’s Palace of Parliament.

A year after the UN launched an initiative to accelerate green and digital job creation, and expand social protection, the Secretary-General on Friday urged world leaders to “put people first” by making massive investments in their future wellbeing.


According to António Guterres, the Global Accelerator on Jobs and Social Protection for Just Transitions aims to rebalance societies by putting decent jobs and social protection at the centre of sustainable development.

“The path of inaction leads to economic collapse and climate catastrophe, widening inequalities and escalating social unrest”, which could leave “billions trapped in vicious circles of poverty and destitution”, he warned a High-Level meeting during the 77th General Assembly in New York.

Female construction workers help to build the foundation for a wind farm in Thailand.
© ADB
Female construction workers help to build the foundation for a wind farm in Thailand.

Countries taking the lead

Mr. Guterres commended the actions of countries such as Togo, which deployed innovative digital solutions to expand social protection to hard-to-reach populations, and South Africa, which recently launched a Just Energy Transition partnership.

“It is imperative that we provide the support needed – at speed and at scale – to keep the momentum and ambition of these and similar initiatives alive”, he underscored.

He said the present economic system is unfair, boosting inequalities and pushing more people into poverty, and that’s why it requires a deep structural reform.

“We are working hard to achieve that – but change won’t happen overnight. In the interim, the Global Accelerator is a critical tool to help provide immediate support to people in need and advance action towards transformative change for all”, he said.

The initiative aims to create 400 million new decent jobs—especially in the green, care and digital economies— and extend social protection to the over four billion people currently without coverage.

It is also meant to be a tool to help the world manage the massive transformations in areas such as digital, climate, or demographic change, that will fundamentally change societies in the coming decades.

A woman installs a solar panel on a roof in Bhutan.
© ADB
A woman installs a solar panel on a roof in Bhutan.

Youth at the centre

Meanwhile, The UN’s Special Envoy for Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, reminded world leaders that young people must be at the centre of all strategies and actions regarding jobs and social protection.

The total number of unemployed youths worldwide is estimated to reach 73 million in 2022, 6 million above pre pandemic levels in 2019, young women are the hardest hit”, she underscored, adding that young people also experience systemic legal and financial barriers to benefitting from social protection policies and programmes.

“To truly shift this paradigm, we should work with all people including young people as agents of change and not only beneficiaries, and at every level of the just transitions this initiative seeks to enable”, Ms. Wickramanayake said.

Domestic labourers comprise a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment and are among the most vulnerable groups of workers.
@ILO/J.Maillard
Domestic labourers comprise a significant part of the global workforce in informal employment and are among the most vulnerable groups of workers.

Addressing the bottlenecks

Echoing the words of the Secretary-General, the International Labour Organization’s chief, Guy Ryder, warned that the world is on “red alert”, in the event that effective responses to the overlapping climate and cost of living crises are not found.

“We will see massive suffering, more instability, and potentially more conflict.  But it doesn’t have to be this way”, he explained.

Mr. Ryder underscored that it is crucial to address the current bottlenecks to expand and safeguard the 3,000 social protection and labour market stimulus measures put in place by governments at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We all know what those bottlenecks are: the lack of financing that is scalable, sustainable, socially inclusive and it supports just transitions; the persistent challenges of informality; the limited fiscal space; and the lack of institutional capacity in many countries”, he added.

Young female workers pack beans on a farm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
© ILO/Sven Torfinn
Young female workers pack beans on a farm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Better lives for billions

The ILO Director General emphasized that the Global Accelerator is a UN proposition to “collectively address these bottlenecks”, and to change the life of billions for the better.

“The four billion women, men and children who have no social protection; the two billion workers in the informal economy; and the millions of men and women who risk losing their jobs and incomes”, on a level “not seen for a generation”, he noted.

Mr. Ryder highlighted that the Global Accelerator was not a distraction from the crisis of climate, fuel, food and finance, but instead a “crucial component” of the necessary global response to address them.

Digital skills and technology play a crucial role in driving entrepreneurship among youth in Africa


Entrepreneurship has proved to be a key player in the development of any economy. When young people engage in business activities in various sectors there are numerous benefits such as job creation, an increase in foreign exchange and an immense contribution to solving socio-economic problems.

The youth are key in driving entrepreneurship forward. As Africa is the world’s youngest continent, with about 65% of the population below the age of 35, it is well placed for steady economic growth (Tracey and Kahuthia 2017).

bongohive


Zambia’s first technology hub

As Zambia’s first technology and innovation hub, BongoHive has supported young entrepreneurs through various programmes with innovation and technology at our work’s core.

Technology supports entrepreneurship among young people by making it easier for them to learn new skills and to look for opportunities, not only in Africa, but in the world at large. This is possible through digital platforms that facilitate networking and interactions with key players around the world.

Moreover, technology opens up both local and international markets to young people who can implement their digital skills in different workforces.

Tech hubs such as BongoHive play a cardinal role in supporting entrepreneurship as they provide a platform where young entrepreneurs can learn, collaborate and share the skills and opportunities needed to incorporate innovative ideas in their businesses.

Information technology services support entrepreneurship as they make the delivery of products and services more efficient, owing to lower costs along the value chain. This in turn contributes positively to economic development, creating jobs and improving people’s quality of life.

bongohive


Include digital skills in educational programmes for impact

To further enhance the impact that digital skills and technology have on entrepreneurs in Africa, we believe that these skills need to be embedded in the education sector as a way of exposing people to ways in which they can apply digital solutions to societal problems.

In the end, an education system that incorporates digital skills is necessary for young people to create products and services that solve real problems.

bongohive


The challenges of access

The high cost of accessing online platforms is one of the challenges that is prevalent across Africa, as not everybody has access to facilities and equipment that can support an online presence.

Unfortunately, young people may not always have the opportunity or platform to put their acquired digital skills into practice.

That is why we encourage young people to explore more options and solutions that lie within technologies. Technology is a powerful tool that can be leveraged to solve problems, through entrepreneurship.

We would hope that policymakers make the internet more accessible by creating more platforms for young entrepreneurs to learn and implement digital skills. They are our future.

Bongohive

Small businesses are the backbone of the global economy, accounting for about 50 percent of employment and 90 percent of businesses. Helping micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) grow is a central ingredient in poverty reduction. E-commerce and integration with value chains can be especially effective in enabling MSMEs to compete and grow  , which can lead to improved incomes and employment.

Participation in value chains connects MSMEs to suppliers, processors, buyers, and other actors, opening up access to valuable market information, linking to sources of financing, improving product quality, and enabling products to be tailored to meet specific or changing demands.

As noted by the World Development Report 2020 Trading for Development, MSME participation in e-commerce and other digital platforms – such as service delivery in food services, accommodation, and other sectors – can make it easier to sell goods and services, lower costs of entry to markets and costs of doing business, and boost MSME productivity and profits.

The transformative potential of e-commerce is illustrated by the example of Taobao in China (see World Bank research by Xubei Luo and Chiyu Niu, 2019). E-commerce led to expanded MSME sales in standardized, labor-intensive products such as clothing and shoes, as well as in more niche products, by  allowing ‘entrepreneurs to connect with consumers remotely through improved website design, establish a brand, and tailor products to specific demands’ and to increase in online retail sales in rural China between 2014 and 2017 from RMB 180 billion to 1.24 trillion.

Jumia is an e-commerce leader in Africa, operating in markets such as Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco, and South Africa. Jumia both sells goods and offers a marketplace for third party sellers. Jumia has opened up access for small-scale producers as well as for large firms, for example Twiga Foods in Kenya signed a partnership agreement with Jumia to enable customers to buy fresh produce from smallholder farmers on Jumia’s platform. However Jumia, as with other e-commerce actors, faces significant challenges in many African markets as reflected by a relatively high rate of cancellations, failed deliveries, and returns. 

The growth of e-commerce and other digital platforms in lower income countries such as those in Africa where my team is focused, faces a number of challenges. These include restricted internet and cellular access, relatively high costs of data usage, low (although improving in many countries) levels of access to safe and low-cost digital payments, and the lack of a rigorous address system in many locations. Deficient legal and regulatory frameworks for digital transactions, use of data, and rights of consumers, also hold back the potential benefits from development of e-commerce and value chains, while poor road conditions hinder e-commerce reach and participation of MSMEs in rural areas.

Hybrid models offer a potential interim solution while the enabling pillars of a digital economy are put in place. For example, sector-specialized platforms started to flourish, including in industries where asymmetries of information are large. In addition, orders can be placed online with payment made in cash ‘on delivery’, and where networks of pick-up stations are used instead of delivery to non-specific addresses. Informal online commerce, for example using WhatsApp or Instagram to reach buyers through social networks, is also widely used by microenterprises for marketing, receiving orders, and lowering transaction costs, in particular by women.

An IFC study found that women in Africa especially benefit from e-commerce, by accessing new markets and through greater flexibility . The report finds that women are more likely to join an e-commerce platform such as Jumia to grow an existing business (as opposed to starting a new one), and also need additional support to grow their business to full potential.

In recent months I have travelled to Angola, Burundi, Lesotho, DRC, and Mozambique to support the preparation of new World Bank projects that will boost MSME growth through e-commerce and other digital platforms, and through integration with value chains.

We have initiated projects that harness the transformational potential of value chains in Mozambique and Malawi, and that open up market access for women and youth entrepreneurs in DRC.

A new $300m project to open up access to finance, value chains, digital technologies and to entrepreneur support services in DRC has now been approved, as well as a new project to integrate MSMEs with value chains and to support trade facilitation and MSME climate resilience in Lesotho.

The entire civil aviation system runs on trust, a responsibility that is at the core of everything ICAO does. Passengers expect to fly safely, operators have to trust that safety systems will meet their needs, and States place trust in ICAO to provide a forum for harmonized global standards that enable a safe, secure and efficient civil aviation system. This trust depends on the safe and reliable flow of information between all these parties, an effort that the internet has revolutionized through its management of information on a global scale.

Some of the new and emerging entrants to the aviation system like drones, air taxis, and commercial space operations were “born digital” and rely on the internet for their basic operations. As aviation increases its use and takes more advantage of the internet’s power and reach, some of its limitations make aviation-centric information exchange extremely challenging. This, combined with the rapid, tech-focused pace of the new entrants clashing with legacy aviation’s slow and methodical approach, is why ICAO is developing an International Aviation Trust Framework (IATF).

Historically, aviation has used meticulously designed, purpose-built systems to exchange information between parties. In the early days, this was necessary simply because a global communications infrastructure did not exist. The advantages were that these custom systems met all of aviation’s unique safety and operational needs and ultimately resulted in a seamless sky where anyone could fly anywhere. Aviation information needs to flow safely between parties and needs to be accurate and unaltered. But the internet was never designed with these requirements in mind. It only ensures that information can flow between any two points across any path, but offers no guarantees on the reliability of those paths or that the information can’t be modified while in transit. Solutions to these problems exist, but they are not aviation specific, and without a standardized approach to how they are implemented, the aviation system will ultimately end up with a disjointed patchwork of systems that cannot easily communicate with each other, despite being built on the same technologies.

The new entrants described above will continue to roll out their operational capabilities at a pace that traditional aviation cannot keep up with, leading to even more divergence. Not only does this separation increase the complexity and cost of connecting these systems together, but it can also impact safety and expose aviation to new cyber-related threats that were never considered before.

This is where ICAO’s work on the IATF is needed. ICAO provides an ideal forum for aviation stakeholders to come together and agree on a common destination that all stakeholders, new and old, can target irrespective of their implementation speed. This work leads to the development of standards and harmonized procedures that allow for seamless information exchanges between all parties so that we can maintain our seamless sky.  To address these unique challenges, ICAO is working with experts from around the world with different areas of expertise to develop an information management framework to ensure that information flowing across the internet is done safely and securely. ICAO is also developing policies and practices for digitally signing information to ensure it has not been altered while in transit over the internet.

These efforts, which are aligned with the ICAO Aviation Cybersecurity Strategy and Action Plan, provide the foundation for stakeholders to use the power of the internet to communicate on a global scale while meeting the unique and specific needs of aviation when it comes to information security and management. The next step in the process is to identify and put in place the steps to operationalize the IATF across all stakeholders. This is a unique and challenging role for ICAO. In this regard, we will be engaging with our governing bodies, Member States, and expert groups to determine the most appropriate way forward. Keep checking in with us as we embark on this exciting journey!

  • Over 250,000 URLs containing or advertising child sexual abuse materials were found in 2021, a 64% increase from 2020.
  • A number of technologies have been developed to combat online harm.
  • By adopting these latest technologies, companies can prioritise the trust and safety of their users online.

The scale of harm online is growing and bad actors are becoming more sophisticated when perpetrating such harm. The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which works to tackle child sexual abuse material (CSAM) online, found 252,194 URLs containing or advertising CSAM in 2021, a 64% increase from 2020.

When it comes to terrorist content, platforms have been weaponised to live stream terrorist attacks from the Christchurch massacre, the synagogue in Halle, and, more recently, the Buffalo rampage. There has also been a concerning growth in cyberbullying, with the U.S. having the highest rate of racially motivated bullying online.

 

DISCOVER

What is the World Economic Forum doing about improving online safety?

With almost 3.8 billion people now online globally, the digital world offers significant benefits, but also poses the risks of harmful content.

The Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), created by the World Federation of Advertisers, is scaling its impact by partnering with the World Economic Forum’s platform for Media, Entertainment and Culture to improve the safety of digital environments, addressing harmful and misleading media while protecting consumers and brands.

GARM focuses on ensuring viewer safety for consumers, reducing risks for advertisers, developing credibility for digital platforms and, more broadly, ensuring a sustainable online ecosystem.

The Alliance is working with the Forum’s network of industry, academic, civil society and public-sector partners to amplify its work on digital safety and to ensure that consumers and their data are protected online within a healthier media ecosystem.

Businesses can join the Forum’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Media, Entertainment and Culture and apply to partner with the Alliance and similar initiatives. Read more in our Impact Story or contact us to find out more.

 

At the same time, time spent online is growing, leading to potentially greater exposure to digital safety risks. UK regulator Ofcom, for example, found that 67% of people aged between 13 and 24 had seen potentially harmful content online, although only 17% reported it. Technology to proactively detect these harms and prevent exposure is becoming increasingly important given the significant gap between people exposed to this content and people reporting it on platforms. Below are some of the latest tech trends shaping the future of digital safety:

1. Client-side scanning

Client-side scanning (CSS) broadly refers to systems that scan message content (e.g. pictures, text or video) for matches to a database of illegal or objectionable content before the message is sent to the intended recipient on an encrypted channel. An example of this is anti-virus software used to prevent your computer from being infected by malware.

In recent discussions about tackling CSAM and other illegal material, CSS has become a hot topic as it is seen by some as a way to find this material without breaking the technology behind end-to-end encryption (E2EE). There are two main methods for CSS: the first is on-device and the second is on a remote server.

Ian Stevenson, CEO of Cyacomb and Chair of the Online Safety Tech Industry Association (OSTIA), states: “Over the past few months we have seen some really good quality exploration of what is possible with client-side and split or multi-party compute technologies. This technology doesn’t tamper with the encrypted part of the system, leaving all of its protections intact. There is no ‘back door.’ Instead, these technologies act as a border check for content entering and leaving the encrypted domain and do so in a way that maintains the privacy of the user. The content they are sending or receiving cannot be identified, tracked or matched by any third party.”

Many organizations, such as Access Now and the Internet Society, have voiced their concerns about CSS, however. Access Now wrote a letter to the European Commission highlighting the risks to privacy, security and expression. Stevenson and other experts (including the heads of GCHQ and NCSC) do not share these concerns. Stevenson says that these technical capabilities for matching and blocking known CSAM provides excellent privacy protection for users and suggests that metadata leakage from mainstream E2EE apps is far more of a threat to privacy than these newly developed systems.

In addressing fears that certain governments could use CSS technologies to suppress free speech or identify dissidents, he suggests that these should be considered in the context of existing threats, rather than in isolation. “Autocratic governments intent on blocking particular content are unlikely to be very concerned about protecting privacy and, therefore, could easily mandate application of various solutions that exist today. The additional risk arising from deploying these new technologies is very small, with huge potential benefit to society,” he says.

Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, argues that there is a need to look at safety, privacy and security as the three pillars of digital trust. “It is important to balance safety with privacy and security – they are not mutually exclusive and healthy tensions amongst these imperatives can lead to much better outcomes… But, to continue to pit privacy against safety or as values that are mutually exclusive is totally missing the point – in many cases reported to us, particularly in the area of image-based abuse, privacy and safety are mutually reinforcing,” she says.

2. Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing (NLP) Models

Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems can help increase the speed and scalability of content moderation by automating content moderation processes, as well as the detection of a range of harmful content through Natural Language Processing (NLP) models. One of the big challenges to its advancement, however, according to Bertie Vidgen, CEO and Co-Founder of Rewire, is that every platform is different – they have different users, different kinds of content, different media, different hazards and different norms. This is a huge problem for developers because the traditional one-size-fits-all approach in software development just doesn’t work.

“Over the past two years, we’ve seen the emergence of incredibly powerful models that can do ‘zero shot’ and ‘few shot’ learning. Practically, these advances mean that software can achieve very high performance with relatively little data. We have a way to go, but this has opened up exciting new possibilities to create scalable AI that is fully customised to each platform, without the huge costs and development timelines that would otherwise be needed,” Vidgen says.

There is still scepticism and distrust amongst some around the use of AI for online safety given a lot of software has struggled to handle issues such as nuance, intent, context and jokes. Increasing reliability, flexibility, cost-efficiency and accuracy of AI – together with human supervision to create effective feedback loops – will help increase its uptake.

Justin Davis, CEO and Co-Founder of Spectrum Labs, highlights how better detection of toxic behaviour paves the way for measurement and transparency tools that help online platforms make better policy decisions and create better user experiences. “When that’s combined with the ability to identify and encourage healthy behaviour, trust and safety teams can align with the customer experience and product teams in a data-driven way to reinforce #SafetyByDesign principles,” Davis says.

He believes investing in NLP and AI tools today will help the industry stay ahead of the curve against emerging threats, and drive the growth of healthier communities online.

3. Image and video recognition

Image hashing aims to essentially create a digital fingerprint so that duplicate images can be found; it is the process of using an algorithm to assign a unique hash value to an image. Since replicas of a picture have the same hash value, it enables the detection and removal of known CSAM without requiring further human assessment.

When this technology first came about, if an image underwent small changes, such as cropping or colouration alteration, then each edited version of the image would have a different hash value, reducing the effectiveness of this technology. In 2009, however, Microsoft collaborated with Dr. Hany Farid of Dartmouth College to develop PhotoDNA. This is based on hash technology, but it can recognise when an image has been edited and, therefore, still gives it the same hash value. This makes it harder for criminals to evade detection when it comes to distributing CSAM.

Cloud-based hashlists, such as those maintained by IWF, can prevent CSAM from being uploaded and the hashes cannot be reverse engineered back to the images. New technology from IWF allows for contextual metadata to be added to hashes and enables compatibility with multiple legal jurisdictions, worldwide.

4. Age and identity verification: biometrics and facial analysis

The ability to authenticate users safely, securely and accurately in cases where the identity of an individual needs to be verified to access certain products, services or experiences online is key to online safety. A growing trend is using biometrics – such as voice and iris scans – to verify identity. Apple’s FaceID was a massive move forward in its adoption.

In the future, as many companies begin to think about safety and security in the metaverse, decentralising the identity verification stack, as opposed to centralising on the big tech platforms, will provide users with more control or self-sovereign identity (SSI). Users can then choose which set of unique identifying information to share with a company, minimising the amount and sensitivity of data shared to meet access requirements. Given concerns around bots, impersonators, fraud and misrepresentation, verifying identity, or at least identifying when an avatar or identity has been verified to a real human, will be key to safe experiences online.

In the online dating world, Tinder and Bumble have already added options for profile verification to build trust and safety. In gaming, the ability to verify a user’s accomplishments and digital assets would build trust in avatars and in the overall environment.

In addition, age verification is crucial to ensuring age-appropriate content and experiences, however, many current models for age verification, such as entering the date of birth, are easily bypassed. Facial analysis technology for age verification has been growing in popularity. This software looks for a face within an image and then analyses it for whatever information it needs, such as wrinkles, sunspots, grey hair, etc. to estimate the age of the user. This is distinct from facial recognition, which aims to identify and collect information on the person within the photo. Yoti, one of the companies in the area of using facial analysis for age verification, highlights how its AI reads each pixel and analyses for individual facial features that indicate age, emphasising that users can not be identified or recognised by the model.

Julie Dawson, Chief Policy and Regulatory Officer at Yoti, says: “Age verification will play a pivotal role in safeguarding young people and providing age-appropriate experiences online. Once you know the age of a child, then you can meet the requirements of the Children’s Code or Age Appropriate Design Codes. You can provide age-appropriate content, prevent children from stumbling across explicit content or accessing age-restricted goods or services, be certain the online community is within the same age threshold and turn off excessive notifications.”

Partnerships with Yubo and Instagram show the growing demand for social media platforms to verify users’ age more accurately. In future evolutions of the internet, age-gating will grow in importance as new experiences in the metaverse, such as gambling or watching a movie in a virtual cinema, will need to be age-restricted.

Inman Grant says the time to implement safety by design practices and protections for these new applications is now, while they are in development. “It is easier and more effective to build in safety protections at the start, rather than trying to bolt on or retrofit solutions after harm occurs. In addition to minimising harm and building trust, consistently applying a safety-by-design lens should be seen as an enabler that can help companies lift overall safety standards and improve their compliance with the Australian and other online safety regulatory frameworks.”

Where to next?

There are questions as to whether technological advancements are being adopted quickly enough to deal with these harms. The trust in – and effectiveness of – these technologies will be one of the key tools in the ongoing work to increase safety online. Justin Davis asserts: “Executive leadership must prioritise trust and safety so companies can drive the adoption of technology and sufficiently allocate resources for online safety. The most effective way to align executives behind trust and safety is by demonstrating its impact on revenue and growth through quantitative measurement.”

Similarly, Vidgen highlights that: “The reality is that trust and safety are always going to face substantial budget pressures, at least until platforms start seeing it as a revenue centre – i.e. an integral part of how they attract and retain their users – rather than a cost centre.” In the meantime, reducing the cost of these technologies whilst increasing their effectiveness – and public trust in them – will be instrumental to their adoption.

“Safety innovation is happening all the time, but it doesn’t occur in a vacuum. The right policy and regulatory settings need to be in place and the right balance struck between a range of imperatives involved in ensuring digital trust, including security and privacy,” Imnan Grant says.

The Global Coalition for Digital Safety is working with key stakeholders to advance a range of principles, technologies and tools and policy frameworks that provide a holistic approach to improving safety online. Technology advancements are a core, tangible way to begin seeing progress in improving digital spaces for users worldwide.

Diplomacy returned to New York in its pre-pandemic form, with almost all country leaders addressing the UN General Assembly in person between 20 and 26 September 2022. Statements reflected the gloomy times in global politics by and large. Yet, certain signs of hope are featured in statements from, in particular, small and developing countries.

Digitalisation featured prominently in those statements looking beyond the rather dismal geopolitical reality shaped by the Ukraine war and the climate, food, and energy crises. The internet still is a global communication network that crosses various ideological and policy divides.

This retrospect on the UNGA 77  will provide summary of the covering of digitalisation and Our Common Agenda in national statements.

You will also find UNGA in Numbers, prepared by Diplo’s AI and Data team. As illustrated below, there is a clear upward trend with more and more countries referring to digital issues each year, with the exception of 2020, when the virtual UN General Debate focused almost exclusively on the imminent threat of the COVID-19 pandemic. With 91 countries and the EU addressing digital in 2020, the number of countries mentioning digital issues has almost doubled in 5 years’ time.

The number of countries (+the EU) that referred to digital

Diplo’s researchers have divided the numerous digital topics into 3 main categories described below:

  1. Cybersecurity
  2. Digital economy and governance
  3. Digital rights

Maria Djata, a trader in Bissau, has seen with her own eyes the difference that digital technology has had on her work. Instead of having to close her small convenience store and cross town to purchase products from her supplier, now she can do so from work, thanks to a stronger mobile broadband network and the increased use of mobile money in Guinea-Bissau. This translates to cost savings: more time to staff her shop means more sales and thus great profit. Debora Lobo, a grade school student in the capital, notes that, thanks to more reliable broadband connectivity, coupled with the introduction of online learning, she did not miss out on her studies with the onset of COVID-related confinement policies: she is still on track to graduate and enter the work force. Bissau-Guineans are increasingly leveraging data and digital technologies to improve their lives, but more is needed to unleash digital opportunities. 

A small nation, rich in untapped natural resources, Guinea-Bissau has the highest proportion of natural wealth per capita in the West African region.

Despite its enormous development potential—thanks to its agricultural land, fisheries, forests, and natural habitats—Guinea-Bissau remains one of the least developed countries in the world. This is in part due to the country’s significant political and institutional fragmentation and instability (Guinea-Bissau is also one of the most fragile countries in the world), which hamper the development and implementation of much-needed policy reforms.

Reliable access to electricity is also hampering the country’s economic transformation. The country is characterized by severe electricity shortages (particularly outside of Bissau), resulting in reduced activities for companies and households. Currently, there is limited capacity to supply affordable and quality power to most of the population as the electricity grid remains limited to the capital, causing large disparities in energy access across regions.

Despite these challenges, the country is focused on creating needed foundations for the digital economy to thrive. The World Bank Group stands ready to support Guinea-Bissau in this important agenda, given digitalization’s direct contribution to achieving green resilient and inclusive development. The recently completed Digital Economy Country Assessment of Guinea-Bissau takes stock of recent achievements along the five foundational areas of the country’s digital economy—digital infrastructure, public platforms, financial services, businesses, and skills—and proposes prioritized and sequenced recommendations to ensure its vibrant, safe, and inclusive development. It also notes that digital transformation could go a long way towards addressing several of the country’s fragility drivers, particularly by boosting financial inclusion ; developing new job opportunities outside of the cashew nut trade; and connecting vulnerable populations (particularly girls and women) to the internet.

Guinea-Bissau can boast several recent achievements in the digital transformation realm, with many more right on the horizon. For instance, the country’s Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) submarine cable direct connection is expected to be delivered in November 2022, along with an internet exchange point, both of which should lead to significant decrease in the retail price for broadband internet access and usage. Core government functions are becoming digitized, and Bissau-Guineans can now declare and pay their taxes online, through the KONTAKTU platform. Over the past two years, the number and amount of mobile money transactions increased faster in Guinea-Bissau than in any other country of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).  The country’s nascent digital entrepreneurship scene is growing, and its premier innovation and technology hub, InnovaLab, is bringing private sector dynamism into the public sector.

That being said, much more is needed to unleash digital transformation in Guinea-Bissau. The diagnostic highlights immediate next steps to be taken, including:

  • Restructuring the incumbent operation GuineTelecom/GuineTel to dynamize the country’s broadband market and promote competition;
  • Developing a countrywide, digital transformation strategy with a whole-of-government and citizen-centric approach;
  • Adopting regulations to ensure fair and equitable access to the USSD channel so that banks and other financial institutions can partner with mobile network operators to provide digital financial services;
  • Developing and deploying a short-term, publicly supported seed capital pilot program to finance digital start-ups; and
  • Designing a mass digital skilling initiative for women and youth that leverages mobile-friendly platforms

Leveraging the digital economy is proving transformational for much of Sub-Saharan Africa and Guinea-Bissau cannot afford to be left behind.  Much work lies ahead, but the World Bank Group looks forward to supporting the people of Guinea-Bissau on their digital transformation journey.

My experience with Diplo is twofold: personal and academic, and the two are intertwined.

In 1990, I was working at the Yugoslav Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgrade. One morning, a representative from Human Resources introduced us to our new colleague. ‘This is Jovan. He will be working with you,’ was his very brief presentation. The newcomer was nice, a bit reluctant, but eager to become part of the team. After a day or two, Jovan and I had more time to get acquainted, and have remained good friends ever since.

In 1991, I left for Klagenfurt where I was posted as consul, and Jovan left for Malta to study diplomacy. A year later, I was still in Klagenfurt, but now as the Slovene consul, and Jovan stayed in Malta. He was the first one who understood that the internet is the perfect tool to learn about and teach diplomacy.

Academically, I have been working with Diplo during the last decade. Our cooperation started after we met at Diplo’s headquarters in Geneva for the first time since 1991, and it was as if nothing had changed.

Working with Diplo has been a most thrilling exercise, and one which I highly enjoy, from teaching diplomacy and writing blog posts, to being part of Diplo’s highly active community of discussants. In my personal and academic view, Diplo is the perfect place to discuss diplomacy and exchange views with world-leading experts. It offers expertise, know-how, and an enthusiasm for learning.

When you are part of the Diplo community, you are always up to date. Diplo covers the complete spectrum of diplomacy in its numerous online courses and postgraduate programmes. It acquaints you with diplomacy as a profession, a set of skills, and a process, and covers both traditional and 21st-century diplomacy (which I define as a postmodern).

To upgrade your knowledge about this traditional and highly flexible profession, you only need to join Diplo’s vast and continuously growing international alumni. I was, and still am, fascinated by the diversity and dynamics that Diplo students bring to the courses.

There are three dimensions to the Diplo phenomenon.

First: Jovan

Jovan is a ‘prince’ (thank you, Geoff, for this omen), as well as a brand. He has not only moved ‘from plenipotentiary to chief executive’ (thank you, Kishan, for your groundbreaking book), but has also skilfully managed to combine, merge, and advance both of these dimensions. Additionally, he has an endless amount of creativity and a talent to connect with others. I believe this is why Diplo has grown into an international and flexible network, open and encouraging both for new and experiences practitioners. It is a diverse and forward-thinking community where everybody can contribute and gain knowledge.

Second: Diplo

During its 20 years, Diplo has become an inspirational think tank, NGO, and research institute, and a network of experts, associates, and ad hoc contributors. It has an ever-growing alumni community and promotes innovation and creativity.

Third: Diplo’s online expert community

Diplo remains at the forefront of diplomatic studies in both theory and practice. Indeed, the founding of Diplo coincided with the emergence of diplomatic studies. It was the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new millennium that provided the needed conditions.

One can learn about diplomacy in various institutions, but it is hard to find a more comprehensive, contemporary, and innovative approach to diplomacy as at Diplo, since its experts rank highly, some at the very top of the international diplomatic community.

Generally speaking, Diplo is an international diplomatic hub and a driver of diplomatic change. It is an actor as well as a structural result of the 21st-century global community.

And diplomacy? Diplomacy is about human contact – direct, personal, and lasting. It depends on chemistry and empathy, as well as psychology, sociology, legal issues, history, political sciences, theoretical input, and practical exercises. It stands in the service of people, and their understanding and progress. Diplo mirrors all of this.

In short: Diplo provides inspiration. Inspiration provides Diplo.

Bali, 20 September 2022: Raising collective action and strengthening commitments under Indonesia’s Group of Twenty (G20) Trade, Investment and Industry (TII) priorities were the focus of the G20 3rd Trade, Investment and Industry Working Group (TIIWG) Meeting on 19–20 September 2022 at the Sofitel Nusa Dua Bali Resort in Bali, Indonesia. The meeting discussed recommendations by the public and private sectors, international organisations, and non-governmental organisations to finalise the Ministerial Statement.

Indonesia’s G20 TII priorities are World Trade Organization reforms; the role of multilateral trading system to strengthen the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals; trade, investment, and industry response to the COVID-19 pandemic and global health architecture; digital trade and global value chains (GVCs); spurring sustainable investment for global economic recovery; and sustainable and inclusive industrialisation via Industry 4.0.

During the discussion on digital trade and GVCs, Dr Lili Yan Ing, Lead Advisor for Southeast Asia Region at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), explained the impact of digital transformation, a process that reduces the cost of sharing information but potentially causes displacement effects in labour markets that widen income inequality. To ensure that digital transformation can benefit everyone, she suggested three points to G20 members: continue to pursue international cooperation to address regulatory and institutional barriers to digital trade and support the development of a global framework on digital trade and e-commerce; strengthen digital trade facilitation, with particular emphasis on ensuring a level playing field for all, including more vulnerable groups such as micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises, women, and youth; and continue to support policies that incentivise greater adoption of digital technology, including significant investment in digital infrastructure and retraining of the workforce to engage in the digital economy.

During discussions on sustainable investment and Industry 4.0, Dr Ing underlined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising global political tensions that have posed serious challenges to the global economy, along with two long-standing development issues: rising inequality and climate change. To address these issues, she said investment measures in promoting sustainable, climate-resilient, and inclusive investment should be facilitated, and sustainability and inclusivity in the transition towards Industry 4.0, particularly in manufacturing, should be considered. She recommended that the G20 members  continue and build on existing multilateral collaboration, such as the WTO Joint Statement on Investment Facilitation for Development, for a more sustainable, predictable, non-discriminatory, and transparent investment climate; and pay greater attention to systematic efforts to improve the skills of their workforce as they transition towards Industry 4.0 to avoid widening inequalities as an unintended consequence. She emphasised the importance of sustainable investment and sustainable industrialisation as the foundation for resilient and inclusive economic recovery. Noting the importance of sharing the best practices on sustainable investment, Dr Ing voiced her support for the proposed establishment of G20 Sustainable Investment Policy Compedium.

Riding the boom in organic products, Bouchra Masrour has carved out a niche in Tunisia’s cosmetics industry. She grows the ingredients, makes the products, and sells them. Now, she’s ready to export.

Live healthy, live happily!

This is Bouchra Masrour’s motto.

And it’s the reason she left an 18-year career at a private clinic in Tunis to embark on a new adventure, bringing life to her passion for organic cosmetics.

Argan and olive trees at the heart of Moroccan heritage

As a native Moroccan, Bouchra inherited a love for growing olive and argan trees. The nutty oil produced from thorny argan trees is distinctly Moroccan, used to produce beauty and cooking products that form part of women’s daily lives in her home country.

These products stem from thousand-year-old artisanal traditions, providing both income and social cohesion for the networks of rural women who make these products.

After moving to Tunisia, Bouchra was inspired in 2016 to create Bahia Cosmetics, which makes certified organic, natural beauty products. They’re all ammonia-free and wrapped in environmentally friendly packaging.

“Once I realized that Tunisia was importing argan oil from France, I decided to make certified organic products from our local harvest,” she said.

Her love of plants has built a bridge between her scientific education, her knowledge of herbal medicine, and her Moroccan heritage. The result is her Bahia Cosmetics brand.

 

Booming organic industry

Bahia Cosmetics started with two employees and a small workshop in a certified laboratory.

The lab provides the raw materials, and Bahia Cosmetics adds its plant and essential oils, made from argan imported from Morocco and from olives and prickly pear seeds grown in Tunisia.

Tunisia is the first country in the world to standardize prickly pear oil, setting its technical specifications, its quality criteria, and its composition.

As for olive oil, Tunisia is the fourth largest producer in the world after Spain, Italy and Greece, producing about 350,000 tonnes in the 2019/2020 season.

Bouchra’s husband is a farmer. Together they grow figs, olives, mastic, and rosemary on certified organic land in the Kairouan region, without pesticides or insecticides.

To harvest the rosemary and mastic resin, she employs local women. This allows her to maintain traditions while empowering women with jobs.

In addition, Bouchra belongs to a group of women entrepreneurs who are working to trade through the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. Known as COMESA, the trade bloc covers 21 countries, including neighbouring Libya and nearby Egypt.

Tunisian cosmetics

In 2018, Bahia Cosmetics expanded and employed five lab technicians and two sales agents. The company has a showroom in the inland desert city of Kairouan, with a sales outlet in Tunis. Bahia directly supplies several pharmacies.

The Tunisian perfume and cosmetics sector could grow much more by harnessing the country’s agricultural and human potential. The industry mainly consists of small, dynamic companies with an excellent capacity for innovation.

However, the sector is hampered by the national tax system and other barriers.

Moving forward

Bouchra received training from the International Trade Centre (ITC), under its Tunisia: E-Commerce for Women Entrepreneurs project.

“We’re always looking to improve our skills. Being accepted into the ITC programme is a great opportunity for us to improve our knowledge and skills in digital marketing,” she said.

“Through the ITC programme, we have been able develop our own e-commerce site. We can now sell more products. Our production is up, and our employees are very happy to be earning more income.”

The training also covered how to create business plans, to develop content and to take professional photos.

After the training, Bouchra joined Little Jenaina and ILEY’COM, two Tunisian digital marketplaces, and hired a community manager.

With her new digital marketing skills and her excellent products, Bouchra now feels ready to take on regional and international markets.

“Soon I would like to open a branch in Morocco because of the very high purchasing potential, and then expand into markets in the Gulf countries,” she said.

To tackle the Gulf countries, she plans to review her brand strategy to appeal to the luxury market.

 

The International Trade Centre (ITC) E-commerce for Women Entrepreneurs project in Tunisia aims to increase exports of small, women-led businesses through digital marketplaces, a new channel that offers innovative business opportunities. The aim is to create new jobs for women and ensure more inclusive and sustainable social and economic development.

Elfi Klumpp believes that digitalization and Industry 4.0 can create opportunities to narrow the gender gap and are particularly relevant in the context of tackling women’s economic empowerment around the globe.

 

Today’s world is facing numerous, fundamental changes. It is transforming and accelerating under the impetus of greater urbanization and mobility, growing demand for energy, water and food, increasing production, and the need for new technologies to improve people’s work and life. Digitalization and Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things and Big Data are driving globalization beyond borders and have a vast potential to boost economic growth and social inclusion.

Industry 4.0 means taking digitalization from the office place to the manufacturing area. It means that production processes get digitalized, and devices, objects and humans get connected in a holistic matter. Automated processes and robots are taking over labour-intensive and repetitive tasks, and safeguarding the more intelligent jobs for humans, which is obviously more convenient. In this context, there is a tremendous window of opportunity for well-educated women in the field of technical and engineering disciplines. Industry 4.0 enables new customer values, e.g. through product customization as opposed to mass production. This increases data generation and thus the need for data analysts, a job profile that was non-existent a few years ago.

Opportunities for women

Digitalization and Industry 4.0 might be considered as a movement whether it is on the personal, professional or society level. A movement which creates opportunities for women faster than ever before. Looking at different income groups, countries or regions, the big question is to what degree and how quickly can digitalization and Industry 4.0 reach and effect the individual groups and leverage the potential of women’s inclusion.

The use of digital platforms provides women with a greater access to markets, knowledge and more flexible working arrangements. In addition to this, there is strong and growing empirical evidence suggesting that higher levels of gender equality are associated with positive outcomes in terms of income, economic growth and competitiveness. Companies with a greater gender equality in their workforce and top management are better able to attract and retain female talent, motivate their female workers, understand and respond to the needs of female customers, and better address complex business problems by taking account of gender-informed viewpoints. Consequently, technical education and the economic empowerment of women can bring dramatic gains in human development and well-being for individuals, families and society.

Full inclusion in industry

Hence, there is a strong need for women’s full inclusion in the industrial sector, and especially in the advancing digital economy and new technological environment captured by the term, Industry 4.0. Industry 4.0 will have a profound impact on the content and nature of jobs and, as a result, the skills required to perform them. Many analysts predict that Industry 4.0 will cause a polarization of the labour force, with an increasing share of employment in high- and low-wage jobs, and a decreasing share of employment in middlewage jobs. In this scenario, as high-wage jobs will require increased digital skills, and as weak education systems often fail to provide basic technical skills, digitalization and Industry 4.0 are likely to be applied successfully by a STEM-trained workforce.

STEM education is the key

Thus it goes without saying that, in this context, STEM education is the key foundation for girls and women. Technical education and skills development at all levels, from primary school to academic education and life-long learning, are needed more than ever before. Girls and women need to be given the opportunity to get well-educated and highly trained in new technologies during the entire learning path, but also, more importantly, in the values associated with using those technologies. Further, women should be encouraged to exploit their entrepreneurial capabilities and be granted better access to financial capital and markets.

Education systems must not only deliver the ability to develop new technologies, but also educate people from a very young age in STEM skills, so that they understand whether, when, and where to use and apply those new technologies. Equally, they must also be educated to understand the benefits and impact these technologies create.

Out of poverty

STEM skills at all levels of the education and lifelong learning path are significantly and positively related to labour market return. Employment opportunities for women in manufacturing and digitally intensive sectors, and empowering girls and women in digitalization and Industry 4.0 are among the most promising opportunities for lifting millions out of poverty and spurring economic growth and structural change in low- and middle-income countries.

To conclude, investments in girl’s and women’s lifelong STEM and technical education have a huge multiplier effect on women’s employability, and their personal and economic well-being, and, finally, enhance their participation and relevance in the entirety of global economies and societies. n

– ELFI KLUMPP is Head of Business Development Global Education at Festo Didactic, a company providing equipment and solutions for technical education. Festo Didactic is a long-term partner of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and is one of the founding members of UNIDO’s Learning and Knowledge Development Facility.

This article was originally published in UNIDO’s Making It magazine.

Discover our action-focused advocacy work through the continent, as well as our member advisory initiatives in Africa.

In Africa, the Better Than Cash Alliance is building on lessons from collaboration with African governments in driving and scaling financial inclusion through responsible payments digitization across the continent.

We understand that Africa has the experience, know-how, and inspiration to achieve its Digital Transformation goals and power a successful Single Digital Market in this period of the African Women’s Decade on Financial & Economic Inclusion. Attaining financial equality is pivotal to achieving the Agenda 2063.

We are working with members on their journey to digitize payments responsibly by:

  1. Providing advisory services based on their priorities;
  2. Sharing action-oriented research and fostering peer learning on responsible practices;
  3. Conducting advocacy at national and pan-regional levels.

Read more the Alliance’s about action-focused advocacy work, as well as our member advisory initiatives.

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