Digital Innovations Empowering Caribbean Small Businesses

On June 27 each year, the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) joins other development actors and organizations around the world to recognize the efforts of Medium Small and Micro Enterprises (MSMEs) for their contribution in many low-income countries. World Bank data indicates that MSMEs account for about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide.

As we join the global celebration of MSMEs once again this year, we spotlight two trailblazing enterprises, Unqueue and MLajan Mobile Wallet in the Caribbean. These two enterprises are winners of the 2023 Caribbean FinTech Sprint for Financial Inclusion. The fintech challenge promotes financial inclusion through digital payments and broader digital finance solutions particularly for women and other vulnerable groups. Their journeys exemplify the transformative power of digital solutions in driving economic growth and resilience.

Unqueue: Navigating the crisis to empower small businesses

In the dynamic business landscape of Trinidad and Tobago, Unqueue stands as a beacon of innovation. Originally launched in 2019, Unqueue started as an online marketplace platform designed to support businesses grappling with the challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unqueue focused on delivering software solutions tailored to the cultural, social, and economic realities of small businesses.

With pivotal support from UNCDF, the European Union, and the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) under the Digital Finance for Resilience (DFS4Resilience) Programme, Unqueue has evolved into a robust platform addressing the critical issue of access to market for smallholder farmers. Through this partnership with UNCDF, Unqueue is set to roll out the Caribbean’s first e-commerce platform aimed at enhancing economic resilience among smallholder farmers by facilitating direct B2C (Business to Consumer) and B2B (Business to Business) transactions..

“COVID-19 was the catalyst for launching Unqueue,” explains Agyei Archer, CEO of Unqueue. “It was the urgent problems in the market that led us to bootstrap the company.” The platform’s initial focus on MSMEs quickly expanded as it began offering comprehensive solutions in logistics, e-commerce, KYC (Know Your Customer) verification, and payment automation for both large and small businesses.

This growth has propelled Unqueue into a leader in the Caribbean, which now leverages its expertise to serve both private and public sectors across the region. Unqueue partners with multilateral and private entities to deploy accessible, world-class technology that advances development goals.

Today, Unqueue is making significant strides in the agricultural sector, improving market access for smallholder farmers and contributing to food security in Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica and Saint Vincent and Grenadine. Their digital tools are integral in creating a more resilient and sustainable economic system that addresses both business and societal challenges. The digital solution will provide better market access and secure digital payment options, facilitating direct B2C (Business to Consumer) and B2B (Business to Business) transactions among more than 52,000 farmers spanning in three countries.

MLajan Mobile Wallet: revolutionizing financial inclusion in Dominica

Over in Dominica, MLajan Mobile Wallet is transforming how people and businesses manage their finances. Born out of the need to improve resilience and digitize the Dominican economy following the devastating impacts of Tropical Storm Erika in 2015 and Hurricane Maria in 2017, MLajan was officially launched in 2021. The platform quickly established itself as a leading Fintech solution in the Eastern Caribbean, providing secure and convenient digital financial services to the underserved.

“MLajan highlights not only the vision of the Dominica Cooperative Societies League but also the regional importance and strategic direction of credit unions,” says Phoenix Belfield, CEO of MLajan. “We thought it important as a responsible financial institution to also chart our strategic path forward in terms of digital adoption.”

MLajan offers a seamless way to send and receive money, pay bills, and make donations via a mobile wallet. Its interoperable platform supports contactless payments, credit union transfers, and merchant transactions, making it one of the most versatile payment solutions in the Eastern Caribbean.

“Since the advent of COVID-19, our digital business model has been validated,” Phoenix Belfield noted. “We saw increased usage of MLajan as people turned to our services for secure, contactless transactions.”

MLajan’s collaboration with UNCDF has been instrumental in expanding its impact. By providing an affordable alternative to traditional financial services, MLajan is bridging the technological divide for MSMEs, enabling them to access the tools they need to grow and thrive.

“Our partnership with UNCDF allows us to extend more affordable financial solutions,” He adds. “We’re fostering economic development and promoting financial inclusion within the MSME sector.”

Empowering MSMEs through Digital Transformation

Both Unqueue and MLajan exemplify how digital tools can empower MSMEs to overcome challenges and seize new opportunities. These initiatives are part of broader efforts supported by the UNCDF and other international partners to enhance digital literacy and provide access to digital technologies.

Through collaborations with local and international partners, UNCDF is creating a more inclusive digital landscape, ensuring that small businesses have the tools they need to succeed in the Caribbean and other markets.

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