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Digitization an opportunity to propel African economies even as COVID-19 rages

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard the economies of many African countries, and pushed many more citizens into poverty, but some countries like Rwanda and Togo have used digitization to keep their economies running.

Speaking during the launch of a Pan-African peer exchange series on the benefits of responsible digital government payments, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Ms. Vera Songwe said the pandemic had a huge toll on African economies with GDP growth estimated to have dropped from 3.3% in 2019 to -2.6% in 2020. It is, however, anticipated that growth would return to 3.3% in 2021.

The ECA further estimates that about 100 million people have been pushed into poverty by the pandemic, Ms. Songwe said, adding the scars of COVID-19 were going to ‘remain with us for a very long time’.

Digitization, the ECA Chief said, presented opportunities for African countries to lift the poor out of poverty.

“Digitizing tax payments and related processes can raise additional resources for African governments to fight COVID-19 and help move countries back to growth,” said Ms. Songwe in opening remarks during the launch of the series that will see policymakers sharing challenges and successes and set a high bar for what can be accomplished on the continent through digitization of government payments.

“As economies digitalize, the benefits from digital payments and e-commerce multiply, thereby accelerating recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, sustaining development, and facilitating achievement of the sustainable development goals, through taxes and wages, among others.”

The ECA has been in the forefront, nudging African countries to turn to and accelerate digitization to not only keep their economies running, but to also respond to the rise in poverty among marginalized citizens.

 Ms. Songwe congratulated Togo and Rwanda for using digitization to manage the pandemic in a way that would have been impossible if there were no digital platforms, including social protection cash payments to cushion citizens from the effects of the crisis.

Sharing her country’s experience of using digital cash transfers to citizens during the pandemic, Ms. Cina Lawson, Togo’s Postal Affairs and Digital Economy Minister, said they built a USSD platform in 10 days, and people who registered, didn’t need Internet connection to connect.

“We had 1. 6 million Togolese registering on this platform. From onboarding to receiving cash, it was all digital. If the platform deemed you eligible, you would straight away receive an SMS with the money. It takes a minute from onboarding to receiving cash,” she said.

The number of people who registered onto the platform represented about 44% of the population, and 840,000 people became beneficiaries, which is approximately 22% of all Togolese, explained Ms. Lawson.

She said the platform guaranteed transparency as transactions were traceable. An independent firm was hired to audit the transfers daily. The country is using the same platform to register citizens for COVID-19 vaccinations.

For his part, Rwanda’s Minister of State, National Treasury, Mr. Richard Tusabe, in sharing his country’s experience with digitization, spoke about the ‘Ejoheza savings scheme’, an inclusive scheme which targets both salaried and non-salaried workers and has a social component. He said about 95% of Rwandan citizens are not covered in any pension scheme hence the need for the savings scheme which came in handy during the pandemic.

“So, to capture the 95 per cent to start to save and be able to retire with dignity, Ejoheza was started in December 2018. It is also a USSD platform. The government then set up a matching fund, and when you save up to $18, the government gives you a matching equivalent,” said Mr. Tusabe.

The two ministers shared experiences, challenges, and good practices and undertook to keep learning from each other’s experiences in using digital innovations to improve the productivity of businesses and ensure positive economy-wide benefits.

In her remarks, Ms. Ruth Goodwin-Groen, Managing Director of the United Nation’s Better Than Cash Alliance, commended the two countries saying; “This is what we need. You understood what your citizens needed, and you responded quickly with responsible digital payments.”

Ms. Goodwin-Groen lauded the partnership with the ECA to launch the series, adding this was a unique opportunity for governments to convene and collaborate by sharing experiences, challenges, and key learnings from responsibly digitizing payments.

The launch will be followed by a series of three round-table workshops over the next two months for policymakers only. Each round-table workshop is specifically designed to focus on a critical aspect of digital government payment, such as Government to People (G2P) and People to Government (P2G), for example tax, pension, and health care. The final session will share insights and recommendations from the workshop participants and will be an open session.

Click here to access the series launch recording: https://youtu.be/xQDqcEqZjNk

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ITU

The Initiative is set to expand in phase 2, applications are open

Women from underserved and marginalized communities made up 65 percent of 80 000 trainees in the first phase of ITU’s Digital Transformation Centres (DTC) Initiative. The Initiative, launched in September 2019, saw the ITU partner with technology conglomerate Cisco in nine countries to help strengthen the digital capacities of their citizens, particularly in underserved communities.

ITU has opened applications for the second phase of its DTC Initiative, aiming to close the persistent gap in digital skills worldwide. Interested eligible institutions can submit their applications by 31 August 2021.

“We want to leverage the momentum we gained in phase one, during which over 80 000 people from underserved and marginalized communities received digital skills training through nine DTCs. The popularity of this training has far exceeded what we anticipated, and greatly encourages us. Clearly, the pandemic has made everyone more aware of the need to be equipped with digital skills. ITU wants to expand the DTC network, but at a pace which will ensure that the quality of training is maintained,” said ITU Secretary-General, Houlin Zhao.

In the first phase, DTCs were established in nine countries in Africa, Americas and Asia Pacific. The individuals who signed up for DTC courses received training in basic and intermediate digital skills.

“Closing the global digital divide is consistent with empowering people and communities, improving lives and livelihoods, and promoting sustainable development,” emphasized the Secretary-General. “Empowering people with essential digital skills is a key part of this – a challenge we are proud to tackle together with partners from the private sector.”

Doreen Bogdan-​Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, said: “The pandemic underlined that digital skills are key to inclusion and leaving no one behind in today’s digital world. The lack of these skills is becoming the main barrier to digital participation, particularly in developing countries. ITU’s network of Digital Transformation Centres plays a crucial role in bridging the digital skills gap and ensuring that no one is left offline. That is why we are expanding the network to increase the number of DTCs globally. We are continuously engaging with new potential partners to collaborate with us in this Initiative.”

Application criteria

The second phase is open to applications from any eligible national institution that commits to being an active partner in the network.

Applying institutions must have the mandate, or the support of their national government, to foster digital capacity in their respective countries, as well as a proven track record in delivering digital skills training at basic and intermediate levels to local communities.
Selected DTCs become part of a global network that aims to accelerate digital uptake among citizens and boost the capacity of young entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to succeed in the digital economy.

Any proposed DTC requires a network of fully equipped physical training centres, along with sufficient resources to deliver digital skills training. Detailed criteria are available here.

The second phase of the DTC Initiative will commence operations from January 2022.

Going forward, more DTCs will be able to join the global network in order to reach a critical mass of people with digital skills training in countries and thus allow them to meaningfully participate in the digital economy.

Further information on how to apply to become a DTC is available here.

Benefits of participation

Institutions that become part of the DTC network will receive free access to training materials developed by ITU, Cisco, HP, and other partners at the global, regional and national levels; access to train-the-trainer programmes under the DTC Initiative; networking opportunities through DTCs worldwide; use of ITU and Cisco branding for promotion and marketing of DTC courses; authorization to award internationally recognized certifications to local citizens; and the chance get access to resources that will allow them to scale their national activities.

The first phase of the Initiative runs from January 2020 to August 2021, with nine DTCs: four in Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Rwanda, Zambia), two in the Americas (Brazil, Dominican Republic), and three in Asia-Pacific (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines).

The courses offered are designed both for people who have never used a computer, as well as those with basic digital skills and those looking to enhance their entrepreneurial skills through information and communication technologies (ICTs).

ITU has promoted wider partnerships to support the Initiative with both financial and material resources. In November 2020, the Government of Norway joined the Initiative financially supporting the implementation of training through the DTC network. Going forward, ITU aims to mobilize more partnerships in the second phase of the Initiative, widen the network of DTCs and scale the number of training activities through a systemic engagement with partners both at national and international levels.

More information on partnership opportunities is available here, while interested parties can also write to dtc@itu.int

The Initiative is set to expand in phase 2, applications are open

Women from underserved and marginalized communities made up 65 percent of 80 000 trainees in the first phase of ITU’s Digital Transformation Centres (DTC)...

ITC

Heathertex, a medium-sized clothing company in Egypt, has experienced a loop of challenges and adversity to keep their business open.

Director Alaa Hamdy explains that in March 2020, when the COVID-19 virus hit Egypt, she knew that the impact would not only relate to health and the economy, but that it would also affect women and vulnerable communities socially.

Established in 2018, Heathertex employs around 350 people, 80% of whom are women. “Being a woman myself, I understand women’s needs and the responsibilities they carry on their shoulders. More than ever, our company had to be a strong and reliable employer,” says Hamdy.

She explains that since the COVID outbreak, they have not dismissed or reduced the salary of any of their employees, “on the very opposite, we are planning to build a nursery on our premises, so all mothers have a safe place to leave their child. A small but crucial service that will have a major, positive impact on their personal and professional lives,” Hamdy proudly emphasizes.

Heathertex production comprises knitted and woven wear like scrub tops, bottoms, work uniforms for men, women and children. The company exports 100% of its products, mainly to America as well as to Italy and Greece in Europe. “In our two first years, we have achieved impressive results selling our products to famous international brands,” comments Hamdy. The director argues that despite all the challenges, 2020 was surprisingly a positive year for her company. “We restructured our production and operations to respect all health and safety measures. Our sales increased by 23% during the pandemic,” says Hamdy.

With the support of the International Trade Centre (ITC), the Alexandria-based company has progressed thanks to the initiatives led by the Global and Middle East and North Africa Textiles and Clothing Programme (GTEX/MENATEX).

For Alaa Hamdy, receiving support through the GTEX/MENATEX project made a real difference during COVID-19. She explains that the increase in export is related to reducing the company’s lead-time, a methodology they learned at a training.

“The GTEX/MENATEX project brought insightful ideas and know-how to our company. We are currently implementing the techniques we learned in the Lean Manufacturing and Material Sourcing training courses,” says Hamdy. She also explains that Heathertex will apply environmental management measures designed during the resource efficiency and circular production coaching (RECP), as well as add more sustainable practices in their production.

“We are looking for green solutions in our electricity and water consumptions. In addition, we plan to improve our resource efficiency and enhance our waste management to increase our profitability.”

GTEX/MENATEX in Egpyt

Yasmine Helal, GTEX/MENATEX National Project Coordinator for Egypt, emphasized the dedication of the participating companies and their achievements.

“In 2020, despite the pandemic, many companies were eager to learn and adjust with the new trends and norms. Eleven companies made massive changes to their digital presence following the digital marketing and access-to-market coaching the ITC project provided, including three who developed their online stores,” says Helal.

The national coordinator also highlights that five companies reported improved operations and lead-time. “They increased the efficiency of their operations by 10% to 15%, following the lean manufacturing training. Another five companies reported receiving export orders from new international buyers as a result of the funded participation to virtual exhibitions with others in progress and/or in negotiation phase,” concludes Helal.

GTEX/MENATEX Egypt plans for several activities and training courses including a boot camp on access to finance for textile and clothing companies in July. The two-days event will provide companies the opportunity to improve their knowledge on finance and accounting, as well as acquiring skills and confidence to design and pitch a project to financiers through role play and matchmaking sessions. Following national health authorities’ guidelines, the event is expected to take place in Cairo in a hybrid format.

The Global Textiles and Clothing Programme (GTEX) and the Middle East and North Africa Textiles Programme (MENATEX) are implemented by the International Trade Centre until December 2022. They are co-financed by the Swiss and Swedish governments, respectively.

Heathertex, a medium-sized clothing company in Egypt, has experienced a loop of challenges and adversity to keep their business open.

Director Alaa Hamdy explains that in March 2020, when the COVID-19 virus hit Egypt, she knew...

ECA

New Policies Can Ignite Online Trade, Economic Growth and Inclusion

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the GSMA today called on Central Africa’s 11 governments to adopt policies to accelerate e-commerce, including better access to digital services and public-private collaboration.

Mobile internet use in Central Africa more than doubled in the past decade to 42% at the end of 2019. Women and entrepreneurs increasingly use e-commerce platforms to grow their businesses, according to the joint GSMA-ECA report titled “Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications”. The report makes the potential for economic development and social inclusion clear.

E-commerce is growing quickly in Central Africa and mobile connectivity and payments are key to gaining momentum. By the end of 2020, there were 16 live mobile money services in ECCAS[1], serving nearly 50 million registered accounts.

The report shows that while the retail e-commerce landscape is dominated by global players, such as Amazon, eBay and Alibaba, domestic and regional players are leveraging local knowledge to compete. Jumia, is an example of this and is Africa’s largest e-commerce company with operations in 11 countries across the continent.

Insights from the report outline how social commerce, the use of social networks for e-commerce, is also gaining traction. Facebook’s 14 million users in the sub-region make an attractive marketplace and the preferred platform for many e-commerce entrepreneurs.

Despite this progress, all 11 countries in Central Africa are falling behind when compared to their peers. The infrastructure, investment and skills necessary to fuel online shopping rank in the bottom third of the UN Conference on Trade and Development’s Business-to-Consumer E-commerce Index of 152 countries.

The report makes clear that mobile telecom operators are a vital part of the solution. They provide connectivity for online activities, including e-commerce, enable digital payments and, support e-commerce by way of APIs and sales agents to address challenges in the sector.

“Central Africa is budding with economic potential and e-commerce can accelerate that growth,” said Angela Wamola, the GSMA’s Head of Sub Sahara Africa. “The GSMA is proud to partner with the ECA on this report bringing our knowledge of how digital technologies can propel sustainable development to the work. We hope it will inspire action from policymakers and stakeholders in the region.”

In Central Africa, as many as 264 e-commerce start-ups operate in at least 23 countries. The employment potential is significant with online marketplaces are set to generate 3 million jobs by 2025.

The region can progress quickly if governments enact policies to accelerate digital and e-commerce services, specifically:

  • Enhance digital and financial inclusion
  • Take the right approach to data regulation
  • Address key challenges in the business environment
  • Leverage stakeholder collaboration

“Mobile network operators must play a critical role to accelerate digital inclusion, economic diversification and sustainable development,” said Antonio Pedro, Director of ECA’s Sub-regional Office for Central Africa. “If governments act now, Central Africa can be more competitive and collaborative for the benefit and inclusion of all citizens.”


Please go here to download the report: Enabling e-commerce in Central Africa: the role of mobile services and policy implications.

Watch an explanatory video here: Mobile Services for e-Commerce in Central Africa (new GSMA-ECA report)

New Policies Can Ignite Online Trade, Economic Growth and Inclusion

The UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the GSMA today called on Central Africa’s 11 governments to adopt policies to accelerate e-commerce, including better access...

UNCDF

What is the Generation Equality Forum?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted more than 25 years ago, in 1995. Promises had previous been made to close the gender gap. However, previous goals have not been complemented by successful implementation, and women worldwide are still facing discrimination in many fields, ranging from economic participation to public leadership, as reiterated by the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report 2021.

The Generation Equality Forum (GEF), convened by UN Women and co-hosted by the governments of Mexico and France, represents a unique opportunity to change the status quo. Why? Because of its inclusivity and focus on practical results, financing, and bold commitments.

First, the forum gathers not only international organizations, foundations and governments, but also stakeholders that have often been excluded by international treaties and agendas, such as civil society organizations, the private sector and feminist movements. In the words of Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women, “The Generation Equality Forum marks a positive, historic shift in power and perspective. Together we have mobilized across different sectors of society, from south to north, to become a formidable force, ready to open a new chapter in gender equality”.

Second, the goal of the forum is ambitious, yet concrete and achievable: to catalyze collective actions through strong pledges and drive increased investments. How? The Forum is organized into six Action Coalitions (AC), which represent six categories of pivotal issues to be addressed: (1) Gender-based Violence; (2) Economic Justice and Rights; (3) Bodily Autonomy and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; (4) Feminist Action for Climate Justice; (5) Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality; and (6) Feminist Movements and Leadership. The leaders of the coalitions, after a year of comprehensive negotiations and research, have established a set of actions and tactics that will be implemented in the next 5 years.

The Forum culminated in July in Paris, where the action-oriented agenda proposed by the six ACs was received so favorably that governments, philanthropic organizations, civil society groups, youth organizations and the private sector made commitments worth more than $40 billion to advance the agenda’s operationalization. This pledge demonstrates a major step-change in the path towards women’s empowerment; the lack of dedicated financial resources is commonly recognized as the major reason for slow progress in implementing the Beijing Conference agenda.

UNCDF’s role in and commitments to the Generation Equality Forum

In 2020, UNCDF was chosen as global leader of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Women’s Economic Justice and Rights (EJR). UNCDF also plays a pivotal role in supporting the work of the Technology and Innovation Action Coalition (T&I). The operational approach of UNCDF is rooted in strengthening local systems, capacities, policies, and institutions to address persistent systemic gender inequalities through technology, innovative forms of financing, technical assistance, and product design. To do so, UNCDF values strong partnerships with international organizations, civil society groups and the private sector organizations, these stakeholders are all members of the GEF. In turn, there is a strong alignment between UNCDF’s mission and the agendas of the EJR and T&I ACs.

As highlighted by UNCDF’s Executive Secretary Preeti Sinha in her remarks provided at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris, UNCDF’s vision is to create Equal Economies by working to achieve two sets of commitments: Gender Finance Gap Zero; and Red Tape Zero. Through the first commitment, Gender Finance Gap Zero, UNCDF pledges to narrow the finance gap that contributes to unequal opportunities for women’s advancement across societies and economies. The second commitment, Red Tape Zero, represents UNCDF’s commitment to address the deep-rooted systemic biases as well as market and agency constraints for women that often serve as literal and figurative “red tape” to inclusion and participation.

Moreover, UNCDF is strengthening its programmatic approach and partnership by joining two collective commitments. First, UNCDF has joined the 2X Collaborative, through which we will promote gender lens investing in emerging markets using innovative blended finance solutions and partnerships with capital providers to develop new financing mechanisms to support women-led and gender responsive SMEs. Second, UNCDF joined the Digital Literacy Equity Outcome Fund in partnership with the Government of Finland, UNICEF, and Volta Capital, through which we will continue our work to advance innovative financing as a means to close the gender digital divide.

How do we move from commitments to action?

UNCDF’s unique mandate to bring public and private sector capital to the world’s least developed countries positions us well to support the blueprints of the EJR and T&I Action Coalitions, as well as several collective commitments. You can find highlights of the areas of focus for both Action Coalitions below the graphic.

Now, as we move towards implementation of the agreed Global Acceleration Plan for Action Coalitions, the most urgent next steps for UNCDF are to effectively and robustly connect our assets – innovative financing mechanisms, financing capability, technical expertise, in country presence – to the work of other partners to help realize the ambitions of the Generation Equality Forum in order to catalyze change and accelerate the closing of the gender gap.

Our work will support partners in the emerging and less developed regions around the world in their ambitions to lift millions of women and men out of extreme poverty. Our actions will specifically contribute to addressing discriminatory practices and reducing gender inequalities by promoting women’s economic empowerment. UNCDF aims to support this work by focusing on the following key priorities:

Gender Gap Finance Zero ( UNCDF will specifically contribute towards actions that will increase the volume of financing available for gender equality commitments in target LDCs.

  • Serve as the United Nations’ flagship financing agency for the LDCs to co-create innovative financing solutions to overcome the barriers to gender equality
  • Leverage UNCDF’s loans, guarantees, grants, blended finance instruments and technical assistance to increase investments in women-led businesses and gender responsive local economic development projects.

 

Red Tape Zero (addressing the deep-rooted systemic biases as well as market and agency constraints for women that often serve as literal and figurative “red tape”)

  • Co-lead of “Reaching Financial Equality for Women” A 10-point Action Plan for Reaching Financial Equality was launched through a partnership between the Better than Cash Alliance, UNCDF, UNSGSA, UN Women, Women’s World Banking, and the World Bank for governments and businesses to rebuild stronger after COVID-19 by prioritizing women’s digital financial inclusion. The associated advocacy campaign featured 20+ CEOs and Ministers committing to one or more of the 10 actions to advance women’s digital financial inclusion.
  • Address gender based discriminatory practices and norms, as well as strengthen economic policies, budgets, plans and governance structures by providing technical support to local partners through the use of the comprehensive training course for local governments on WEE.
  • Utilize toolbox on WEE financing to support a comprehensive bottom-up approach using gender responsive local economic assessments to promote WEE that cuts across policy and regulatory support and local financing solutions. Measure the inclusiveness of digital economies, especially for women in digital economies through the Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard in 20+ LDCs and addressing the identified market constraints for gender equality with the help of the Inclusive Digital Economy & Gender Playbook
  • Implement with the G7 Partnership for Advancing Women’s Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa, policy and advocacy support to increase women’s digital financial inclusion and women’s leadership in the financial sector in 15+ African countries.

 

Both our Gender Gap Finance Zero and Red Tape Zero commitments will help us make Women Builders of Inclusive Digital Economies in 28 countries as well as build Inclusive Cities by transforming urban areas into spaces of equal opportunities for everyone, especially those who are vulnerable and marginalized.

As Executive Secretary Sinha concluded in her remarks, these commitments will “impact women and their families in the LDCs, allowing them to have equal access, equal agency and equal leadership in their societies and economies.”

What is the Generation Equality Forum?

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted more than 25 years ago, in 1995. Promises had previous been made to close the gender gap. However,...

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