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ITC – $1 trillion in annual investment to unlock the development power of small businesses

Expanding investment into small and medium-sized enterprises would help deliver inclusive economic growth and the Sustainable Development Goals, together with profits for investors.

by ITC News

( Annual additional private investments of $1 trillion in small businesses in developing countries would play a pivotal role towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This is according to the SME Competitiveness Outlook 2019: Big Money for Small Business – Financing the Sustainable Development Goals, released today by the International Trade Centre.Currently, just a fraction of the $80 trillion managed by global asset managers is invested in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries. At the same time, there is great, untapped potential to channel capital held by global funds towards these profitable investment opportunities.‘There is tremendous scope to scale up the flow of private investment towards SMEs in developing countries, including in the poorest ones,’ said ITC Executive Director Arancha González. ‘Mobilizing this finance can get us closer to achieving the goals set out by UN members in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.’

According to the SME Competitiveness Outlook 2019, the main factors holding investors back from channeling more funding into otherwise profitable investment opportunities in developing countries include a lack of scalable investment projects, non-transparent investment processes, misguided perceptions of the risks of investing in SMEs, and a lack of knowledge about enterprise capacities.

The report, released to coincide with the United Nations Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Day on 27 June, sets out an agenda for overcoming these bottlenecks and connecting cash-rich investors with investor-ready SMEs. It identifies potential SME investors, the challenges they face in financing small business, and how these challenges may be overcome with the right policy responses.

Other key findings and recommendations of the SME Competitiveness Outlook 2019 include:

• SMEs are fundamentally intertwined with the SDGs: More competitive SMEs can contribute to 60% of the 169 targets underpinning the 17 SDGs. Their most prominent impact will be on sustainable growth and employment (Goal 8) and sustainable industrialization and innovation (Goal 9).
• Connecting investment promotion agencies to SMEs: Every year $600 billion of foreign direct investment flows into developing countries, mostly to large firms. Stronger investment promotion agencies, with good connections to investment-ready SMEs, are needed to enable small business to benefit.
• Bundling small business investments: Big foreign investors don’t invest in individual SMEs, they invest in thousands at a time. ‘Big Money’ will therefore only flow to ‘small business’ if local financial institutions (banks, funds, non-governmental organizations) are able to bundle SME investments into billion-dollar investment opportunities.
• Embed accelerators in innovation hubs: Accelerators can play an important role for start-up investment but will not live up to the hype unless they are embedded in effective innovation hubs.
• The report compliments ongoing discussions in the World Trade Organization on investment facilitation aimed at increasing transparency and predictability of investment procedure.

The 85 country profiles contained in the report allow readers to develop a deeper understanding of strengths and weaknesses in the competitiveness landscape for SMEs. In addition, the report contains eight case studies and thought-leader articles by Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, United Nations; Coimbatore Ramasamy Anandakrishnan, Executive Director, KPR Mill Ltd; John Denton, Secretary-General, International Chamber of Commerce; Clare Akamanzi, Chief Executive Officer, Rwanda Development Board; and Stefano Manservisi, Director-General for International Cooperation and Development, European Commission.

Notes for the Editor

The following countries are profiled in the competitiveness index: Albania, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Côte d’Ivoire, Czechia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Eswatini, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Georgia, Ghana, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Lithuania, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Mongolia, Montenegro, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Nicaragua, Nigeria, North Macedonia, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Senegal, Serbia, Sierra Leone, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Venezuela, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

The official launch of the SME Competitiveness Outlook 2019 will take place at the World Trade Organization’s headquarters at 15.00 CET on 27 June in Room CR. Members of the media are also invited to attend the official launch.

For further background on the SME Competitiveness Outlook, please visit: intracen.org/SMEoutlook

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Central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) are gaining increased attention around the world.  Although once viewed with much scepticism, more central banks are exploring its use, with some analysts dubbing 2020 “the Year of CBDCs” due to the striking way the currency entered the international financial policy conversation.

As a blockchain-based, digital form of a country’s fiat currency, CBDCs lie in the “sweet spot” of the money flower, having the accessibility of cash, the digital ease of mobile money, the security of cryptocurrency, and the familiarity of being issued by the central bank.

Graph 1: The Money Flower (Bech and Garratt, 2017)

Small states lead the way

However, while much attention has been paid to the potential CBDC activity in large developed economies – like China and the US — small states are making actual breakthroughs. The Bahamas, a small chain of islands with under 400,000 people, became the first country in the world to officially launch a central bank digital currency, with the nationwide rollout of the Sand Dollar last October.  Mauritius, the Marshall Islands, Curacao and members of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines) have also completed small-scale pilots and are looking to move on to national rollouts.

At first glance, it is surprising that these countries are at the forefront of this innovation.  Many small states are heavily cash dependent and their domestic financial sectors are usually under-developed.  They also tend to be very financially conservative and cautious.

On closer analysis however, there seems to be two key reasons why small states are leading the way. Firstly, they have strong motivations – CBDCs (more so than other technologies) can help to address their financial development issues.  Financial exclusion remains a challenge in many small states, particularly those with populations spread unevenly across many islands.  More remote places do not have easy access to banks and, should a natural disaster strike, even those islands with bank branches may find themselves excluded. When Hurricane Dorian hit The Bahamas in September 2019, the islands of Grand Bahama and Abaco were without banking services for weeks.

Beyond these geographic issues, small states have a relatively small financial sector with only a few financial institutions.  These size-related challenges tend to result in high interest rates and expensive charges for ATM use and other basic transactions, further limiting financial inclusion.  Financial innovations (like mobile money and CBDCs) are often regarded as viable solutions to improve financial inclusion and address de-risking.

The second – and arguably more important – reason small states are the drivers in the adoption of CBDCs, is that their risks are lower.  Because of their island nature, these countries are able to conduct controlled self-contained pilots to safely test new ideas.  Many analysts (BIS, 2020; Mancini-Griffoli et al, 2018) have expressed concern that CBDCs might undermine financial stability by disintermediating or crowding out traditional banks.  The Bahamas tested the Sand Dollar for several months on two different islands before rolling it out nationally – and the disintermediation risk did not materialise[1].  Similarly, the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank is testing its digital currency DCash in four of the seven countries in its jurisdiction.

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This perspective of small states as key players in CBDCs highlights some broader lessons worth noting.  The first is that context matters in small states.  Perhaps showing how the small state context has allowed CBDCs to grow and develop can shed some light on the importance of understanding this context in other areas as well.  Often saddled with blacklisting, small states have long argued that the international financial regulatory architecture does not understand nor take into account the many important nuances of the small state context.

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The Commonwealth Secretariat’s forthcoming Commonwealth FinTech Report seeks to understand the FinTech landscape across our membership, identify trends, and draw out lessons like these that can be shared more widely.

[1] In part due to the parameters of the scheme, including a $500 cap on e-wallets held by individuals.

References

  • Bech, M. L., & Garratt, R. (2017). Central bank cryptocurrencies. BIS Quarterly Review September.
  • BIS (Bank for Intermediate Settlements) (2020). Central bank digital currencies: foundational principles and core features.
  • Mancini-Griffoli, T., Peria, M. S. M., Agur, I., Ari, A., Kiff, J., Popescu, A., & Rochon, C. (2018). Casting light on central bank digital currency. IMF Staff Discussion Notes18(08).

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On November 10, 2020 UNCDF hosted the peer learning session “How Do We Make Women Builders of the Digital Economy?” at #FinEquity2020, an annual gathering of the global of researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and donors discussing the very latest developments in women’s financial inclusion.

 

The UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) makes public and private finance work for the poor in the world’s 47 least developed countries. With its capital mandate and instruments, UNCDF offers “last mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development. In the last years UNCDF has advanced women’s economic empowerment, increasingly leveraging digital tools and stakeholders when appropriate. UNCDF has created diagnostics and critical research, levelling the playing field for relevant stakeholders, and helping them understand the challenges and opportunities of advancing women’s financial inclusion. UNCDF has provided deep technical expertise to support human centric design of financial products for women and increased the number of women employees within financial service providers. Furthermore, UNCDF has worked with governments across the globe on the collection and usage of sex-disaggregated data.

Last year, UNCDF launched the approach to advancing gender equality in its Inclusive Digital Economy strategy, called Women as Builders of the Digital Economy, which aims to decrease the digital divide for women and girls, use technology to improve women’s economic opportunity, and to help to transform women into the builders of emerging digital economies. This approach focuses on creating strategic partnerships at a global, regional and country level, and complementing them with market facilitation and deep technical assistance to affect change on the ground. It leverages our on-the-ground presence and relationships with ministries of finance, central banks, telecommunications regulators, other relevant policy makers, as well as the private sector (including banks, telecommunications companies, fintechs and micro finance institutions) and civil society to remove the barriers to women’s economic empowerment. UNCDF is implementing tailored interventions on a country-by-country basis integrated into existing work that will both remove barriers and accelerate increased access to critical services, ultimately increasing the number of women that not only have autonomy but digital and financial inclusion. This event was a chance to bring together experts to discuss UNCDF’s approach, focusing on the most challenging barriers to advancing women’s digital and financial inclusion, and to find ways forward together.

The UNCDF Approach – Women as Builders of the Digital Economy

Nandini Harihareswara, UNCDF Senior Advisor on Inclusive Digital Economies opened the session welcoming the participants and sharing UNCDF’s new strategy, aimed at using digital innovations to address women’s empowerment challenges. Nandini explained how UNCDF pursues a market system development approach to advance gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

Specifically, UNCDF works with a range of stakeholders to:
• Increase the number of women and girls that own a phone, can access/use the internet and have the capability and autonomy to use it to empower their lives;
• Increase the number of affordable digital and financial products that address the needs and challenges of diverse segments of women;
• Leverage technology to increase access to finance and formalization of women-owned of managed SMEs;
• Use policy incentives and sex-disaggregated data to increase women’s digital and financial autonomy by supporting governments
• Create a “coalition of the amenable” between public and private sector actors to increase the number of women in the workforce and leadership positions.

 

Challenges and solutions to enable women digital and financial agency and autonomy

UNCDF were joined by three champions of women’s economic empowerment, who presented on the work their organizations are doing to help women to fully engage in the digital economy and their expert perspectives on the barriers to women’s digital and financial agency in developing countries. Leadership was a key recurring theme.

Venge Nyirongo, Thematic Lead of the Generation Equality Forum’s Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition at UN Women, discussed the need to bring together public, private, and civil society leaders to drive systemic change, He highlighted how the Generation Equality Forum, a campaign led by UN Women and hosted by the Governments of France and Mexico, are bringing together leaders to accelerate this kind of change. UNCDF is a co-lead of the Economic Justice and Rights Action Coalition of the Generation Equality Forum. He explained why these coalitions are needed now more than ever; “women have been agents of change since time immemorial, when we bring down the barriers that prevent them exercising agency they can take the world forward. But since the establishment of the Beijing Platform for Action 25 years ago things haven’t moved much. We need to make deliberate decisions to move forward.”

Karen Miller, Global Head of Leadership & Diversity Programs at Women’s World Banking, highlighted the need to develop a pipeline of women leaders. Organizations can do this by creating inclusive organizational culture, values and policies, using a “sponsorship” culture within financial service providers and policy making institutions to build a network of women mentors and mentees. In addition, collecting and analyzing organizational data on diversity and inclusion. She made the importance of organizational data in tackling biases clear through an anecdote; “recently I was having a conversation with an institution who said, “I’m not sure why we are spending so much time hiring and training women, when they get married and have children they leave the organization”. We started going through their data and it turned out that women had a much higher retention rate than men, it was just a bias they had. By being able to look at that data and ask the hard questions you can determine what the path forward is”.

Cavelle Dove, Lead for Women’s Economic Empowerment at UNCDF in Myanmar, also remarked on the critical role of data, particularly in understanding and addressing women’s needs. She also drew on a recent study into women’s demand for financial services in conflict and post conflict affected regions to highlight the need to raise women’s awareness of available products and build environments in which they feel comfortable learning about those products. She spoke of the power of the “sister approach”: “women have been helping other women from time beyond, so it’s vital to work women who can then share the news of what’s been helpful to them and how that might be helpful to others. For example, there was one woman we worked with in Kachin State who was not interested at all at first, but after the time was spent to understand the product and its benefit she eventually became one of the strongest advocates for this financial service”.

How do we identify the gatekeepers and unlock the gates?

Gatekeepers are people or institutions with the power to help or hinder access to a resource. Increasing attention is being paid to the need to engage the gatekeepers that control women’s participation in the digital economy. However, there is a paucity of extensive research that lists who these gatekeepers are and how to engage them effectively and appropriately.

The first discussion was focused on identifying and engaging the gatekeepers that prevent women’s access and usage of phones. Firstly, the participants identified a number of gatekeepers such as: husbands and male family members, religious leaders, regulators, teachers, but also “older generation women”. Then, they presented a number of solutions to engage the gatekeepers in a culturally appropriate way, including interventions such as digital literacy training, sisterhood learning programmes, and the empowerment of women as role models within their family and community. A strong reference that shares best practices on these and more is the “I’d Blush if I Could” Report from UNESCO. Finally, the group suggested ways to measure the success and impact of interventions=. For example, through the size of the mobile gender gap and internet usage; the number of women in the community who are using digital for economic, social and entertainment; the changes in values measured through the World Value Survey.

The last discussion of the session was aimed at recognizing the gatekeepers that control efforts to increase diversity and leadership in digital economies at scale. Regulatory bodies, men in leadership positions, and institutions that benefit from the status quo were all identified as gatekeepers. The group discussed engagement strategies including improving diversity and inclusion training, demonstrating of the benefits of diverse management on the bottom line, developing the next generation of female leaders through technical assistance, and linking investment to diversity indicators. Suggested potential measures of success were the number of female decision-makers on a national scale; the number of girls aspiring to work in the financial sectors; the number of digital platforms that have a diverse leadership and, last but not least, the number of gender-sensitive women policies.

UNCDF will integrate these learnings into its activities while supporting the work of building inclusive digital economies in 28 countries, as well as co-leading the Economic Rights and Justice Coalition of the Generation Equality Forum.

On November 10, 2020 UNCDF hosted the peer learning session “How Do We Make Women Builders of the Digital Economy?” at #FinEquity2020, an annual gathering of the global of researchers, practitioners, policy makers, and donors discussing the...

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