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Thursday, January 19th, marked the closing of the first United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), European Union (EU) and Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS) “Advancing Digital Payments & Financial Inclusion Across the Eastern Caribbean” Technical Workshop Series. The three-day technical workshop brought to the region through the UNCDF-EU-OACPS Global Partnership on Digital Finance for Resilience, took place in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The Workshop was supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) whose Trinidad and Tobago Multi-Country Office hosts the UNCDF Eastern Caribbean Regional office and helps facilitate on-the-ground operations across the region.
The partners recognize the commitment of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago in advancing its digital finance agenda and were thrilled to have had the opportunity to launch the Workshop Series in Trinidad and Tobago. As such the technical workshop was opened with a keynote address by the Minister of Finance from the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, the Honourable Mr. Colm Imbert.
The Keynote Address provided global perspectives on financial inclusion as well as insights on Trinidad and Tobago’s approach to developing a cashless society, including the country’s establishment of new entities to lead the cashless agenda and strong political will to develop an enabling environment for digital finance.
“Financial Inclusion is an integral part of the global development agenda, and is recognised as an enabler of many things, such as economic growth and economic health to agricultural development, educational advancement, development of robust and sustainable businesses, increased savings, consumption, investment opportunities, and specially designed financial instruments and solutions to support and empower vulnerable groups,” Minister Colm Imbert said in his Keynote Address.
Furthermore, Minister Colm Imbert noted that financial inclusion is at the heart of financial sector transformation and economic recovery.
The workshop was attended by the Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Digital Transformation, Senator Honourable Hassel Bacchus as well as the Minister of National Security, the Honourable Fitzgerald Hinds. Regulators and related stakeholders from Trinidad and Tobago as well as the Eastern Caribbean states were also in attendance, which underscored the commitment of the Eastern Caribbean to digitally transform their financial sector and build a digital economy.
The Regional Workshop Series was launched in response to regional requests, and this first workshop focused on:
- regulating, licensing and supervising E-money and fintech; and
- cybersecurity for mobile and digital payment services.
The event, which was attended by over 80 in-person participants and over 150 people virtually, provided participants with lessons learned from leading experts from across the world and mapped possible solutions to responsibly enable digital finance for regulators in the region, focusing on harmonization and collaboration.
Ambassador of the European Union, Peter Cavendish, commented:
“More than ever, digital technologies have a central role to increase access to and usage of affordable financial products and services that meet people and business needs as well as accelerate economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Cooperation on digital technologies is therefore very important and the reason that it is one of the EU’s new pillars of support with partner countries. I am happy that I was able to join the Workshop’s very informative presentation and extremely satisfied with the successful outcome of the three-day workshop. The takeaway for all participants is that ‘no one should be left behind in the digital age’.”
Escipión Oliveira Gomez, Assistant Secretary General for the Secretariat of the Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States noted:
“OACPS was created, among others, to promote the integration of African, Caribbean and Pacific countries into the global market with a view to contribute to the eradication of poverty. That is exactly why peer exchanges like this are so important. They ensure that we learn from each other and find the best solutions for the islands of the Eastern Caribbean.”
UNCDF Programme Manager Bram Peters explained:
“In the fast-changing digital economies, where the playing field constantly evolves, policies and regulations need to guide the growth of a robust and inclusive digital economy, while at the same time protecting its users. It has been very encouraging to see how representatives of regulatory bodies from across the region have contributed to the discussions these last three days as they have a key role to play in designing effective frameworks. At UNCDF, through the Digital Finance for Resilience Programme, we are committed to leaving no one behind in the digital economy and look forward to continuing collaboration with Trinidad and Tobago and the Eastern Caribbean Islands States to ensure this.”
UNDP Resident Representative Gerardo Noto stated:
“This is a pivotal time for Trinidad and Tobago and the Eastern Caribbean, and policymakers have demonstrated strong commitment towards crafting solutions and approaches to responsibly enabling digital finance. At the UNDP, we believe digital finance and financial inclusion is a key enabler that contributes towards the Sustainable Development Goals and is a pre-requisite to building a strong digital economy. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to host the UNCDF Eastern Caribbean office and jointly expand our remit to support Governments across the Eastern Caribbean to reach their digital finance and financial inclusion goals”.
Experts examine the challenges to overcome to level the digital trade playing field for women in developing countries and boost gender equality.
o make e-commerce a greater driver of shared prosperity, the world must urgently tackle the challenges facing women small business owners in developing countries.
That was the message from experts at a meeting held during the UN Trade Forum 2023 on 9 May, where UNCTAD launched a new policy review of e-commerce through a gender lens.
The policy review examines the opportunities for women – particularly those living in developing countries – to harness digital trade for economic empowerment, and the challenges they face.
The report cautions that the shift to digitalization, if not strategically managed, can reinforce pre-existing development and socioeconomic inequalities. It urges stronger policy action to create enabling conditions for all.
“Overcoming existing North−South disparities and addressing gender inequalities in society and the economy is vital, if e-commerce is to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Simonetta Zarrilli, head of UNCTAD’s trade, gender and development programme.
Cascading gender disparities risk exclusion
The report calls attention to the growing gender digital divide, a major hindrance to inclusive e-commerce.
While developed nations have almost closed the disparities between men and women with internet access, a much larger gap of 13% persists across least developed countries (LDCs), where 43% of men and 30% of women used the internet in 2022.
Besides, women entrepreneurs in LDCs, including e-business owners, often lack access to credit and other productive resources. They also have limited basic digital literacy, a requirement to engage in the digital economy.
Such obstacles can lock more women e-traders into high-volume but low value-added activities, with limited prospects to leverage e-commerce to grow and diversify their businesses.
The report also points out the dominance of major digital platforms, the cost and requirements to access them, raising questions on how much smaller enterprises can benefit from them or bargain with them.
“These disparities have cascading gender impacts and act as productivity barriers and drivers of exclusion,” said Anita Gurumurthy, executive director of IT for Change, an India-based non-profit focusing on gender, education and digital justice.
“What women’s enterprises need is a fair game, and we need to make the platform economy work for all,” Ms. Gurumurthy added.
Women need more policy support
With the rise of cross-border e-trade, experts call on countries to shore up gender considerations in e-commerce policymaking and negotiations, following the approach adopted in the landmark Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women’s Economic Empowerment.
“It is crucial to identify the specific barriers female-owned and -led firms face using microdata and design evidence-based policies that allow them to take advantage of the immense possibilities opened by digital technologies,” said Christian Volpe Martincus, principal economist at the integration and trade sector of the Inter-American Development Bank.
What UNCTAD is doing to help
UNCTAD, in collaboration with its partners, has long made calls to unlock women’s potential in the digital economy.
It supports countries to boost their capacity in producing gender-disaggregated data on e-commerce, which is key to designing policies that benefit women.
The work incorporates deliberations from the intergovernmental working group on measuring e-commerce and the digital economy, and a joint programme on trade and gender statistics.
The UNCTAD-led eTrade for Women initiative empowers the next generation of female digital entrepreneurs in developing countries.
The initiative also elevates the voices of women leaders in e-commerce in policymaking circles at local, regional and global levels.
Artisanal fisheries are an important food source with fish constituting an important source of protein and income by providing employment to millions of people in countries where food security is an issue.
The sector is the economic backbone of most coastal communities. It represents an important socio-economic and cultural aspect of coastal communities across the Commonwealth, and the impact on coastal reefs and other marine lives may be significant.
At the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad and Tobago, Heads acknowledged that the sustainable harvesting of the world’s fish stocks supports food security and can have long-term economic benefits and agreed that urgent action was needed to strengthen fisheries and marine management in member states waters, particularly in the case of the more vulnerable member states.
Unfortunately, the sector is highly vulnerable to natural and man-made shocks including climate change, storms that might damage fishing vessels, pollution, and overfishing thereby causing catches to decrease. On the other hand, fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, with high mortality and accident rates.
The big question is what can digitalisation do to transform artisanal fisheries into a profession that can attract the youth?
The timely release of The State of Digital Fisheries in the Commonwealth – A Baseline Report 2023 responds to this question by showing how digitalisation of the fisheries sector is already underway across the Commonwealth. The Policy Guide argues that whether digitalisation fulfils its promise, or it becomes just another technological hype for development, depends on our approach to its deployment, especially for the most vulnerable communities and dangerous professions.
The report recognises that to meet the global food systems transformation agenda by the United Nations and the ongoing country-level processes and pathways, new and frontier innovations must be at the forefront. Digitalisation is one of the key frontier innovations. But it takes more than innovations to see results for people. It is more about the process of delivering the innovations. Hence this policy guide shares experiences from across the Commonwealth and beyond.
Framing digitalisation for fisheries
The report takes a policy approach to digitalisation as against the conventional focus on profiling digital technologies and services for fisheries. A critical contribution of the report is the framing of digital fisheries beyond digital technologies and services. The results in each region were based on an assessment using the “digital fisheries framework” developed by the Secretariat in collaboration with other partners, which consists of three pillars and a base – pillar 1 (digital innovations), pillar 2 (data infrastructure), pillar 3 (business development), and the base (enabling environment) (see figure).
The framework lays a foundation for understanding the state of digital fisheries in the Commonwealth, provides a basis for future country-level assessments, presents an outline for developing a universal index for monitoring the deployment of digitalisation within the sector, as well as supporting the national digital fisheries strategies development process.
A high-level digital fisheries landscape across the Commonwealth through the lens of the framework:
- Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) and vessel monitoring systems (VMS) to collate data and track the fishing footprint of individual vessels as well as digital payment solutions are widely used across the region.
- Unfortunately, the absence of coordinated data infrastructure means poor maritime surveillance and failure to monitor illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) activities.
- Donor-driven approach to the development of new innovations dominates the region with less entrepreneurship in fisheries digitalisation.
- The enabling environments for digitalisation vary across the region with the main hurdle being network connectivity for the use of mobile devices.
Commonwealth Caribbean and Americas:
- The use of digital innovations is low in the Caribbean with fishers mainly relying on basic digital solutions and services such as voice calls, WhatsApp messaging and Microsoft Word and Excel for data collection and storage.
- Through the Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), Canada has made significant progress with infrastructure for fisheries-related data, but fisheries data is still somewhat lacking.
- In general, accessibility and knowledge of digital technologies within the region is considered “good”, but progress is disjointed with several pilots and initiatives.
- The Pacific region’s data infrastructure is underdeveloped and fragmented at the national level with lots of issues managing the large amounts of fisheries data collected by governments.
- While the uptake of digital innovations within the UK’s fisheries is slow, the Mediterranean’s fisheries have little technology or research and development currently happening within the sector.
- The United Kingdom has one of the most promising enabling environments in the Commonwealth with good infrastructure, educational levels and data collection.
The way forward
The transformation of artisanal fisheries within the Commonwealth is central to the cultural and economic well-being of people. Digitalisation has the potential to positively impact this transformation process. The report and the underlying framework are the starting point for enabling Commonwealth member countries and regions to fully exploit the new digital innovations. And the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment is designed to support member states in creating that policy-enabling environment for the digitalisation of the sector so that it attracts the investment needed to support the goal of increased food security.
 Can be subsistence or commercial and involves the use of relatively low-level technologies such as small canoes or boats instead of larger, more powerful vessels; no engines or very simple low-power engines; and traditional fishing gear such as spears or hand reels.
Read: State of Digital Fisheries in the Commonwealth – A Baseline Report 2023
About Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda
The United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) is inviting private sectors innovators to submit proposals on digital innovative solutions to support micro to medium scale Pacific Agribusinesses.
The Pacific Agri-MSME Digital Innovation Challenge will offer grants of up to USD 80,000 and a range of support services to design and launch digital solutions that support the development and expansion of agribusiness models and solutions. Proposed solutions must be carried out in one or more of the following countries in the Pacific region: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tonga, Timor-Leste, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The goal is to support the development and growth of digital agribusiness models and solutions to alleviate financial and other constraints for agribusinesses and smallholder farmers, particularly women and youth, in the region following the disruptions caused by COVID-19 in agricultural value chains.
The Digital Innovation Challenge focuses on areas identified in the Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap (the Strategy), endorsed by Trade Ministers in 2021 and coordinated by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. These areas are access to markets, access to finance or capital, access to inputs, efficient business processes, and access to information and skills. Winning innovative solutions carry the potential to enhance agribusiness activities and support inclusive trade by promoting digital and innovative solutions to address unique agricultural challenges in the Pacific.
The Digital Innovation Challenge is possible thanks to the Pacific Digital Economy Programme, which is jointly implemented by UNCDF, the UN Development Programme and the UN Conference for Trade and Development. The programme is supported by the Government of Australia and the European Union.
Deadline: Monday 12 June 2023
Countries: Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tonga, Timor-Leste, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
For more information and to apply: click here
The Pacific E-commerce Initiative welcomes the launch of M-PAiSA Mastercard, an exciting addition to Pacific e-payment solutions.
Through M-PAiSA Mastercard, the partnership between Vodafone and Mastercard in Fiji opens the doors for M-PAiSA customers to purchase products domestically and internationally with assured security. Vodafone Fiji Board Chair, Mr Joe Taoi, said, “The launch of M-PAiSA Mastercard will truly transform M-PAiSA into an open loop, globally accepted payment platform allowing users to be able to make online and overseas payment also”.
During the launching event, Hon. Manoa Kamikamica, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Cooperatives, Small and Medium Enterprises, and Communications, emphasised, “Digital wallets as simple as M-PAiSA genuinely have a positive influence on the Fijian economy. As a powerful tool digital wallets such as M-PAiSA have accelerated development and promoted equality, mobilising funds in the informal sector and empowering our rural communities.”
In his remarks, Mastercard Director Pacific Islands, Mr Craig Kirkland, shared his enthusiasm on the outcomes of the partnership, “Already in the pilot phase we have seen some really great insight into customer behaviour when you provide them a solution that meets their needs and allows them the freedom to spend their own money in a way that suits them.”
The Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap (the Strategy), endorsed by Pacific Trade Ministers in 2021, highlighted the limited presence of electronic transactions in the Pacific region and the necessity for user-friendly payment gateways. To address this challenge, the Strategy emphasised the importance of forming partnerships with leading global providers as a potential solution.
In alignment with the Strategy’s objectives, the partnership between Vodafone and Mastercard directly addresses these concerns. Specifically, it fulfills Measure 5.1.5 of the Strategy, which focuses on operationalising partnerships with leading payment solutions providers for the creation of Pacific digital wallets with simple functionalities.
Vodafone welcomes registration for M-Paisa Mastercard with online registration available for the convenience of customers. The first 100,000 customers to complete sign-up will receive their Mastercard free of charge.
For more information: Vodafone Fiji – M-PAiSA-Mastercard
Read Full Remarks: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister For Trade, Co-Operatives And Small And Medium Enterprises, and Communications Manoa Kamikamica
A groundbreaking summit to help close the global digital divide is taking place this June. It’s the first in-person session since 2019, when it inspired transformation in a rural community in Armenia.
In the mountainous village of Shaghap, in the Armenian region of Ararat, over 170 families live in a quiet area far from urban centers. Agriculture and husbandry have long been their main source of income, with other activities complementing it: a tobacco factory, a small pastry shop, and a bed and breakfast for tourists who are eager to venture into the Armenian mountains. But the lack of new opportunities has led to the exodus of Shaghap’s youth to the capital city of Yerevan and other larger cities, where they can find other jobs and create better opportunities for their future.
The lack of opportunities was partly due to the limited Internet access available in Ararat: the whole village relied on mobile connectivity with data caps to get online. Left behind by service providers because of their remote location and costly infrastructure investment, high-speed Internet was just a dream. Entertainment options were also scarce, limited to a handful of TV channels that were also the main source of information.
But this started to change when the village came together to build a fiber community network—after learning from similar experiences in the region.
Becoming Part of a Global Movement
Driven by Kristine Gyonjyan, Director Union of Operators of Armenia, the people in Shaghap saw an opportunity when they learned about community networks during the 2019 European Community Networks Summit. The summit was led by the Internet Society and held in the neighboring country of Georgia. During the summit, people from all over the region working with community networks shared their experiences, including representatives from guifi.net in Barcelona, Sarantaporo in Greece, Suusamyr in Kyrgyzstan, and Tusheti in Georgia. The event also shared how to leverage public and private investment for these types of networks, and how to create an enabling regulatory environment allowing them to grow and thrive.
The Internet Society by:
- Supporting initiatives to deploy Internet infrastructure to connect those who need it most
- Reaching areas where traditional providers don’t operate
- Supporting the development of local technical skills
People in Shaghap had thought about connecting underserved areas with fiber optic cables. Learning about the experience of others who had set up community networks made it seem more realistic. They started by kicking off conversations with members of the community, network operators, the Union of Operators of Armenia, and the Armenian government. The idea was eventually supported by the Ministry of High-Tech Industry of Armenia and the Public Services Regulatory Commission. This led to a pilot project developed by the Union of Operators of Armenia to deploy its first community network.
After delays due to local conflicts and COVID restrictions, the project finally took off in 2021. The Union of Operators of Armenia established the Community Networks Foundation to lead this project and partnered with a local network operator, Arpinet, and the Armenian Electronic Network for the infrastructure planning and use. The community installed over 18 kilometers of fiber optic cables to bring connectivity to Shaghap from the nearby village of Vedy, and then laid another two kilometers within the village to connect several homes and buildings, including the local school.
Connectivity brought the developments that the community was seeking: the school was finally able to organize online lessons for its students, allowing them to expand their learning experiences beyond the classroom. It also helped make the case for an investment by Rostelecom to create a robotics lab at the school, helping children combine the learning of new skills through the Internet with local innovation. The local pastry shop saw an increase in business and in safety: they were able to deploy video monitoring for the store, and tourists are staying longer and ordering more now that they have access to Wi-Fi there. Last but not least, people are happier with more entertainment options at home.
The improved Internet connection is also helping people with research. Peter Cob, an archeologist working for the University of Hong Kong, says they are “trying to study the human past using digital technologies… We do 3D scans of everything we excavate, and we want to make sure this gets up to the Internet and to the university for the long-term preservation, storage, and analysis of the ancient past.”
The community network sparked attention across the country too, and was featured in a news story in two different channels. Now that the connectivity model has shown it’s capable of bringing connectivity to isolated areas, there are plans to expand this solution to seven other communities near Shaghap that will connect thousands more.
Growing the Movement
After going through the experience of deploying a successful community network, Kristine is now working to share the people of Shaghap’s experience and foster collaboration during another community networks summit, this time in Armenia.
For the first time since 2019, people working with community networks in Europe are coming together to discuss the technical issues they face, enabling policy environments and financing mechanisms for these solutions, and training and learning opportunities to deploy these networks in places that are hard to reach, like the mountainous villages of Armenia.
The Connecting the Unconnected: Europe and Beyond summit will take place in Yerevan, Armenia, on 6-7 June 2023.
Explore the agenda and register!
West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) countries have seen increased financial account ownership since 2014, with mobile money accounts driving adoption and usage.
On average, 41% of adults in the WAEMU have an account with a bank or similar institution or with a mobile money service. Senegal has the highest account ownership rate at 56%, but it still falls 15 percentage points below the developing economy average. However, there is room for growth in financial inclusion, and the Global Findex data suggests opportunities to accelerate ownership and usage through digital financial enablement.
Nearly 75% of account owners in WAEMU own a mobile money account.
In 2014, WAEMU countries had low account ownership rates, except for Côte d’Ivoire. Banks and similar institutions held most of these accounts. However, between 2014 and 2021, mobile money accounts boosted account ownership rates across most countries.
41% of adults on average have an account in WAEMU
Adults with an account (%), 2014-22
Some countries saw duplication between brick-and-mortar bank accounts and mobile money, while others like Benin and Togo saw substitution, which might suggest that already-banked adults retired their financial institution accounts in exchange for a mobile money account or that a disproportionally higher share of adults adopted mobile money accounts.
Mobile money is an important enabler of financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa
Adults with a mobile money account (%), 2014-22
But despite overall gains, some countries still have low account ownership rates for poorer adults and women. Account ownership for poor adults in WAEMU increased from 12% in 2014 to 35% in 2021, but the poorest 40% of households have 11 percentage points fewer accounts than the richest 60%. This includes a gap of over 16 percentage points in Burkina Faso and Togo.
Women’s account ownership has also increased 20 percentage points over the past decade to 35% in 2021. Mobile money has had a gender-equalizing effect in most countries, except for a 13 percentage point gap in Côte d’Ivoire, where men have adopted phone-based accounts at a higher rate.
Young adults aged 15-35 are less likely to have a bank or similar account, but this age gap is insignificant among mobile money account owners, which is important for younger adults to access digital financial services.
Digital payments are broadly popular in WAEMU
Account usage has increased due to the widespread adoption of digital payments across the WAEMU.
More than half of the adults who receive government payments in the region (except Niger) do so into an account. In addition, over 30% of private sector wage earners receive their wages directly into an account in Benin, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire, and over 45% in Mali and Senegal. This has resulted in over 20% of account owners in Burkina Faso and Mali opening their first financial institution account. However, 1.5 million adults continue to receive government wages, transfers, and pensions in cash.
Agriculture payments are still predominantly made in cash, accept in Mali, where almost 40% of farmers receive their payment directly into an account (14% of all adults). However, over 8 million unbanked adults receive agricultural payments in cash across WAEMU, including 4 million women and over 3.5 million poor adults. Yet 5 million unbanked adults receiving these cash payments have a mobile phone. Digitization of these payments into mobile money accounts could help farmers access formal financial services including seed and fertilizer financing and insurance products.
The COVID-19 pandemic has catalyzed digital payment adoption in the region, with over half of the adults who make digital merchant payments across WAEMU countries doing so for the first time during the pandemic. Digital utility payments also saw an adoption boost, although cash remains the dominant method everywhere in the region except Côte d’Ivoire and Mali.
Initiatives to expand financial inclusion should start by enabling digital payments
The expansion of digital financial accounts and payments presents an opportunity to expand financial inclusion, particularly for women and the poor, by leveraging existing momentum for digital solutions.
However, this requires tackling existing barriers to digital access and usage. Across WAEMU, there is a gender gap in mobile phone and government-issued ID ownership. The share of women with a mobile phone or ID is significantly lower than it is for men, which hinders their ability to both purchase a SIM card for their mobile phone or open an account, since ID is a key requirement for both.
In addition, more than half of unbanked adults in the WAEMU express insecurity about using an account independently, while about half of mobile money account owners report needing help using their account. These issues highlight the importance of providing financial education to improve digital and financial literacy skills, along with creation of products that consider customer abilities, and strong protection measures to ensure that customers benefit from financial access.
Taking a holistic approach to closing inclusion gaps for mobile access, documentation, and financial inclusion can have a wide-ranging impact beyond the formal financial sector.
- Digital twins – virtual representations of real-world objects or systems – allow manufacturers to run tests and learn as if they are testing in a real-world scenario.
- Manufacturers currently focus much of their use of digital twins on improving production processes or sustainability.
- As digital twins mature, manufacturers should incorporate production and sustainability metrics into a single digital twin to obtain the full benefits of the model.
Although not a new technology, digital twins – virtual representations of real-world objects or systems – are crucial in bolstering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Ranging in scale from a car to a city, constant real-time data and feedback loops ensure digital twins are accurate virtual representations. This allows manufacturers to use them and learn as if they are testing in the real world.
Currently, manufacturers take advantage of digital twins for a wide variety of purposes with the most common focusing on improving the production process or sustainability. Production digital twins can improve manufacturing through cost savings and improved efficiency. These often have positive yet overlooked side effects. The newly efficient operations tend to reduce energy and water consumption, waste and emissions, leading to a smaller environmental footprint. Similarly, while not the primary goal, sustainability-focused digital twins can lead to cost savings and improve efficiency.
Viewing production digital twins and sustainability-focused digital twins as separate entities is a missed opportunity for manufacturers. Failing to incorporate all aspects of production creates an incomplete model. As digital twins mature, manufacturers should incorporate production and sustainability metrics into a single digital twin to obtain the full benefits of the model.
What is a digital twin?
A digital twin can be described as an information mirror model or an exact 3D virtual representation of real-world systems. Digital twins often simulate how a “twin” will fare in a wide range of scenarios, identify operation bottlenecks and compare expected results with real-time production.
Digital twins receive data from various sensors monitoring the real-world twin. In a manufacturing setting, for example, sensors can measure a wide range of information, such as performance outputs (number of holes drilled, energy consumed and so forth) or environmental information (weather conditions, for example). This information is then analysed with the help of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).
The beauty of the digital twin system is it allows for continuous improvement: the real twin feeds data to the digital twin, and the digital twin identifies areas for improvement and provides solutions. These suggestions are adapted and the cycle begins again. The Hitachi Digital Twin Solution is a prime example: a digital twin is created for each machine at its manufacturing site and receives a constant flow of data. The digital twin allows the factory to identify problems early and often, preventing more significant issues from arising.
Another adaptor of the digital twin is the automotive industry. BMW has digitized many of its factories and created the BMW iFACTORY, a digital tool that looks similar to Google Street View. According to BMW, this digital twin promotes international collaboration between factories. The production team uses the BMW iFactory to visit any factory worldwide to gain quantitative data from the factory floor and compare best practices.
Digital twins in manufacturing: production vs sustainability
Many manufacturers worldwide use digital twins to improve production efficiency. A recent white paper by the World Economic Forum’s Global Lighthouse Network (GLN) highlights factories leading the way in digital transformations. Many of these factories emphasize process-focused digital twins as critical enablers for success.
One example is the LG Electronics factory in Changwon, Korea. The factory transformed its assembly line visual simulation tool into a digital twin by continuously integrating real-time production data into the system with updates occurring every 30 seconds. As a result, they improved productivity by 17%, product quality by 70%, and reduced energy consumption by 30%.
Another example is Procter & Gamble’s factory in Guangzhou, China. The factory employed a digital twin to improve warehouse operations. Within a three-year period, the digital twin led to 99.9% of deliveries on time, a 30% reduction in inventory and a 15% reduction in logistic costs.
These examples and many other production digital twins have overlooked sustainability as a side effect. The newly efficient operation reduces energy consumption and waste, leading to a smaller environmental footprint. As mentioned above, the LG Electronics factory minimized energy consumption by 30%, while the Procter and Gamble factory reduced inventory by 30%. These mark a drastic reduction in resource consumption, making its processes more sustainable.
In an interview with the World Economic Forum in 2022, Peter Herweck, the CEO of Schneider Electric, stated: “Effectively integrated digitalization and sustainability drive deeper, broader change when they are aligned.”
Moving forward: a singular digital twin
Although small in numbers, the dual-focused digital twin is not an idea of the future. Western Digital in Penang, Malaysia, has used digital twins to create a “lights-out automation” system. “Lights out manufacturing”, where a system operates without lights, transforms the entire process by integrating sustainability and efficiency goals. While the site has grown with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 43% in the last four years, the lights-out automation has reduced energy consumption by 41%.
Sustainability and production efficiency reinforce one another. Failing to incorporate all aspects into the digital twins model creates an incomplete digital picture and prevents continuous improvement. If sustainability or efficiency is viewed as a byproduct rather than a result, the information is not fed into the model. As a result, it is impossible to build off these insights to facilitate further improvement. As digital twins mature, sustainability and production efficiency should be viewed as integrated components of a complex system or as core components of the industrial metaverse.
Veronique Adenis, Project Fellow, Advanced Manufacturing and Supply Chains, World Economic Forum, contributed to this article.
Each year on 17 May, we dedicate the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) to a specific topic where digital development needs extra attention.
None of them is more urgent than this year’s WTISD theme – bringing the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) into the digital era. More than just an economic opportunity, this is also a moral imperative.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has helped shape the development of numerous technologies over the years – like radio, television, satellites, the Internet, and mobile communications – that have become part of the fabric of our lives. With artificial intelligence (AI) and today’s emerging generative AI, the pace of tech innovation is accelerating yet again.
We must – both as the United Nations agency for digital technologies and as a global society – ensure these technologies are safe and developed responsibly. We also need to bring the benefits of these technologies to everyone, everywhere.
This means looking to the digital future with confidence in who we are, and in what we can do together to bend the arc of tech history towards inclusion. LDCs must not be left behind in our new digital era.
We can no longer define them only by what they lack. Instead, let us define LDCs by what they can be.
Mobilizing partnerships for connectivity
ITU has prioritized LDCs, and so has the fast-growing ITU-led Partner2Connect Digital Coalition. Out of some USD 30 billion mobilized in Partner2Connect pledges so far, more than one third directly targets at least one LDC.
Pledges already received – from governments and companies around the world – show what we can all do, together, to address some of the most unjust digital inequalities. The challenges facing LDCs range from unaffordable Internet access to a digital gender gap that shows no sign of narrowing.
Of course, these issues are too big for any one player to face alone. Partner2Connect needs more players and champions; partners who think big and are bold.
Our next big goal – which I announced at ITU Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on WTISD 2023 – is to reach USD 100 billion in pledges in the next three years.
To keep up the momentum, I am calling on the public and private sectors to step up their pledges for universal connectivity and sustainable global digital transformation.
Digital rescue for the SDGs
For both ITU and the wider Partner2Connect digital coalition, success rests on our collective commitment to reach the hardest-to-connect communities, many of which are in LDCs. Doing this goes hand in hand with rescuing the Global Goals – the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.
Today, at the halfway point in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, just over 10 per cent of the original SDG targets remain on track. As of now, the SDGs are failing, and we need to rescue them.
Through game-changing digital technologies, we can mobilize greater action on the SDGs where it matters most.
SDG Digital Day, taking place on 17 September in New York, will put data and digital technologies front and centre during the upcoming SDG Summit.
This is our opportunity to create lasting digital justice, prosperity, and sustainability for all. What we do now will matter for generations to come in LDCs and beyond.
World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), celebrated every 17 May to mark ITU’s establishment in 1865, highlights the benefits of digital technologies and raises awareness about the global digital divide.
The International Trade Centre, a joint UN and WTO agency, with the support of the European Union, helps small businesses from five Central Asian countries sell artisanal products through e-commerce marketplace NOVICA.
(Almaty) E-commerce platform NOVICA launches the Silk Road region Artisan Empowerment Hub and Artisans Connect online store in Central Asia to support small businesses to sell handmade goods online, as part of the Ready4Trade Central Asia project funded by the European Union and implemented by the International Trade Centre (ITC).
Access to international marketplaces is not equal across the world, and online platforms play a key role in strengthening the e-commerce ecosystem. With this launch, artisans from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will be able to access new online sales channels to target international customers.
“The European Union’s Ready4Trade Central Asia project is a project of cooperation. We believe that Central Asia will be stronger together, too. The Ready4Trade project supports e-commerce for small businesses in Central Asia. Using NOVICA, Artisan Empowerment Hub businesses of Central Asia will be stronger, better visible internationally and more resilient,” said EU Ambassador, Kestutis Jankauskas.
Onboarding businesses, making sales
The Artisan Empowerment Hub will help manage the complexities of international trade and shipping, while overseeing all aspects of end-customer satisfaction. To start, the Hub will select 40 artisans from the Ready4Trade project, manage their onboarding onto the NOVICA online channels and handle all aspects of showcasing, selling, packaging and express shipping their wares. The Hub provides access to the NOVICA store and other platforms that are not directly accessible to artisans. These include the UNICEF market, Kiva Store, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, Road Scholar World Bazaar, and NOVICA stores on Amazon, Overstock and Wayfair.
“The rich arts and handmade jewelry traditions of Central Asia will impassion millions of fairtrade customers,” said Roberto Milk, co-founder and CEO of NOVICA, adding, “We are working hard to help preserve and strengthen the region’s incredible decorative traditions, in which ornate amulets and talismans still rule – and where the jewelry arts are passed down from generation to generation.”
The e-commerce store, Artisans Connect, highlights goods from businesses that have received e-commerce capacity building and one-on-one coaching as part of the four-year project. In Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, the project supported 34 trainers and 155 artisans and businesses (of which 98 are women-led). ITC-trained national coaches hosted over 1,200 one-on-one tailored sessions in 28 regions in the three countries.
In addition, 50 artisans and businesses in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan received customized support to adapt to these countries’ e-commerce ecosystems. As of 2022, over $2.5 million in sales were achieved through online channels opened or optimized by the project, in advance of the permanent Artisan Empowerment Hub launch. In Kazakhstan, the capacity building and coaching initiatives were implemented in partnership with QazTrade Center for Trade Policy Development JSC and the Union of Artisans of Kazakhstan.
Building on a strong partnership
“For small businesses to trade more in global markets, connecting to online marketplaces is key,” said ITC Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton. “It’s not only about getting online, but having the skills to attract customers, to package and ship goods, and to engage with customers. With the launch of this Hub and e-commerce store with NOVICA, small firms will have the practical support they need to sell more handmade goods to customers worldwide, quickly and smoothly.”
ITC and NOVICA first signed a memorandum of understanding in 2021 and have since been collaborating closely to improve opportunities for artisans globally. The global handcrafts sector has major growth potential: The market was worth $752.2 billion in 2022. Historically, only the smallest percentage of that global sales figure trickles back to artisans and working conditions for many are abysmal. NOVICA and ITC are working together to tackle these issues.
Notes for the Editor
About the project:
Ready4Trade Central Asia is a four-year EU-funded project implemented by the International Trade Centre in close collaboration with national partners, designed to contribute to the overall sustainable and inclusive economic development of Central Asia by boosting intra-regional and international trade in the countries of the region. Beneficiaries of the Ready4Trade Central Asia project include governments, small and medium-sized enterprises, in particular women-led enterprises, and business support organizations.
Four emerging approaches to national data policies, as data is becoming a key component of the digital economy.
Digital technologies are driving major technological shifts in today’s economy. While the impacts of these shifts were initially confined to areas such as e-commerce, media and entertainment, they are having cross-sectoral economic impacts through the digitalization of productive sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture.
New “Industry 4.0” innovations are reshaping models of industrial organization in manufacturing.
These technological shifts are not only disrupting traditional production processes. In services, the rapid growth of digitally delivered services has led to the emergence of new service sectors, such as finance services and cloud computing. In manufacturing, new “Industry 4.0” innovations associated with robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are reshaping models of industrial organization.1
Use of digital technology by manufacturing firms around the world
As the figure above shows, the implications of these technological shifts are not limited to advanced economies.2 While developing countries are seeing rising numbers of digital users, they don’t seem to be experiencing a similar expansion of digital leaders; these continue to be concentrated in a handful of advanced economies (see the map below). The digital economy has the potential to open up new avenues for technological and industrial development, but technological shifts also threaten to widen the global technological divide, exacerbating structural inequalities.
Economies actively engaging with ADP technologies
Data and the data value chain
Data has emerged as a key component of the digital economy. It is a cornerstone of business models, whether in the form of data-driven scheduling of transportation, the monitoring of production or the monetization of consumer data. Consequently, data policies are key for creating and capturing value in the digital economy.
Data policies are key for creating and capturing value in the digital economy.
While data might be seen as a resource just waiting to be exploited, targeted actions, infrastructure and capabilities are needed if data is to generate value. With the growing complexity of data, it is useful to break down the related processes into an illustrative “data value chain” (see figure below). Based on the data value chain, we can investigate the distinct stages through which data are produced/collected, stored, analysed and used to feed into decision-making processes.
Data has emerged as a key component of the digital economy. It is a cornerstone of business models, whether in the form of data-driven scheduling of transportation, the monitoring of production or the monetization of consumer data. Consequently, data policies are key for creating and capturing value in the digital economy.
Data policies are key for creating and capturing value in the digital economy.
While data might be seen as a resource just waiting to be exploited, targeted actions, infrastructure and capabilities are needed if data is to generate value. With the growing complexity of data, it is useful to break down the related processes into an illustrative “data value chain” (see figure below). Based on the data value chain, we can investigate the distinct stages through which data are produced/collected, stored, analysed and used to feed into decision-making processes.
Simplified data value chain
Aligning industrial and digital policies in developing countries
Many countries in the technology race are “digital latecomers” and lag behind the digital cutting edge. This group includes emerging and developing countries, but also parts of Europe.3 While policies to support the technological capability development of latecomer firms are well known, less is known about how industrial policies can be aligned with strategies for the digital economy.
Data policies are increasingly incorporating economic objectives.
The underlying reasons for developing a data policy include, among others, cybersecurity, consumer protection and privacy. Yet data policies are increasingly incorporating economic objectives as well, moving beyond a simple binary of “data blocking” versus “free flow of data” to include a broader range of policy tools along data value chains.4
Each stage within the data value chain entails different costs, activities and capabilities. In the data collection stage, revolving around technologies such as IoT and digitisation of machines, policies supporting data standards, data sharing and government data are important. For storage, instead, where distributed systems and databases are key, requirement will centre more closely on supporting digital infrastructure. The analytics stage necessitates a range of capabilities for data processing, data science and machine learning. The final stage relates to the applications, where businesses and service integration will be crucial. Hence, the distinct skills, technological requirements and data policies implemented in latecomer economies will depend on their stage in the data value chain.5
Considering data pathways
National data policies continue to evolve, but we are beginning to see some coherence around four major pathways where governments focus on specific stages within the data value chain.
The first is data sovereignty and localization rules as a foundation for data ecosystems. Several countries are nurturing local data economies by incorporating more targeted industrial policies around data localization and local control. Their efforts are often positioned as digital or data sovereignty. The second is strategic government initiatives to support data economies. Governments in several developing countries are implementing strategies to promote accessibility and use of strategic data as the foundation for building a data economy.
Several countries that are in the information processing and data analytics stage are exploiting opportunities in “low value” data processes. These include activities such as simple analytics, content curation and “clickwork” (routine online tasks). It is not clear, though, whether these low value data activities will serve as a stepping stone to higher tiers in the data value chain.
Finally, some economies are building sector-specific applications linked to data. Policies that drive the adoption of data-rich applications can ultimately lead to new opportunities and demands. The focus here is on data used in key industrial sectors and applications, supported by data capacity-building, industrial data infrastructure and national demonstrators.
These four pathways show that data policies are being integrated into broader sectoral and economic policies, and aligned with broader development goals. These pathways are still emerging, however, and it is not certain whether they will lead to technological catch-up. Yet they provide an important first step for exploring how data policy can be integrated into industrial development strategies going forward.
Data policies are being integrated into broader sectoral and economic policies, and aligned with broader development goals.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the authors based on their experience and on prior research and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNIDO (read more).
46 participants from the Pacific obtained certificates of completion from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) organized course on “Digital Identity for Trade and Development” (DITD) for Small Island Developing States (SIDS).
Participants that attended the training were from Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Cook Islands.
The course which was delivered remotely from 13 February to 17 March 2023, covered six modules including the Fundamental Concepts of Digital Identity; Data Protection; Digital Identity Usage; Governance; Digital Identity Technology Solutions & Risks; and Digital Trade Agreement.
The course received positive feedback, considering that many countries are seeking to or already progressing their digital identity systems. Participants found the course useful in providing them with the necessary tools to develop their systems, and an opportunity to learn from other countries’ experiences and from experts.
The delivery of the training contributes to the implementation of the Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap specifically key priority areas 4 and 6; respectively E-commerce related laws are made or amended based on UNCITRAL model laws as best international standard, plus other best international practices and Digital skills are enhanced for all.
More on: UNCTAD Digital Economy in Small Island Developing States
In March, the ECA Office in North Africa and the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Morocco (AFEM) held a webinar on “Female entrepreneurship in North Africa: the role of finance and digital skills.” This was the first in the series of policy dialogues towards fostering productive female entrepreneurship in North Africa that the Office will organize in 2023, with the next webinar set for June 7th.
Participants underscored the need to seize new opportunities for encouraging female entrepreneurship to ensure inclusive and resilient crisis recovery in North Africa. One such area is the accelerated digitalization that the Covid-19 pandemic brought about. It underscored the importance of digital skills for women’s effective production, marketing and management as well as for use of digital finance and e-commerce.
The webinar emphasized that given the wide spectrum of constraints that women entrepreneurs face, policymakers, financial sector institutions and development partners need to adopt a multiple-pronged approach to address them. A conducive business environment is important, including stable macroeconomic conditions with monetary policy allowing for adequate supply of credit to the private sector.
In addition, all stakeholders should join forces to accelerate the shift in mindsets about the so far underutilized contributions of North African women to the formal economy. Women’s paid work (often informal and less paid than men’s), and female-led firms (mostly micro and small enterprises in services) have been hit particularly hard by the multiple crises that have affected North Africa since 2019. This has led to a rise in female unemployment, exceeding 20% in Algeria, Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and averaging 23.4% for the North Africa region in 2022, up from 20.8% in 2019.
North Africa’s middle-income countries have a low female entrepreneurship rate
According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, despite a high prevalence of entrepreneurial intentions, only about 6% of adult female population (ages 18 -64) in Egypt and Morocco were either starting or operating new firms in 2021. This is less than in most other middle-income countries (MICs), but it also reflects that North African MICs have some of the lowest female participation rates in the labour force globally.
One possibility of encouraging female entrepreneurship is promoting family firms. “Our analysis shows that in North African MICs, family enterprises are a particularly promising avenue for bringing more women into the labour market” said Zuzana Brixiova Schwidrowski, Director of the ECA’ North Africa Office. “These enterprises warrant policymakers’ support, which should be supplemented by childcare infrastructure in support of women balancing household and work responsibilities”.
Bringing more women in North African MICs into the labour force is also a key tool for mitigating emerging demographic trends. “We are underestimating how fast North Africa is aging. By 2050, the majority of the population in North Africa will be aged 64 and more. Against the rising old-age dependency ratio, women’s contribution to the economy is going to be critical,” said Senior World Bank Economist Helena Bardasi.
Access to finance is a longstanding key obstacle for female entrepreneurs in North Africa. The subregion’s 18 percentage point gender gap (the largest in the world) limits the growth of women-led businesses and confines them to the informal sector. Moreover, most female entrepreneurs rely on their or family savings rather than borrowing as their main source of capital. While the lack of financial and digital education as well as soft skills contributes, legal constraints also limit women’s borrowing options especially when collateral is required. Other constraints are the traditional gender roles, family duties and limited mobility due to safety concerns.
Changing laws and mindsets will require a set of complementary interventions
“There is no silver bullet”, said H. Bardasi, who explained that governments need to create an enabling environment for female entrepreneurship to reach their potential. Actions would include, for example, introducing regulations that facilitate women’s access to property or amending the requirements imposed in terms of guarantees to secure loans. To ease social constraints such as women’s traditional roles, there will be a need for both top-down and bottom-up approaches to change and opinion leaders and men will have to be included in the conversation to change mentalities.
In her first presentation of the preliminary results of the upcoming, joint ECA-Oxford Economics Africa report on gender-lens investment, Calle Davis, an economist at Oxford Economics Africa, focused on improving access to financing by women-led SMEs and establishing a more gendered entrepreneurship ecosystems.
The AFEM President Leila Doukkali underscored that while availability of funding is a frequently mentioned issue, how female entrepreneurs apply for it is also a part of the challenge. Insufficient financial education is also an obstacle to female entrepreneurship. The reality on the ground is that the changes we are seeking require financial and digital training, she explained.
AFEM vice-president for digital transformation Souad Tarmidi elaborated that digital technologies give women an opportunity to utilize online trade networks. She insisted that ICT training for women needs to be tailored to their needs, and away from stereotypes that surround women in relation to these technologies.
This help should also translate into additional support and mentorship for female owned businesses, whose exit rates in the region are higher than of those run by men, said Ihssane Iraqui a Women in Business Manager at the EBRD offices in Morocco who currently also prepares with the North Africa office a series of EBRD-ECA training workshops for women entrepreneurs.
The webinar on “Female entrepreneurship in North Africa: the role of finance and digital skills” took place on International Women’s Day and as part of the preparations for the 55th Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development of the Economic Commission for Africa (COM2023) scheduled in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) on 15-21 March 2023 under the theme: “Fostering recovery and transformation in Africa to reduce inequalities and vulnerabilities.”
The next webinar on productive female entrepreneurship will take place on June 7, 2023.
Connect to the Economic Commission for Africa YouTube channel to watch the whole webinar on Female entrepreneurship in North Africa: the role of finance and digital skills
A Sub-regional Workshop on cross-border e-commerce for Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was delivered from 8 to 11 May 2023 at the Sabah branch of the WCO Regional Training Centre (RTC) in Malaysia with the support of the Regional Office for Capacity Building for the Asia-Pacific region (ROCB A/P). The objectives of the Workshop were to raise awareness of the WCO tools and initiatives aimed at facilitating and securing cross-border e-commerce and to discuss challenges and possible solutions in this area.
The event was organized with the financial support of the Customs Cooperation Fund of Japan (CCF Japan) and benefitted from the participation of 13 Customs officials from eight ASEAN Members.
Throughout the event, the Workshop facilitators provided detailed explanations of the 16 standards of the WCO Framework of Standards on Cross-Border E-Commerce and the tools available to support their implementation. In addition, the Workshop agenda included discussions on the WCO Immediate Release Guidelines and the tools developed jointly with the UPU, such as the WCO-UPU Postal Customs Guide and the WCO-UPU Guidelines on the exchange of electronic advance data between designated operators and Customs administrations.
The beneficiary Members delivered presentations focusing on the legislative and procedural aspects of handling shipments imported through postal and express courier services. Presentations were delivered also by the Universal Postal Union, the WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for the Asia-Pacific region (RILO A/P), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and DHL. These presentations were the basis for lively discussions and valuable exchanges of information on challenges and good practices.
“While we face similar challenges, each of our administrations has strengths and weaknesses with regard to the solutions we apply to address these challenges. Through the workshop we were able to learn from each other and gain knowledge that will support us in improving the legislation and procedures of our countries” said one of the participants at the end of the workshop.
In her closing remarks the Director of the Royal Malaysian Customs Academy (AKMAL), Raizam Binti Setapa Mustapha encouraged the participants to share the knowledge gained and lessons learnt during the workshop within their administrations and confirmed the readiness of the WCO RTC in Malaysia to host similar events in the future.
WTO members on 16 May shared experiences on facilitating digital trade and electronic transactions and discussed what the WTO can do to address this topic. The discussions took place in a dedicated session under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce.
Singapore presented its experience with the TradeTrust framework, an initiative connecting governments and businesses to a public blockchain to enable safe exchange of electronic trade documents across digital platforms. This framework relies on digitalisation to avoid difficulties in undertaking transactions and to cut costs associated with paper-based trade across borders.
The United Kingdom made a presentation on trade digitalisation, which focussed on utilising digital technologies to improve trade processes and to make trade transactions easier and faster, especially for small business. It noted that trade digitalisation can be promoted by addressing legal, technical and commercial barriers to the digitalisation of paper-based processes.
Brazil presented its experience on implementing electronic “single window” systems for cross-border transactions and the benefits such a system brings. These benefits include achieving a faster clearance time, increasing government revenue, reducing compliance costs and improving the transparency and efficiency of customs procedures.
Several members shared their practices in free trade agreements in areas such as paperless trading, e-payments, e-contracts, e-signatures, e-invoicing and electronic transaction frameworks. They highlighted, in particular, some specific obstacles that hinder digital trade facilitation.
Ambassador Usha Dwarka-Canabady of Mauritius, the facilitator of the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and the e-commerce moratorium, welcomed members’ exchanges on their national practices, underlining the broad geographical spectrum of the presentations.
- The World Economic Forum and the Government of Malaysia have established the first Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR Malaysia) in the ASEAN region
- C4IR Malaysia will focus on the digital economy, the energy transition and digital transformation
- The Prime Minister of Malaysia and the President of the World Economic Forum open the launch event today
- For more information on C4IR Malaysia and the Forum’s C4IR Network, click here
The Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Malaysia (C4IR Malaysia) was officially launched today by the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim, and the President of the World Economic Forum, Børge Brende.
C4IR Malaysia will play a crucial role in driving the advancement of the digital economy in Malaysia, with a focus on supporting the country’s energy transition and digital transformation. The centre will serve as a public-private platform, bringing together leaders from government, business, civil society, academia and other sectors to advance new partnerships and initiatives that can unlock the value of technology for Malaysia’s economy and society. The centre is hosted by MyDIGITAL, a national initiative aimed at transforming Malaysia into a digitally driven, high-income nation and a regional leader.
This initiative marks a significant milestone in Malaysia’s journey to becoming a global leader in technology governance and innovation. C4IR Malaysia is the first centre in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region as part of the World Economic Forum’s global C4IR Network. With this launch, Malaysia has now joined a community of 18 centres, where new and innovative approaches to technology governance, adoption and scaling are being developed and implemented at the national, regional and international levels.
Anwar Ibrahim, Prime Minister of Malaysia, said: “Malaysia is honored to be part of the global network of Centres for the Fourth Industrial Revolution with the first Centre for 4IR in Southeast Asia. This is a testament to the critical value of Malaysia’s efforts to become an advanced, digitally-driven, high-income nation and a regional digital economy leader fostering innovation, entrepreneurship and collaborations between stakeholders. The Malaysia Centre for 4IR will further strengthen Malaysia’s human-centered policy towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution and contribute towards our target of entering the Top 20 in the Global Innovation Index. We are confident that a resilience-oriented approach will also improve the nation’s People’s Wellbeing Index score and enhance productivity to create inclusive, balanced, responsible and sustainable economic growth.”
Addressing the leaders at the launch, Børge Brende, President, World Economic Forum said: “Malaysia’s leadership in the region and commitment to driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution is commendable. Through the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Malaysia, we are excited to work together with the government, business and civil society leaders to unlock the value of technology for the benefit of all Malaysians. This partnership will not only drive transformation but also help build a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient future for Malaysia and the region.”
Following the official launch, C4IR Malaysia hosted two roundtable discussions to address its thematic priorities, inviting leaders from business, government and other sectors to share key priorities and opportunities for the energy transition and digital transformation. These insights will serve as the foundation for C4IR Malaysia’s core initiatives, informing its strategic planning and programme development.
Fabian Bigar, CEO of MyDIGITAL and Head of Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Malaysia said, “MyDIGITAL team is proud to be entrusted with the responsibility of making Centre for 4IR Malaysia a success in achieving its goals. The establishment of the Centre for 4IR Malaysia aligns with and further fortifies our initiatives to catalyse homegrown technology development by enhancing collaborative opportunities among stakeholders to unlock value in 4IR technologies, with a focus on supporting the country’s energy transition and digital transformation.”
From adoption to transformation to regional leadership, C4IR Malaysia is a critical establishment that will help drive the country’s transition to an advanced digital economy. By joining the global ecosystem of technology governance innovators and leaders, C4IR Malaysia is poised to contribute significantly to Malaysia’s economic and social development in the years to come.
The World Economic Forum’s global C4IR Network is a platform for multistakeholder collaboration, bringing together the public and private sectors to maximize technological benefits to society while minimizing the risks associated with 4IR technologies.
The event will be held in Geneva from 4 to 8 December to explore the key trends, opportunities and challenges that will shape the future of the digital economy.
UNCTAD eWeek 2023 will bring together ministers, thought leaders, industry experts, civil society representatives and practitioners from around the world to discuss the latest developments and strategies for driving the digital transformation in a sustainable way.
A call for proposals to organize a session at the event (formerly known as eCommerce Week) is now open. To qualify, all proposals must be submitted via this online form by 23 June 2023. Relevant instructions and selection criteria are provided on the form.
“Digitalization is the most influential mega-trend of our times. The UNCTAD eWeek will offer a unique opportunity for constructive and inclusive dialogue to generate insights and prompt actions for global efforts in determining our digital future,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan said.
A digital future for all
The digital economy has grown at an unprecedented pace, with digital technologies transforming the way we live, work and do business.
With the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating the adoption of digital technologies, it has become more important than ever to understand how digital solutions can play a pivotal role in tackling economic, social and environmental challenges.
Despite these advances, digital and data divides are widening. Artificial intelligence, blockchain, cybersecurity, cloud computing and other technologies are increasing the risk of greater inequalities between and within countries.
For everyone to benefit from the digital future, Ms. Grynspan said, the international community needs to find new ways to close digital and data divides and create frameworks that enable the digital economy to generate inclusive, equitable and sustainable development.
She said digitalization is now firmly ingrained in the wider discourse on development, including in the context of Agenda 2030, the UN Secretary-General’s “Our Common Agenda” and preparations for the 2024 Summit of the Future.
Through interactive sessions, panel discussions, and keynote speeches, UNCTAD eWeek 2023 participants will gain a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the digital economy and contribute with fresh perspectives on the digital future that we want.
To be considered, session proposals should include:
- Innovation to offer a unique and fresh perspective to the discussion on the future of the digital economy.
- The identification of scalable good practices and possible policy avenues.
- Concrete actions and actionable steps to help shape an inclusive and sustainable future of the digital economy.
The UNCTAD-led eTrade for all initiative will foster comprehensive, cross-cutting and multi-stakeholder discussions and debates.
Thirty-four women from across Cameroon have benefitted from a three-day digital business bootcamp designed to equip them with the skills necessary to scale up their businesses globally.
The Commonwealth Secretariat partnered with the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) on the bootcamp, which ran from 2 May to 4 May 2023 in Yaoundé, focusing on upskilling women business owners in Cameroon.
Research reveals that women entrepreneurs are at a disadvantage in accessing digital infrastructure and participating in e-commerce platforms. The bootcamp aimed to help address that deficit by providing skills and resources in entrepreneurship, financial literacy and digital know-how.
One of the entrepreneurs attending the bootcamp, Buma Emeline from the Fonds Régional Pour la Promotion de Santé du Centre – an organisation working in Cameroon to ensure patients are offered quality medication and health facilities – said the workshop would help her better market her products and medical advice, and learn how to engage more partners to reach more citizens.
Opening the bootcamp, Secretary General of Cameroon’s Ministry of Trade, Brusil Miranda Metou, said:
“To better leverage the benefit from e-commerce, you need to master its contours… The training that you will receive over the next three days will enable you to diversify your activities and facilitate your inclusion in the national, regional and international value chains.”
Ms Metou thanked the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) for organising the bootcamp, which, she said, would strengthen the role of women in the e-commerce process and development of Cameroon.
The bootcamp was part of a wider initiative of the Commonwealth Secretariat and the ITFC, which has been supporting the Government of Cameroon with technical assistance and capacity building on trade opportunities.
Under the initiative, the Secretariat and ITFC facilitated the development of an e-commerce strategy for Cameroon, produced a training manual on leveraging e-commerce capabilities and hosted two training sessions for women entrepreneurs in Cameroon. With this bootcamp, 100 entrepreneurs have been trained through the initiative, with the goal of training at least an additional 50 women.
Speaking at the bootcamp, Opeyemi Abebe, Head of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Trade Competitiveness Section, said:
“To facilitate trade and e-commerce, our focus should not only be on developing modern digital infrastructure and restoring the financial systems but also on embracing skills development.
“The lack of knowledge of business management, marketing, finance and logistics particularly impedes the progress of women entrepreneurs. Bridging this gap will enable women entrepreneurs to succeed and grow their businesses exponentially and this is what we collectively aim to achieve through the bootcamp.”
Nasser Al-Thekair, General Manager of Trade and Business Development at ITFC, said:
“E-commerce is widely acknowledged as a significant instrument for innovation, competitiveness, job creation, and growth. This bootcamp will provide women entrepreneurs in Cameroon with a chance to broaden their horizons and enhance their involvement in the global e-commerce trade.”
Micro, small and medium-sized businesses constitute a significant percentage of Cameroon’s private sector. The contribution of these businesses to job creation and poverty reduction in Cameroon is substantial. Their impact on the economy could be significantly greater if these businesses are able to take full advantage of domestic and export market opportunities and participate in global supply chains through e-commerce.
The initiative’s goal is to make it easier for more Cameroonian entrepreneurs to expand their market reach and make their goods and services available globally. The entrepreneurs will leave the bootcamp with concrete skills and resources, including how to attract an international audience, navigate payment systems, advice on supply chain management and a mock-up for their website.
The Pacific E-commerce Initiative welcomes the launch of a new feature connecting Vodafone’s M-PAiSA and M-Vatu services and allowing cross-border money transfers. The new feature allows greater convenience to remit funds across the borders from Fiji to Vanuatu paving way for inclusive digital transfer solutions and instantaneous transfer.
The new service directly implements Measure 5.1.4 of the Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap (Strategy) by promoting the use of fintech-based solutions for transferring remittances. According to the Strategy, large sections of the Forum Island Countries (FICs) are unbanked. The feature not only puts in place an alternative money transfer service, but also provides an inclusive remittance service and electronic currency needed to engage in online purchases for the unbanked.
The project was made possible by Vodafone Fiji, in partnership with mHITS, the leading Australian FinTech mobile remittance pioneer, and the UNCDF, with financing from Australia and the European Union through the Pacific Digital Economy Programme.
“Vodafone Fiji will add the international money transfer service to the growing suite of services available under its MPAiSA digital wallet”, said Mr Shailendra Prasad, Head of Vodafone Fiji eCommerce & Digital Financial Services.
“We are privileged to be able to participate in this wonderful initiative” says mHITs founder and CEO, Mr Harold Dimpel, “Together with our partners Vodafone Fiji and assistance from the UNCDF, we are able to make a very positive impact on the region by allowing money to move more easily.”
UNCDF Country Coordinator for Fiji, Ms Yenlin De Silva said: “This is a great outcome from the Fintech challenge we organised last year as this initiative will bring about market change and help reduce the cost of remittances in the Pacific. We are grateful to the Australian Government for supporting us with this initiative.”
The initiative emerged in 2022, as a winning fintech-based solution promoting the transfer of remittances at the Pacific Islands Fintech Innovation Challenge held in Singapore co-hosted by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and UNCDF. The launch is a milestone step towards a region-wide adoption for Vodafone’s digital wallet services to its sister services including M-Tala in Samoa, e-Moni in Cook Islands and M-PAiSA in Kiribati.
The Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) has the honour to be presented as a ‘key organisation in international Geneva in the digital policy field’, in the recently published Canton of Geneva Report Politique numérique: bilan et perspectives 2018-2023 (Digital Policy: Review and Prospects 2018-2023).
This report highlights the vitality of the Geneva digital ecosystem, and the efforts deployed in the last five years by local and Swiss authorities to make sure the Canton, and the City of Geneva remain a key actor in the international digital scene.
The report praises the work of the GIP, which is run by Diplo and supported by the Swiss Confederation and the Canton of Geneva.
Under ‘Objective 10: Positioning Geneva as a major player in digital governance’, the report recognises the GIP’s important role. It notes that the GIP:
- Trains diplomats in digital issues which are debated at the ITU, WMO, WIPO, and other international organisations
- Writes key summaries that are read around the world from all internet governance conferences
- Effectively promotes Geneva as a central hub for conversations about the digital future
Moreover, the report places emphasis on two landmark publications by Diplo and the GIP: the Geneva Digital Atlas and the Tech diplomacy practice in the San Francisco Bay Area report.
The Geneva Digital Atlas, published in 2022, is a unique and comprehensive mapping of digital governance actors in Geneva. It has been made available widely to diplomatic missions and can be found here.
The Tech Diplomacy report analyses how different diplomatic representations interact with the San Francisco Bay Area ecosystem. The report was developed by Diplo in partnership with Swissnex in San Francisco and the Republic and State of Geneva.
We’re honoured to support Geneva’s long tradition as a hub where technology meets humanity. The original focus of EspriTech de Genève was on telegraph and telephone communication since the International Telecommunication Union was established in the 19th century. Today, digital is the main topic. The rapidly approaching ‘tomorrow’ is all about artificial intelligence. In all these tech-humanity junctures, Geneva is about ensuring that technology supports the fundamental human values of protecting lives, upholding human dignity, and realising our potential. The Geneva Internet Platform and Diplo support these noble goals through impactful innovation and the inclusion of missing voices in shaping our (digital) future.
Dr Jovan Kurbalija
Executive Director of Diplo and the Head of GIP
About the GIP
Since 2014, Diplo has been operating the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) which provides a neutral and inclusive space for digital policy debates, digital policy monitoring and analysis, and capacity development.
Its activities are implemented through just-in-time briefings and events, policy research, and the Digital Watch Observatory which serves as a comprehensive one-stop shop for the latest digital policy developments, overviews, trends, events, actors, instruments, and other resources.
Stronger international cooperation on data governance and capacity-building can help bridge data and digital divides.
UNCTAD Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan has reiterated the organization’s call for a more balanced approach to global data governance for the benefit of people and the planet.
She spoke during the sixth session of UNCTAD’s intergovernmental group of experts on e-commerce and the digital economy in Geneva on 10 May. Read her speech.
The world currently has a global data governance system split in three, with some countries relying on the private sector for data management, others on citizens and others on the state itself.
Ms. Grynspan said global efforts towards a more balanced approach should “enable data to flow as freely as necessary and possible, while being able to address various development objectives.”
To ensure an inclusive process with representation of all developing countries, she said the United Nations needs to play a key role in the process, which should be “multilateral, multisectoral and multi-stakeholder.”
The global data surge
Since 2015, the number of internet users in the world has increased from 3 billion to 5.3 billion, Ms. Grynspan noted.
Mobile broadband subscriptions have surged from 3 billion to almost 7 billion. And global internet protocol traffic – a proxy for data flows – has tripled from 46,000 to 150,000 gigabytes per second.
Ms. Grynspan said we have gone from a world where digital data is mostly shared by text (on Facebook), to a world where data is mostly shared by image (on Instagram), to a world where data is now mostly shared by video (on TikTok, YouTube).
“And these are still early days in the data-driven digital economy,” she said. With the spread of 5G, the growing number of Internet of Things devices and greater use of artificial intelligence (AI), data and data flows will continue expanding rapidly.
For example, AI-driven ChatGPT trained itself on 570 gigabites of text data – about 300 billion words, with 100 trillion parameters.
Data is deepening digital divides
But as captured by UNCTAD’s latest Digital Economy Report, data flows are deepening already existing digital divides. The US and China are the frontrunners in harnessing data, according to the report.
Many developing countries remain mostly providers of raw data to global digital platforms, while having to pay for the digital intelligence generated from their data.
While in some countries 80% of internet users shop online, in many developing countries this figure is less than 10%. Further, within countries, there are significant divides between rural and urban areas, as well as between men and women.
But countries such as India are narrowing the gap and turbocharging development through data-driven digital technologies.
India’s digital public infrastructure programme has added almost 9 million new taxpayers in the last five years and made digital payments almost universal.
Thanks to the programme, India has opened almost 500 million bank accounts in both urban and rural areas and lowered data costs by 90%.
Ms. Grynspan said effective data governance is critical to promoting responsible and ethical use of digital technologies, protecting individual rights and ensuring everyone can access the benefits of digitalization.
Data can work for development
UNCTAD’s director of technology and logistics, Shamika N. Sirimanne, said data is “a key strategic asset” that can help solve pressing societal, environmental and economic issues.
If well managed, data can help address global development challenges, such as pandemics and climate change, while promoting prosperity.
But negligent handling of data and data flows can contribute to adverse development outcomes on the environment, security, human rights and inequality.
Ms. Sirimanne said countries can better harness the development potential of data by developing governance frameworks that work for national priorities, while not impeding opportunities to be gained from sharing data across borders.
WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called on members to renew momentum in the discussions on development issues in the run-up to the 13th Ministerial Conference (MC13), to be held in Abu Dhabi in February 2024. Speaking at the General Council on 8 May, the Director-General urged members to continue efforts to build convergence and engage more in frank conversations that would allow the WTO to move forward its agenda.
DG Okonjo-Iweala reported on her recent trip to Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Kenya, where she addressed how to strengthen the WTO’s partnership with the region and better help African members take advantage of the opportunities offered by re-globalisation.
During those meetings, the Director-General had the opportunity to discuss challenges and opportunities for Africa’s development through trade and the role of the WTO in this regard. Productive conversations were held on addressing challenges in Africa’s industrialization and job creation in the face of multiple global crises – as well as on debt and trade finance, digital and green trade, and developments related to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCTA).
The DG also met trade ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in a roundtable on “Implementation of the results of the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12), and success for MC13″.
“There was a great deal of appreciation for what members did at MC12 and I talked about renewed momentum towards MC13,” she said.
DG Okonjo-Iweala noted that one of the areas where WTO members need to make progress is on development discussions, both within the context of WTO reform and in the work of the Committee on Trade and Development (CTD) and the Committee on Trade and Development in special session (CTDSS).
“The eyes of Africa are on us, specifically on special and differential treatment. … I therefore encourage you all to work hard and speed up this area of work to constructively engage in line with paragraph two of the MC12 outcome document,” she said.
Fisheries subsidies was another area of interest during her trip, where the Director-General continued outreach efforts to drum up support and speed up relevant domestic processes towards the two-thirds of members’ acceptance of the Fisheries Subsidies Agreement needed for the Agreement to enter into force. Government officials expressed heightened concern on the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in Africa as well as on overcapacity and overfishing.
DG Okonjo-Iweala underscored the productive fisheries week members had at the end of April and the continuation in the deposit of instruments of acceptance for the Agreement, the latest coming from Canada. She also thanked Germany for contributing the first EUR 500,000 of a multi-year donation of EUR 2 million to the new WTO Fisheries Trust Fund to assist developing members and least-developed country (LDC) members to implement the Agreement.
“I hope that other members in a position to do so will follow suit. But I do want to thank all members because I have not seen this level of enthusiasm to support the management of the Fish Fund as I am seeing now,” DG Okonjo-Iweala said.
On agriculture and food security – another area which is key to Africa’s development – DG Okonjo-Iweala referred to the latest agriculture week. She hoped it assisted members “in inching forward to determining the ‘collective what’ to allow the work on figuring out the ‘collective how’ to begin if we want to deliver meaningful outcomes in agriculture.”
In response to the strong interest expressed on digital trade and its potential for African industrialization, the DG underlined in her meeting with ECOWAS ministers how WTO members are building on the MC12 Decision on the E-Commerce Work Programme and moratorium. In this regard, she noted the WTO’s partnerships with international organizations, including the World Bank, to discuss how to address the issue of digital infrastructure in Africa, both soft and hard.
Finally, and following up the suggestions made by members, DG Okonjo-Iweala announced her intention to convene in July a two-day formal meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee (TNC) at the level of senior officials “to facilitate our Geneva processes and have clear political guidance on our work after the summer break.”
The new General Council Chair, Ambassador Athaliah Lesiba Molokomme of Botswana, reported on her consultations with members on the work ahead, including on WTO reform. She said she was “encouraged by the high level of interest and engagement demonstrated” on this issue and noted “members’ commitment to ensuring that the WTO is resilient, responsive, relevant and with equitable rules.”
“I believe that we are already on the right path. Members are fuelling the reform discussions. Several ideas which had been put forward informally have now been translated into formal written proposals, as is reflected in the current agenda. Other views are also being offered,” she said. “Let me sincerely thank all members for beginning to walk the talk.”
Ambassador Molokomme also confirmed her plans to convene a second informal meeting on WTO reform, with a focus on the deliberative function of the WTO and institutional matters. Details on the meeting will be shared with members soon, she said. The first informal meeting took place on 10 November.
WTO members agreed at MC12 to work towards necessary reform of the WTO and improve all its functions, with the General Council and its subsidiary bodies conducting the work, reviewing progress and considering decisions, as appropriate, for submission to MC13.
Ambassador Usha Dwarka-Canabady of Mauritius, the facilitator of the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and the e-commerce moratorium, provided members with an update on the work carried out so far under the Work Programme. Her update included a summary of the latest two dedicated discussions held on legal and regulatory frameworks and the e-commerce moratorium.
Four dedicated sessions have been held since January 2023 in the context of re-invigorating the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and intensifying the discussions on the moratorium as follow-up to MC12 outcomes. The earlier dedicated discussions addressed the digital divide and consumer protection. A session involving international organisations will be held on 1-2 June to hear their views on these four themes.
This investment will advance the digitalization and financial inclusion of 70,000 business owners in El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Panama.
IDB Lab, the innovation laboratory of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Group, approved a $750,000 investment in the El Salvadoran startup, Cubo, to promote the development of digital payments in micro and small businesses in Central America and contribute to reducing financial inclusion gaps. The users of this fintech platform are overwhelmingly micro-entrepreneurs (90%), with a turnover that does not exceed $230 per month.
IDB Lab’s investment is part of a $3.5 million seed round involving venture capital funds and business groups from the region. The boost to Cubo’s development and expansion plans will make it possible to offer 70,000 beneficiaries, 40% of which are women, tools that help them digitalize and develop their businesses and formalize their relationships with financial institutions.
Digitization continues to be a challenge for micro, small, and medium-sized companies in Central America. In some countries, there is an average of 11 mobile points of sale for every thousand inhabitants, half as many of those as in other countries in our region. Advancing the implementation of the use of digital payments and collections, whether online or in person, increases the business sales capacities of businesses and the opportunities for owners to earn higher income for owners. It also allows for expanded financial inclusion in Central America, where only 43% of the population holds an account at a financial institution, and only 25% make payments by card, compared to 94% and 80% in high-income countries.
Created two years ago in El Salvador, Cubo offers an easy-to-use solution for MSMEs to accept payments with credit or debit cards, links for quick payments, and QR codes for digital payments that can be physically printed or shared digitally. The startup aspires to consolidate its market in El Salvador and expand in Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica this year before new financing rounds allow it to launch into other Central American and Caribbean countries.
“Fintech companies have become key agents in helping us achieve greater financial inclusion and digitization in our region. This investment in the technology startup Cubo combines our efforts to boost the nascent Central American entrepreneurial ecosystem with the promotion of accessible and efficient financial services that can improve the business prospects and income of micro-entrepreneurs,” said Irene Arias, CEO of IDB Lab.
This is the first investment by IDB Lab in a Central American fintech, and part of the resources come from the We-Fi initiative. We-Fi seeks to address the restrictions faced by small and medium-sized companies in developing countries led by women.
About IDB Lab
IDB Lab is the innovation laboratory of the IDB Group, the leading source of development financing and expertise for improving lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. The purpose of IDB Lab is to drive innovation for inclusion in the region, mobilizing financing, knowledge, and connections to test early-stage private sector solutions with the potential to transform the lives of vulnerable populations affected by economic, social, and environmental conditions. Since 1993, IDB Lab has approved more than US$ 2 billion in projects deployed across 26 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Access our virtual tour
We-Fi is a collaborative alliance between 14 governments, eight multilateral development banks, and other public and private stakeholders, sponsored by the World Bank Group. It aims to address the financial and non-financial constraints faced by small and medium-sized enterprises owned and operated by women in developing countries. It finances projects, programs, and activities aligned with its objectives and principles. www.we-fi.org
Solomon Islands national Government launched its first National E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap 2022-2027 (the Strategy) on 28 April 2023. The Strategy is expected to accelerate digitization, spur the development of e-commerce in the country and boost trade.
The Strategy envisages that, by 2027, e-commerce will be supporting businesses of all sizes and consumers across Solomon Islands to integrate domestic markets, increase exports, create employment opportunities, and spur innovation. Its aspirations are captured by the five overarching outcomes:
- Increased consumer uptake of e-commerce across diverse segments of society
- Increased adoption of e-commerce tools and services by businesses of all sizes
- Deepened integration of rural and urban domestic markets
- Widespread availability and uptake of digital payment solutions
- Enhanced export competitiveness in priority sectors, led by e-commerce
These outcomes were agreed through extensive consultations jointly lead by the Ministry of Communication and Aviation (MCA) and the Ministry of Commerce, Industry, Labour and Immigration (MCILI), which began in 2022 and benefitted from inputs from policymakers and the private sector. The Strategy is expected to leverage e-commerce to improve livelihoods in Solomon Islands, including for youths, women, and those living in rural areas.
Both Ministers of MCA and MCILI made an address at the launch event. MCA Minister Peter Channel Agovaka emphasised that a whole-of-government approach will be needed to build a digital economy that works for all Solomon Islanders, including for youths, women and those living in the rural areas. The MCILI Minister Frederek Kologeto added that his team aims to ensure that e-commerce and digital trade brings benefits to all Solomon Islanders.
The Strategy received technical assistance from UNCTAD and UNCDF and financing from Australia, and the Ministers acknowledged the support of the Australian Government, the UNCDF, donor partners, and stakeholders for their support towards the Strategy development.
The Australian High Commissioner, Mr Rod Hilton, expressed positivity towards the first National E-commerce Strategy and said it would support jobs and economic growth across all provinces.
The Strategy proposes a sound governance system with a permanent National E-commerce Steering Committee providing support, guidance and strategic oversight of the Strategy implementation. The Committee will be co-chaired by the MCILI and MCA.
The adoption of the Strategy is not only a significant milestone for Solomon Islands but also for the Pacific Region as it directly implements Measure 1.1.1 of the Pacific Regional E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap.
Download the Strategy: Solomon Islands National E-commerce Strategy and Roadmap 2022-2027
- Around 40% of all working hours could be impacted by AI large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT-4, says a report from Accenture.
- Many clerical or secretarial roles are seen as likely to decline quickly because of AI, according to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023.
- But roles for AI and machine learning specialists, data analysts and scientists, and digital transformation specialists are expected to grow rapidly, the report adds.
- Reskilling people to use AI effectively will be the key to companies being able to use the technology successfully, says Accenture.
How would you feel about working as a human alarm clock? It’s a job people used to do before the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century. They would go around the dark, cold streets and tap on people’s windows with long sticks to wake them up for work.
The invention of the mechanical alarm clock changed all that, and many people are now asking which 21st-century jobs artificial intelligence (AI) and the Fourth Industrial Revolution could consign to the history books.
Professional services company Accenture describes the arrival of large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT-4 as “a significant turning point and milestone in artificial intelligence … [because] they’ve cracked the code on language complexity”.
It estimates that 40% of all working hours could be impacted by large language models (LLMs) such as ChatGPT-4. “This is because language tasks account for 62% of the total time employees work,” it says.
However, the good news is that this doesn’t mean machines will simply replace humans. Accenture says that 65% of the time we spend on these “language tasks” can be “transformed into more productive activity through augmentation and automation”.
People will be at the heart of successful AI use
The potential for AI to reshape the world of work means companies need to start learning now to avoid being left behind, Accenture says. A big part of this will involve ensuring their staff are developing the new skills that will be required in the age of AI.
“Success with generative AI requires an equal attention on people and training as it does on technology,” Accenture says. “This means both building talent in technical competencies like AI engineering and enterprise architecture, and training people across the organization to work effectively with AI-infused processes.”
It says companies need to break down existing roles into “underlying bundles of tasks” in order to understand where AI has a chance to save time and improve the way we work.
Once this has been established, organizations can upskill employees so that they are ready to take on new positions involving the use of AI. “There will also be entirely new roles to recruit, including linguistics experts, AI quality controllers, AI editors, and prompt engineers,” Accenture says.
The jobs AI could create
The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023 says that AI and machine learning specialists, data analysts and scientists, and digital transformation specialists are the most prominent emerging roles.
It predicts a 40% jump in the number of AI and machine learning specialists by 2027, a 30-35% rise in demand for roles such as data analysts and scientists or big data specialists, and a 31% increase in demand for information security analysts. This would add a combined 2.6 million jobs.
On the flipside, some jobs are seen as likely to decline quickly because of AI. These are mostly clerical or secretarial roles, and include bank tellers and data entry clerks.
Here are the top 10 jobs the Forum sees growing fastest – and declining fastest – in the next five years:
All this is leading companies to rethink their priorities when it comes to training staff to work with AI and big data. It is the number three priority in company training strategies to 2027, and number one for companies with more than 50,000 employees, the Future of Jobs Report 2023 says.
How AI will impact the future of jobs
The Forum’s report also finds that workplace tasks are seen as no more automated now than they were three years ago. To some extent, that’s because automation had been occurring already, the Forum’s Managing Director, Saadia Zahidi, told the Radio Davos podcast.
“But when it comes to very human traits like coordinating between people, like helping with decision-making and reasoning or communicating, that’s where actually you see an uptick. That’s where you see a greater prediction around automation than before.
“It’s not surprising because we’ve all seen what is happening with generative AI and how fast that’s getting adopted across various industries.”
Artificial intelligence is expected to be adopted by nearly 75% of surveyed companies and to lead to high churn – with 50% of organizations believing it will result in job growth and 25% thinking it will create job losses, the Future of Jobs Report says.
The Forum’s recent Growth Summit 2023 at its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland explored AI and other areas that will impact the world of work. This year’s summit focused on “jobs and opportunity for all”, and explored areas such as supporting job creation, enabling job transitions and how best to invest in education and skills.
Leapfrogging is often seen as critical to Africa’s economic development. This phenomenon is perhaps most evident in the spread of off-grid solar energy systems and mobile broadband networks across the continent.1 Building on this improved connectivity, a new wave of African technology startups has recently emerged, increasingly driving leapfrog development through locally adapted “home-grown” digital technologies. Indeed Africa’s tech sector has recently become one of the fastest growing tech ecosystems in the world, with tech being one of the fastest growing sectors in Africa.2 At the time of writing, eight startups have already achieved “unicorn” status – a valuation of USD 1 billion or more.
Funding raised by African startups across African region, 2015–2022
A new wave of African technology startups
The recent increase in funding for startups reflects the growing dynamism of Africa’s tech ecosystem. West Africa and East Africa clearly attract the lion’s share of funding, with startups in North Africa catching up more recently, and Southern Africa showing some modest growth (see figure above). Importantly, a single country accounted for the bulk of funding in each of these regions: Egypt in North Africa, Kenya in East Africa, South Africa in Southern Africa, and Nigeria in West Africa (see figure below). For these leading countries, startup finance may soon equal FDI inflows if current trends continue.3
Funding raised by African startups across African countries, 2015–2022
In the African tech sector, three specific aspects stand out: First, platform business models are increasingly important (see next figure). Importantly, however, African platform businesses often (have to) make significant investments along the value chain, such as in logistics and transport, rather simply connecting supply and demand. Second, it is common for African startups to leverage existing customer relationships to offer multiple products or services. In particular, non-fintech startups often embed financial services such as payments, loans, and insurance, traditionally offered by banks and other financial institutions, in their non-financial apps and platforms. Third, African startups typically rely on large networks of agents, who are already known and trusted in their communities, to sign up new customers and take orders from them.
In the African tech sector platform business models are increasingly important.
Share of African platform and software businesses startups, 2000–2022
Most African tech firms operate in sectors that remain underdeveloped, targeting underserved individuals and businesses. Just as off-grid solar and mobile broadband systems have increased access to affordable electricity and internet, start-ups are using digital solutions to improve access in sectors as diverse as finance, retail, transport, agriculture, education and health.4
Financial services startups are leading the African fintech revolution, raising more than USD 4 billion in funding since 2015, to bring mobile-based financial services to millions of unbanked and underserved people.5 Taking a mobile-first approach, startups are driving the expansion of affordable mobile payments between individuals within and across borders (e.g. Wave and ChipperCash), the provision of higher value added financial services, such as savings and loans to previously un(der)served customers (e.g Opay and Kuda Bank), and the digitization of formerly analogue business transactions through application programming interfaces (e.g., Paystack and Flutterwave), allowing businesses to integrate payment processing into their websites and mobile applications.
Commerce, which is largely dominated by small-scale informal retail, has become Africa’s second most popular sector for tech startup investment, raising around USD 2 billion since 2015. By aggregating supply and demand on their platforms, e-commerce startups are increasingly providing access to products and services that were previously unavailable in the region. For instance, startups such as Copia Global are using agent- and platform-led business models to connect manufacturers with remote households, organizing the direct delivery of goods to them. Others, such as Wasoko and Kippa, focus on connecting small, often informal, retailers to manufacturers for better access to supplies and capital.6
E-commerce startups provide access to products and services that were unavailable in Africa.
African startups also use locally adapted digital solutions to improve access to other products and services. Platform-based ride-hailing startups, such as Safe Boda and Gokada, provide efficient and affordable motorbike transport options that were previously unavailable in many African countries.7 Agtech startups such as WeFarm, Twiga Foods and Hello Tractor are connecting smallholder farmers to vendors, suppliers and each other to enhance access to information, markets and machinery. Edtech startups such as uLesson, and healthtech startups such as mPharma, are using digital platforms to facilitate the delivery of high-quality education and health care.
Harnessing the potential of digital technologies for development in Africa
The rise of African startups and their locally adapted digital technologies presents a significant opportunity for leapfrogging in Africa. However, to further support this trajectory, there is a need to gain a deeper understanding in three specific areas. First, what are the preconditions that foster a vibrant tech ecosystem, for example in terms of regulation, startup and antitrust laws and digital skills? Second, how are impacts distributed across socioeconomic and firm characteristics, and is there a need to protect or compensate some groups? Third, what is the role of international and multinational partners?
Answering these questions can help Africa harness the potential of its emerging tech sector for development.8
Let’s talk about the transformative role of infrastructure investments in driving economic development.
Public infrastructure can be used by policymakers as a formidable means to promote growth and reduce inequality. Our previous literature review found that public investment in infrastructure can have a “multiplier” effect—meaning measurable economic impact for each dollar of government spending—particularly high in the case of periods of crises.
Academic research over the last four decades has provided strong evidence of the positive contribution of infrastructure investments towards development objectives, including output and productivity, poverty and inequality, labor market outcomes, human capital formation, and trade.
Our recent research from the World Bank Infrastructure Chief Economist’s Office offers insights for practitioners seeking to maximize the development impact of infrastructure. The Impact of Infrastructure on Development Outcomes: A Qualitative Review of Four Decades of Literature synthesizes over 300 studies conducted between 1983 and 2022, providing a comprehensive overview of the main findings in digital, energy, and transport infrastructure. This is one the most significant attempts to date to understand the impact of infrastructure on development outcomes.
Our four overarching takeaways are:
Recent studies on digital infrastructure show that the arrival of broadband internet enhances firm productivity and employment—particularly for highly skilled labor. For instance, Hjort and Poulsen (2019) found that the probability that an individual is employed increases between 3.1% and 13.2% when fast internet becomes available in Sub-Saharan African countries. Increased broadband access also boosts household welfare and reduces poverty as in the case of Senegal, where 3G coverage is associated with a 10% decline in extreme poverty rate ($1.9 per day).
In many developing countries, people use mobile broadband to access the internet. A 10% increase in mobile broadband adoption boosts economic growth by creating a 0.6% to 2.8% increase in GDP according to a cross-country study. In addition, the availability of mobile phones improves coordination between producers and traders reducing the price dispersion of agricultural products—especially the perishable ones that cannot be stored—and increases market efficiency as in the case of Niger and India.
Electricity access enables structural transformation and human development, with notable benefits for women
Electrification is a key enabler of the structural transformation process by pushing more workers out of primary sectors in low- and middle-income countries. At the household level, electrification increases labor force participation, especially among women, and supports the establishment of non-farm and female-owned businesses (as in the case of Ghana). For example, electrification in El Salvador led to a 46 percentage-point increase in women’s participation in non-farm employment. Extending the lighting hours with electrification also acts as a powerful channel to enhance human capital development, as in the case of El Salvador where studying at home increased by 78% after the grid connection.
Transport Infrastructure is critical for market access and work
The literature is particularly rich when it comes to transport-to-development linkages, especially for rural roads in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the context of Tanzania, on average, road quality improvements decreased the probability of migrating away from a rural location by 7.2% in the surveyed communities, likely due to the associated positive and significant impact on per capita consumption.
Improvements in roads also facilitate the specialization of localities as in the case of Mexico. A 10% increase in market access results in a 2.9% to 6.5% increase in employment for the period 1986–2014, with the largest impact in the commerce and services sector, and a 13% increase in output specialization.
In addition, improved transport infrastructure translates into an increase in firms’ exports and thereby on employment within a country. Peru is such an example with a distance elasticity of exports of around 1.2. New roads built in Peru between 2003 and 2010 contributed to about 4% of the net new jobs created by firms expanding exports.
But there may be unintended consequences, such as conflict and deforestation
The overwhelming balance of evidence suggests that infrastructure improvements are critical in supporting the development process. However, infrastructure might also play a role in contributing to social tensions through protests and violence. Areas with full 2G mobile phone coverage in Sub-Saharan Africa triggered collective action by enabling people to acquire and spread information to organize a civic response in Sub-Saharan Africa between 1998 and 2012. A fall in GDP growth of 4 percentage points leads to a differential increase in per capita protests between 8% and 23%. In a similar vein, the availability of cell phone coverage significantly increases the probability of violent conflicts by improving cooperation and coordination within rebel groups.
Several papers explore the unexpected socioeconomic costs of other infrastructure such as the impact of the expansion of trunk roads on deforestation. They highlight the importance of measures to be taken to overcome potential negative social and environmental externalities.
Is there a “true” impact of infrastructure on development?
In conclusion, despite some mixed results, academic research over the last four decades has demonstrated with some caveats the largely positive contribution of infrastructure investment on development. However, the findings vary in terms of magnitude and significance not only across countries, but also within the same country.
💡 In Part 2 of this blog, we’ll dive into the results of a meta-analysis conducted in a companion paper, revealing the “true” impact of various infrastructure types. Stay tuned to learn about the impact of infrastructure investments and how they can drive sustainable development for years to come.
Digital technologies could offer Africa a great chance to unlock new pathways for rapid, inclusive economic growth and job creation, according to Ambassador Albert Muchanga, the African Union’s Commissioner for Economic Development, Trade, Tourism, Industry and Minerals.
In an address to the recent 55th Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, Muchanga said the continent needed to raise the requisite funding to develop its digital knowledge base to achieve growth.
“Mobilization of domestic resources should be prioritized with a particular emphasis on fighting illicit financial flows, which deprive the continent of approximately $90 billion annually,” he said at the conference organized by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
Speaking on the theme “Fostering recovery and transformation in Africa to reduce inequalities and vulnerabilities,” Commissioner Muchanga recognized the continent’s successes in adapting some of these technologies, particularly in mobile money services.
“But these transformations must expand beyond current levels to achieve the objectives of Agenda 2063, create a massive number of jobs for the youth, and tackle poverty and inequalities,” he said.
He said committing to UNECA’s program on inclusive growth and sustainable development in Africa to support the Sustainable Development Goals(link is external), the African Union’s Agenda 2063(link is external), and the Africa Development Bank’s High 5strategic priorities would help improve livelihoods on the continent.
He said the Commission had partnered with the African Development Bank and the AUDA-NEPAD to embark on a study on achieving inclusive growth and sustainable development in Africa,” The study’s target would be the achievement of a prosperous continent based on inclusive growth and sustainable development anchored on 7-10% growth rates between 2023 and 2063.
The study, which prioritizes human capital development and harnessing Africa’s demographic dividend, will be completed by December, said Muchanga.
In his remarks, the Acting Executive Secretary of UNECA, Antonio Pedro, said Africa is at the center of global sustainability transitions, including electrification of transportation infrastructure, accelerated deployment of renewable energy, demographic dynamics, and climate action.
“These transitions should underpin Africa’s path towards recovery, ensuring structured transformation to economic diversification, building resilience, and achieving sustainable and inclusive growth in line with Agenda 2030 and Agenda 2063,” Pedro said.
Africa’s growth is rebounding at 4.1%, and inflation has slowed to 12%, he said, adding that what was needed to achieve a breakthrough on the continent was double-digit growth.
Ghana’s Minister of Finance, Kenneth Ofori-Atta, said that Africa could not continue with the present global financial architecture in which its countries lack access to the resources needed for recovery. “The toolkit that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have is inadequate to support where Africa needs to go,” he added.
The Executive Directors of the World Bank today selected Ajay Banga as President of the World Bank for a five-year term beginning June 2, 2023.
Ajay Banga most recently served as Vice Chairman at General Atlantic. Previously, he was President and CEO of Mastercard, a global organization with nearly 24,000 employees. Under his leadership, MasterCard launched the Center for Inclusive Growth, which advances equitable and sustainable economic growth and financial inclusion around the world. He was Honorary Chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce, serving as Chairman from 2020-2022. He became an advisor to General Atlantic’s climate-focused fund, BeyondNetZero, at its inception in 2021. Banga served as Co-Chair of the Partnership for Central America, a coalition of private organizations that works to advance economic opportunity across underserved populations in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. He was previously on the Boards of the American Red Cross, Kraft Foods, and Dow Inc.
Ajay Banga is a co-founder of The Cyber Readiness Institute and was Vice Chair of the Economic Club of New York. He was awarded the Foreign Policy Association Medal in 2012, the Padma Shri Award by the President of India in 2016, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor and the Business Council for International Understanding’s Global Leadership Award in 2019, and the Distinguished Friends of Singapore Public Service Star in 2021.
The Executive Directors followed the selection process agreed by shareholders in 2011. The process included an open, merit-based, and transparent nomination where any national of the Bank’s membership could be proposed by any Executive Director or Governor through an Executive Director. This was then followed by thorough due diligence and a comprehensive interview of Mr. Banga by the Executive Directors.
The Board looks forward to working with Mr. Banga on the World Bank Group Evolution process, as discussed at the April 2023 Spring Meetings, and on all the World Bank Group’s ambitions and efforts aimed at tackling the toughest development challenges facing developing countries.
The President of the World Bank Group is also the Chair of the Board of the Executive Directors of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). The President is also ex officio chair of the Board of Directors of the International Development Association (IDA), International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and of the Administrative Council of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
The UN Trade Forum 2023 will highlight how developing countries can use trade to tackle global challenges including protecting the ocean, reducing digital and gender inequalities, and building more resilient economies.
UNCTAD will host the third UN Trade Forum on 8 and 9 May 2023 to identify trade policies that can help countries grow their economies while tackling pressing global challenges and accelerating progress towards achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The forum will give particular attention to developing countries, which have been hit hardest by multiple global crises including the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the climate emergency.
“A cascade of global crises has disrupted international trade, including for essential foods, and revealed the trading system’s vulnerabilities and imbalances,” UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Pedro Manuel Moreno said ahead of the forum.
“But trade remains a very powerful engine for sustainable and inclusive growth,” Mr. Moreno said. “And UNCTAD remains committed to providing the data and analysis policymakers need to take informed decisions and ensure trade growth benefits all people and the planet.”
More than 100 trade experts, policymakers, senior officials from international organizations, business leaders, and civil society representatives will meet in Geneva and online to discuss policies and initiatives that can make trading systems more inclusive, environmentally friendly and resilient.
Topics will include harnessing new opportunities in the ocean economy, promoting trade preferences among developing countries, ensuring that women benefit equally form e-commerce growth, and encouraging businesses and consumers to adopt more sustainable practices.
The forum discussions and report will contribute to upcoming key global events, including the Summit of the Future, the 28th UN climate summit (COP28) and the World Trade Organization’s 13th ministerial conference.
Unlocking an ocean of opportunities
During the two-day event, UNCTAD will launch its Trade and Environment Review 2023. It highlights the vast opportunities our ocean holds for developing countries to recover from the current crises and build more innovative and resilient economies.
The ocean economy – which includes traditional sectors such as fishing and shipping as well as emerging ones like offshore wind energy and marine biotechnology – is already worth between $3 trillion and $6 trillion and provides at least 150 million direct jobs.
But marine resources and the livelihoods they support are under threat from climate change, pollution and overfishing. The forum will identify initiatives and policies that can help developing countries to both exploit and protect the ocean of opportunities.
Promoting trade preferences among developing countries
The potential of the global system of trade preferences (GSTP) among developing countries will also be in the spotlight. Brazil’s recent ratification has rekindled interest in the preferential trade agreement, which will enter into force when one more member ratifies it.
UNCTAD established the GSTP more than three decades ago to help developing countries increase trade among themselves and diversify and add value to their exports. Its 42 members represent a market of more than $16 trillion and 20% of global merchandise imports.
Making growth more inclusive and sustainable
The forum will feature new analysis on how competition and consumer protection policies can help countries encourage businesses and people to adopt more sustainable practices.
And UNCTAD will present a new study looking at e-commerce from a gender and development perspective. Participants will explore the policies needed to guarantee that the benefits of digital technologies and online trade growth reach women as much as men.