Governance and business models for inclusive development

17 Nov 2020 15:30h - 17:00h

Event report

The digital divide remains a concern for developing countries. Governance, policy principles, and regulations aiming at developing trade over the Internet, can play a crucial role in promoting economic growth. Ms Lee Tuthill (Senior Staff Member, Negotiations on Telecommunications, World Trade Organisation (WTO)) has brought together speakers from the business and regulatory sectors to discuss inclusiveness in the sense of the WTO. First, the session aimed at debating the accomplishments of, and the challenges faced by, the private sector to include individuals from different economic backgrounds to digital commerce. Second, the session addressed Internet governance developments that might facilitate the presence of small- and medium-sized companies (SMEs) to participate in the digital sphere. Finally, panellists were asked to provide recommendations on inclusiveness in the digital economy.

Ms Claire Sibthorpe (Head, GSMA Connected Women, GSMA) mentioned that, in terms of inclusiveness, countries face coverage and usage gaps. Currently, the number of individuals who live outside areas covered by broadband networks is less than 6 million. They live mostly in rural areas. Alternatively, the usage gap is much more significant than the coverage one. There are approximately 3.4 billion individuals who live in a covered area, want to use the Internet, but are not using it. Those not connected are often women, illiterate, older individuals, and persons with disabilities.

Solutions to addressing usage gaps lie in the reasons why people are not connected, even when they wish to be. The reasons are related to the affordability of devices and connections, digital skills, safety, security, social norms, and social inequalities. Data shows that, for instance, literate women in several low- and middle-income countries are not included in the digital sphere. Sibthorpe believes that, to achieve business models for inclusive approaches, there is a need to first improve the livelihood level of several communities. Any approach must be data driven in order to allow stakeholders to understand the specific needs and to develop policies on inclusiveness that are targeted. Tuthill commented that women are more represented in small businesses, and that any governance policy aiming to increase inclusiveness must address the gender gap in the digital sphere.

Mr Daniel Annerose (CEO, Manobi Africa) stressed that even if African countries have a lot of potential to be in the supply side of the market, most countries still heavily rely on import. Manobi Africa shifts this logic by developing technology which helps to provide potable water access to citizens across Africa. The company combines digital technology, such as mobile Internet, the Internet of things (IoT), and artificial intelligence (AI) to organise and develop inclusive systems that involve small and larger business players to reach rural farmers.

Ms Sissi de la Peña (Manager, Regional Digital Trade, ALAI) mentioned that connectivity, digital skills, and challenging regulatory frameworks are crucial barriers to the development of inclusive digital commerce in Latin America. Particularly, the region has fragmented regulation related to data flows, Internet service provider (ISP) responsibility, and data centre operations. This environment is especially challenging for medium and small online companies that do not have the financial support to thrive in such fragmented regulatory spheres. So far, most countries in the region still lack national strategies which address digital development.

Ms Mercy Wanjau (Director General, Kenyan Communications Authority) announced that Kenya has a national broadband strategy (2018–2023) which ensures equitable and sustainable digital development. As part of the strategy, the government identified special initiatives for providing digital access to persons with disabilities, women, and individuals living in marginalised areas. The government is working to encourage local businesses, particularly in rural areas, to use information and communication technologies (ICTs). This move aims to increase inclusiveness. Moreover, capacity building programmes that teach digital skills to women and other marginalised groups, were also put in place.

Mr Rishab Raturi (Technology and Trade Policy Consultant, Independent) mentioned that the challenges concerning digital inclusion in developing countries encompass a lack of trust and dated legislation; a lack of awareness among policymakers for global development; a lack of regulatory and institutional co-ordination; and a low level of regulatory awareness among the private sector and consumers. Regarding trust, some markets cannot afford the tools available in developed countries. For instance, in Mali, businesses could not afford to put in place digital signatures.

Raturi believes that essential e-commerce regulation must aim at enhancing consumer trust. Regulations must encompass consumer protection, cybersecurity, data governance, taxation, intellectual property, and cybercrime laws. The UN Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) cyberlaw tracker revealed that, in 2019, 56% of countries had consumer protection laws, while 66% of countries had some sort of privacy laws, and 79% of countries had cybercrime laws.

In terms of recommendations for inclusive development, Annerose suggested that the crucial point in Africa is to decrease connectivity gaps. Without connectivity, no other aspect of digital development can be accomplished. Sibthorpe believes that any action in this sense must be data driven. La Peña mentioned that regulatory and institutional co-ordination must consider not only economic aspects, but also human rights aspects. Regulatory frameworks concerning inclusiveness should not limit fundamental human rights.