Driving the digital inclusion of small businesses

19 October 2022
ITC News

ITC and GSMA launch new Broadband Commission Working Group to drive digital inclusion of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises

More individuals and businesses are benefitting from digital connectivity than ever before. GSMA’s latest data shows that last year alone, 300 million people started using mobile internet for the first time – the first choice for most people to surf online.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of having access to the internet, which, for instance, enables entrepreneurs to mitigate some of the negative impacts of the pandemic. Yet, there remains a significant digital divide and an urgent challenge to connect the unconnected, nearly all of whom live in developing or least developed countries.

To address this divide, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the GSMA launched a new Working Group on the digital inclusion of micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises in these countries. The initiative was announced at the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development’s annual meeting in New York on 18 September 2022. It will support the Broadband Commission’s Advocacy Target #6, which aims to reduce the number of unconnected small businesses by 50% before 2025.

‘‘The Working Group could not be timelier,” says Mats Granryd, Director General at the GSMA. “Mobile internet is critical for many micro or small businesses, as it gives access to digital financial services, or customers and markets, often for the first time. It’s vital that we work together to ensure that every business can benefit from connectivity, especially women entrepreneurs.’’

Micro, small and medium-sized enterprises are key providers of employment and drivers of economic growth. However, most do not yet fully leverage connectivity to run their businesses and engage in trade. Increasing access and the ability to use digital channels and tools could be one of the most powerful mechanisms to boost the resilience of small businesses in the face of economic gloom.

“The future of ‘going global’ is digital,” says ITC Executive Director Pamela Coke-Hamilton. “This is especially true for small businesses: the road to overseas markets will run through digital channels and platforms. The firms who can connect, compete and change will thrive.”

The Working Group seeks to define the opportunities and challenges of getting more companies in developing countries online and engaging in online trade. Core elements of the research will be drawn from a major study underway led by the GSMA on the digital and financial inclusion of women micro-entrepreneurs in Africa and Asia, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The study focuses on how women micro-entrepreneurs are currently using mobile for their business, the barriers they face and identifying opportunities and solutions that support them.

Similarly, the new Working Group will explore:

  • The state of connectivity of small businesses in developing countries;
  • Barriers they face;
  • Potential solutions and government policies to help boost connectivity, particularly businesses led by women, youth, the poor or those living in rural areas.

With less than three years left to achieve the Broadband Commission’s 2025 Advocacy Targets, accelerating collective efforts is crucial to bridging the digital divide.

ITC and the GSMA therefore invite other Commissioners and Experts to join us to help small businesses leverage the benefits of digital connectivity.


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