Switch ON: Better digital connectivity for small businesses to trade
International Trade Centre launches digital connectivity initiative to support e-commerce across policy, institutional and enterprise levels – starting in Zambia
The International Trade Centre (ITC) has launched a new corporate initiative dubbed: Switch ON. Focusing on digital connectivity, ITC calls on partners to prioritize investments in connectivity and on policymakers to create the right conditions for small businesses in developing and transition countries to profit from digital trade and entrepreneurship.
The initiative is integral to ITC's 2022-2025 Strategic Plan, which prioritizes digital connectivity as a key enabler to an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous world.
Switch ON focuses on delivering affordable networks and unlocking access through education and digital literacy. Partnerships with local and international companies play an important role in the initiative’s success.
Zambia: First Switch ON country
In 2022, ITC will evaluate the potential for connectivity to digital trade in Zambia. This will support the Government of Zambia’s ambitions while working with private businesses to develop the case for investment in digital connectivity. The initiative also builds on the already implemented digitally focused ITC project in Zambia called FastTrackTech Africa. The project started in December 2019, supporting tech start-ups, digital entrepreneurs, and their tech ecosystem in Lusaka.
Beyond the immediate opportunities for trade, the Initiative is set to achieve affordable and reliable connectivity in urban and rural areas, establish easy and affordable access to online payment solutions, develop e-commerce services such as local marketplaces, and enable institutions to implement relevant policies and initiatives for small businesses.
Pethel Phiri, Acting Director General at the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority, explains: “Although there is more to do in expanding digital coverage in Zambia, the connectivity gap is being addressed. The issue now becomes a usage gap – How do we ensure increased use of digital connectivity for productive economic activities? How do we ensure people leverage improved connectivity to make a living?”
“The future of global trade, especially small businesses, will be through digital platforms and channels,” adds ITC Executive Director, Pamela Coke-Hamilton. “Greater participation of small businesses in digital trade brings important economic benefits, drives the demand for digital capacity and, in turn, improves the business case for further investments in infrastructure: a virtuous cycle needed to build networks. ITC and Zambia are partnering to launch a new way of looking at e-commerce for small businesses, and we plan to expand this approach to other countries in Africa and beyond.”
Digital connectivity matters and its importance has accelerated since COVID-19. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2021 the number of digitally connected individuals rose sharply to around 63% of the world’s population. That leaves an urgent challenge to address the remaining 37%, who are nearly all in the developing world. Moreover, many small businesses in developing countries are unable to go online due to weaknesses in the digital ecosystems of their countries and the inefficient use of digital means to engage in trade.