Building inclusive digital economies in emerging markets

16 Nov 2020 11:10h - 12:10h

Event report

The session, moderated by Ms Anna Kompanek (Director for Global Programs, Center for International Private Enterprise), explored how several stakeholders address policy barriers to resilient and inclusive digital economies at local and international levels. The session underlined how digital inclusion is of paramount importance for businesses, in particular in emerging markets and in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

The first part of the session presented the ongoing work of a range of stakeholders in building inclusive digital economies and addressing the COVID-19 crisis.

Ms Juliet Nanfuka (Journalist, Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa, CIPESA) presented the work of CIPESA on the digital economy. CIPESA has recently focused on current regulatory trends in East and Southern Africa, such as the social media tax imposed on the use of networking sites in Uganda. These measures have a detrimental effect on digital inclusion, especially for women and people with disabilities. They have worked on a Roadmap to reform Africa’s digital economy and capitalise on digital transformation opportunities on the continent.

Ms Nicole Primmer (Senior Policy Director, Business at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD) expanded on the work of Business at OECD, the official institutional partner representing the private sector at OECD. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 20 policy briefs across policy areas were released, as well as a Statement to OECD Ministers on ‘Strengthening International Coordination to Recover from COVID-19.’ The OECD committee on digital economy policy works to advance the responsible use of digital technologies looking at mitigating challenges of COVID-19. The OECD has also developed the Going Digital Toolkit, which allows countries to benchmark their performance across different policy areas.

The second part of the session addressed the policy barriers exposed by the COVID-19 crisis and faced by companies in emerging markets who want to participate in the digital economy.

Mr Rainer Heufers (Founder and Executive Director, Center for Indonesian Policy Studies) explained that the COVID-19 pandemic led to an acceleration in the use of digital services in Indonesia. Indeed, more than one-third of all Indonesian digital services consumers are new, and more than half live in non-metropolitan areas.

Ms Mary Rose Ofianga (Business Development and Environmental Management Consultant and IGF MAG member) argued that during the COVID-19 pandemic in particular, it is important for businesses to connect with the Internet to grow their business, especially for micro and small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Heufers insisted on the current drive to regulate the digital space in Indonesia, as illustrated by the government request to register for a licence to sell online. However, obtaining this licence is complicated for microenterprises, and most microenterprises are run by women. Nanfuka expounded on the various levels of Internet penetration, affordability, and digital literacy in Africa, which disproportionately affect women. Ofianga also mentioned the issue of affordability of Internet connection, especially as education increasingly relies on digital tools. Nanfuka noted that some progressive evolutions could be observed the economic and policy levels, however. Uganda, for instance, recently adopted a data protection legislation, which illustrates some of the positive policy steps made during the pandemic.

Underlining the work of the OECD to address policy barriers to inclusive digital economies, Primmer referred to the OECD Digital for SMEs Global Initiative (D4SME), which aims to promote knowledge sharing and learning on how to enable all SMEs to make the most of the digital shift. OECD is also a partner of the Global Apprenticeship Network (GAN), which looks at promoting apprenticeships and bridging the ‘skills gap’ in the digital sector. To address these challenges, Heufers argued that there needs to be multistakeholder dialogues at all levels. At the OECD level, Primmer explained for instance that many projects and forums include both civil society and the Internet technical community. The OECD group on digital taxation also consists of an inclusive framework with 137 countries on an equal footing, far beyond the 37 OECD member countries.