UNCTAD eWeek 2023 (Day-2)

CUTS Daily Bulletin #2, December 5-2023   

Women in the Digital Economy: Driving the Usage of Digital Technology among Women

This session, jointly organised by the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), states how the rapid advancement of digital technology poses a significant risk of widening the gap between those who can and cannot engage in the digital economy. Currently, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) jobs make up 4.5 percent of the workforce, but only 19 percent of these positions are filled by women. It is crucial to address the digital gender gap and invest in empowering women digitally and financially for the sake of gender equality and economic prosperity.

Recent research indicates that reducing the digital gender disparity in 72 countries could boost the economy by approximately US$524bn by 2025. This session examined various challenges and opportunities, showcasing tools and case studies that can influence and improve women’s access to and utilisation of digital technologies.

The session began with how digital technology has opened up avenues for women to reach resources and networks that were previously out of reach or too expensive. It has empowered women to overcome obstacles, granting them access to educational opportunities, the ability to initiate businesses, and the chance to engage in the global economy. The session deliberated upon how earlier there was conflict between men and women which affected their economic growth and how literacy among women and training as well as skill enhancement and knowledge has improved the condition of women as stated by one of the panellists Maxima Nsimenta, Founder at Nyowe Ventures (Livara Uganda).

Knowledge among women about the use of gadgets and equipment can enhance their productivity and efficiency. Women can run their businesses and take loans through these gadgets as stated by Enkhjargal Natsagdorj. One of the panellists Shang Gao, Asia-Pacific Regional Director at Global Education and Skills to Jobs, Amazon Web Services mentioned that skill gaps in the tech space are wide between men and women. Free training as well as work skilling building agencies and the government can fill this gap.

Entrepreneurial skills and education systems can help women know about the latest technology which will help them build confidence and so that they can have access to resources and networks that were previously inaccessible or too costly as was mentioned by Elwyn Panggabean, Southeast Asia Advisory Services and Indonesia Policy Advocacy at Women’s World Banking. The advent of the digital revolution has empowered women to seize educational opportunities, establish businesses, and engage in the global economy. This has created a platform for women to share their stories and experiences, amplifying their voices in policy and advocacy efforts.

On the panel were: Elwyn Panggabean Director, Southeast Asia Advisory Services and Indonesia Policy Advocacy at Women’s World Banking; Enkhjargal Natsagdorj, Founder at Gerege Systems (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia); Karima Wardak, Digital Knowledge and Communication Lead at Asia and the Pacific, UNCDF; Maxima Nsiimenta, Founder at Nyowe Ventures (Livara Uganda); Shang Gao, Asia-Pacific Regional Director at Global Education and Skills to Jobs, Amazon Web Services; Veyrl Adell, Founder & CTO at Signifide Group International; and Rupa Chanda, Director at Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

(Reporting by Arima Pankaj and Ally Tutay)

Including The Excluded: How Can Small and Micro Businesses be Supported Toward Success in E-Commerce? (ITC)

In the ever-evolving landscape of global connectivity, the urgency to bridge the digital divide has become a clarion call, resonating across nations and industries alike. As of 2022, a staggering 2.7 billion individuals remain offline, underscoring the imperative for concerted efforts to integrate the marginalised and narrow this chasm. The need is not merely technological but extends to fostering equal opportunities and universal participation in a world where digital interactions increasingly shape global trade and economic landscapes.

Against this backdrop, a panel of thought leaders converged to scrutinise and delve into both new and existing initiatives designed to reach underserved communities, thereby bringing about substantial benefits through heightened awareness of digital tools, improved digital skills, and enhanced online access to markets.

Diego Chacon, Director of Central Asia, Central America, and Armenia at Nordica, took the stage during a pivotal panel discussion, unravelling key insights into the organisation’s impact marketplace. Nordica, with a global reach, serves artisans by creating a platform that transcends mere product sales, emphasising the profound stories of the craftsmen behind the creations.

Drawing on over 15 years of experience, Chacon shed light on the challenges faced by artisans, navigating through the dynamic landscape of tourism. In response, Nordica has strategically established regional hubs with dedicated local teams adept at managing export processes, from photography to logistics and payments. This approach enables artisans to focus on their craft while ensuring a seamless entry into the global market.

Collaborating with the Ready for Trade Central Asia Project, Nordica is actively working towards establishing an artisanal empowerment hub in Central Asia, opening up online selling platforms previously inaccessible to local artisans. In essence, Nordica’s innovative approach seeks to simplify the intricate facets of selling for artisans, thereby fostering sustainable growth within the global artisan community.

The spotlight then shifted to Elisha Bwatuti, Programme Coordinator at Kenya Strathmore University, who underscored the significant digital access gap, particularly in remote counties of Kenya, where access to crucial business information remains limited. Enter the Small Business Development Centres, a collaborative effort with county governments, aimed at bridging the gap through hands-on business development support. Spread across various regions, these centres offer an open-door policy, extending personalised assistance to businesses aiming for greater economic viability and competitiveness.

In a promising development slated for 2024, these centres are gearing up to enhance access to e-commerce tools for businesses, equipping advisors to guide them in deploying digital strategies, including ETrade and e-commerce setup. The ultimate goal is to empower businesses to thrive on existing social platforms or establish their sites for online commerce.

Vanessa Arelle, Chief Strategy Officer at Buffalo Grid, then stepped into the narrative, introducing StreamSpot Plusb — a solar-powered content delivery device aimed at dismantling the barriers of global digital exclusion. With 2.6 billion people facing insurmountable data costs hindering internet access, this innovative device removes this impediment, providing individuals and micro-businesses with access to digital skills and diverse educational content.

Notably, StreamSpot Plus incorporates AI and voice prompts to enhance inclusivity, catering to individuals with low literacy levels. Arelle shared a compelling success story from Zambia, where the device is empowering a female entrepreneur in efficient tomato cultivation. Emphasising collaborative potential, she highlighted the need for projects to work together for a more significant collective impact. The StreamSpot Plus emerges as a transformative tool, bridging the digital divide and fostering practical skills for economic empowerment in underserved communities.

The narrative continued with Ann-Kathrin Zotz, Co-founder & Co-CEO of White Label Project, who brought forth the perspective of small initiatives in e-commerce markets, including her own. While acknowledging the positive trajectory, she foresaw the necessity of consolidation in the e-commerce space to establish prominent destinations for customers. Her insights underscored the importance of businesses preparing for trends, diversifying across various marketplaces, and acquiring the necessary skills to navigate the evolving e-commerce landscape.

In this panel discussion, participants unfolded a tapestry of initiatives addressing the digital divide and fostering economic empowerment. Arelle introduced the StreamSpot Plus, a solar-powered content delivery device aiding those without internet access. Zotz shared her platform supporting handicraft businesses globally. Chacon showcased efforts to connect artisans with a wider market and reduce shipping costs. Bwatuti emphasised the role of AI in providing accessible business advice.

The conversation underscored the importance of technology in bridging gaps, empowering entrepreneurs, and creating a more inclusive global marketplace. It was a symphony of innovation, collaboration, and determination echoing in the pursuit of a connected and equitable digital future.


Vanessa Arelle, CSO, BuffaloGrid; Ann-Kathrin Zotz, Co-founder & Co-CEO, White Label Project; Elisha Bwatuti, Programme Coordinator, Kenya Strathmore University; Diego Chacon, Director, Central Asia, NOVICA; and Annabel Sykes, E-commerce Expert,  International Trade Centre (ITC)

(Reporting by Sovini Mondal)

Indirect Taxation of E-Commerce: Implications for Developing Countries

This session, jointly organised by eTrade for All and UNCTAD, addressed the difficulties of national and international tax systems in keeping up with advancements in e-commerce. Considering the increased shift to digital services and channels that increase touchpoints with taxpayers, there is a greater need for taxation of domestic and cross-border e-commerce. UNCTAD’s recent study explores the option of indirect tax, especially when it comes to business-to-consumer transactions.

In the presentation of the study, the first thing examined was overcoming the issue of trackability, especially with possibly encrypted virtual relationships and transactions. The anonymity and remote taxpayers without a permanent or fixed establishment also add another layer of issues. Hence, there is a need to reflect on the lack of information and the difficulties in tracking and gathering.

The study specifically focuses on value-added tax (VAT), which is adopted all over the world. In the specific e-commerce context, the VAT self-enforcement is challenged by non-registered action, which increases the risk of fraud, and the business-to-consumer aspect is the weakest here.

In terms of recommendations, there is a need for digital platforms to be in charge of tax collections, for both domestic and cross-border transactions, and to adopt common principles. There also needs to be tax collection by marketplaces as a way to reach informed platforms. Moreover, digital platforms as a support for revenue authority’s risk management calls for reliable data and a strategic position of digital platforms. For developing countries, strong heterogeneity, as well as simplification and harmonisation in processes constraining non-resident vendors, would be highly beneficial.

On the panel were: Shamika N Sirimanne Director, Division on Technology and Logistics (DTL),  United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD); Darryl Leong Wei Ge, Deputy Permanent Representative, Mission of Singapore to the WTO and WIPO; Piet Battiau, Head, Consumption Taxes, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD); Santiago Díaz de Sarralde Miguez, Director of Tax Studies and Research, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT); Emeka Nwankwo, Manager, Domestic Taxes, ATAF; and Christopher Grigoriou, Consultant, UNCTAD.

(Reporting by Ally Tutay)

ETrade for all Leadership Roundtable: Unlocking Digital Trade for Inclusive Development

This high-level session brought together eTrade leaders to discuss the impact of trade on development in the digital age, looking in particular at how digitisation can foster inclusive development and trade. During the discussion, the issue of building partnerships was widely addressed, with panellists calling for greater efforts to create an equitable and inclusive environment conducive to trade using holistic approaches. Panellists observed that digital technologies are shaping all current business activities and that LDCs are not benefiting as much as developed countries, exacerbating inequalities.

How to leverage the digital economy for inclusive and sustainable development was identified as the key objective, which, according to the panellists, requires joining forces by pooling resources collectively. Importantly, panellists identified businesses and people as the main driving forces behind the digital economy. They expressed concern about gender gaps in the digital economy, noting that these gaps need to be closed.

Citing examples from India, Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS noted that digital payment volumes are increasing as e-commerce gains ground. He mentioned India’s success in developing Public Digital Infrastructure (PDI) with user-friendly products and services is already benefiting many people across the country. He noted that sharing experiences of such good practices between developing countries can play a major role in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). However, he stressed that addressing the issue of security is essential to promoting the digital economy, as cyberspace is exposed to the risk of cyberattacks.

In his view, a good digital economy and a payment system supported by stable, high-speed internet connectivity are important aspects that need to be considered as vital infrastructure. Investment in infrastructure is vital, he said, because without the hardware, the goals of a sustainable digital economy will not be achieved. He stressed that civil society plays an important role in promoting an inclusive policy that tackles the problems of marginalised communities. He emphasised the need for partnerships and collaboration with various organisations. These observations were echoed by all the other panellists.

On the panel were: Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development; Anna Joubin Bret, Secretary and Director of the International Trade Law Division, UN Office of Legal Affairs at United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL); Angela Paolini Ellard, Deputy Director-General at World Trade Organization (WTO); Dorothy Tembo, Deputy Executive Director at International Trade Centre (ITC); Mia Seppo, Assistant Director-General for Jobs and Social Protection at International Labour Organisation (ILO); Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International; Paul Donohoe, Digital Policies and Trade Coordinator at Universal Postal Union; Koji Hachiyama,Chief Operating Officer at Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) and Isabelle Kumar, Former News Anchor at Euronews.

(Reporting by Peter Maundu)

E-Trade for All Leadership Roundtable: The Role of Partnership for a More Inclusive and Sustainable Digital Future

The session at the UNCTAD E-Commerce Week, 2023 dwelled upon the challenges and opportunities presented by the rapid pace of technological progress, emphasising the need for equal access in the digital economy. The overarching theme of the session centred on the importance of collaborative efforts involving government, private entities, civil societies, and academia to ensure a more inclusive and sustainable digital future.

The session commenced by highlighting the transformative potential of the digital economy in its capacity to positively impact diverse sectors, including health, education, and productivity. However, it also presented challenges such as job creation, inequality, and marginalisation, particularly affecting developing countries. In this context, the panellists showed a global concern for the digital divide and emphasised the necessity of a multi-stakeholder approach to address the challenges. 

The panel drew our attention to the disruptive nature of digital regulation on business models and placed a strong emphasis on collaboration to leverage expertise and resources. Partnerships are essential for implementing digital transformation and achieving the SDGs.

Partnership around AI was an important component of the discussion. AI is a critical issue when it comes to the preservation of human dignity and the market. They stressed the importance of open-source AI to prevent knowledge from becoming a means of exploitation. The significance of Bottom-Up AI and its role in achieving SDGs was also emphasised in the session. SDGs were proposed as AI guardrails, fostering ethical practices. Visual representation was advocated for increased awareness of global challenges.

The session allocated some time to the discussion on the importance of data as a vital global resource. It plays a vital role in shaping society, influencing policy-making, and driving sustainable development efforts.

The discussion pointed to the growth of membership and partnerships under the E-Trade initiative. This collective achievement reflects the commitment of multiple stakeholders to fostering economic growth and decent work. By promoting digital trade and collaborative work, these partnerships aim to create opportunities and sustainably bolster economic development.

To address inequality and provide access to lower-income groups, the concept of a basic digital basket was proposed on the panel. This subsidy would cover the cost of connectivity and equipment for the poorest households. It is seen as a means to support education, social policy, and productive development, thereby addressing inequality and promoting social inclusion.

The E-Trade for All Leadership Roundtable concluded with a consensus on the imperative need for partnerships to address the challenges posed by the digital economy. The session recognised the multi-stakeholder nature of the digital economy and called for collaborative efforts to ensure inclusivity, sustainability, and the achievement of SDGs in the ever-evolving digital landscape.

The session highlights a way forward through a comprehensive approach. Firstly, addressing the digital divide requires a multi-stakeholder effort, emphasising collaboration and partnerships. Open-source AI and Bottom-Up AI can ensure ethical practices and align with SDGs. To enhance awareness, visual representation of global challenges is encouraged. Additionally, the proposal of a basic digital basket serves as a practical step, offering subsidies to lower-income groups for connectivity, fostering education, social inclusion, and productive development. Overall, a collective commitment to digital trade and sustainable development is pivotal for economic growth and decent work.

On the panel were: Isabelle Kumar, Former News Anchor at Euro News; Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary-General at UNCTAD; Carlos María Correa, Executive Director at South Centre; José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Secretary at United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UN ECLAC); Mourad Wahba, Officer in Charge at UNCDF; Edward Kwakwa, Assistant Director General, Global Challenges and Partnerships Sector at World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO); and Jovan Kurbalija, Executive Director at Diplo Foundation.

(Reporting by Pracheta Acharya)

Startup 4 Inclusion – The Role of Startup 20 under G20 India

The Startup20 initiative, a groundbreaking engagement group initiated during the Indian G20 presidency, serves as a conduit for the global startup ecosystem, allowing entrepreneurs to voice macroeconomic concerns and challenges directly to G20 leaders. Operating through task forces that pinpoint key priorities within specific focus areas, this platform formulates recommendations crucial for bolstering the global startup ecosystem. This session sought to introduce the objectives and initiatives of Startup20, alongside its Inclusion Task Force, to the eCommerce Week audience.

The Startup20 engagement group’s initial meeting showcased each country’s representation of its startup ecosystem, highlighting the diverse support mechanisms granted to startups, including accelerated programmes and manufacturing networks. The policy recommendations outlined by Startup20 underscore the imperative of inclusivity within the global startup landscape, emphasising the need to address challenges faced by underrepresented groups, notably women, individuals with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. Nevertheless, the varying definitions of startups pose a challenge in achieving a uniform, cross-border understanding of the startup ecosystem.

Despite these challenges, Startup20 demonstrated the power of nations uniting with their unique strengths and weaknesses, sharing best practices, and effectively supporting startups, fostering vibrant entrepreneurial communities. The foundational steps taken are robust, promising further empowerment and opportunities to nurture the growth of the startup ecosystem on a global scale.

Femtech, as a solution to women’s health challenges, occupies a pivotal space within this discourse. The Femtech market, encompassing pregnancy nursing, reproductive health, menstrual health, and contraception, is poised for remarkable growth, projected to double within the next five years. Remarkably, working-age women demonstrate a 75 per cent higher inclination toward embracing digital health solutions compared to men, a trend that has been accelerated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The G20 leaders recognised the economic return of investing in women’s health.

Despite these advancements, this potential is challenged by persisting social stigmas and taboos, such as those surrounding public breastfeeding, which hinders comprehensive awareness among female stakeholders. The potential of femtech to address stigmatised health concerns, particularly those affecting women, remains constrained by limited global reach. While digitising healthcare presents an avenue to openly discuss and tackle these stigmas, the current landscape primarily serves developed nations, necessitating a concerted effort to ensure equitable access to femtech innovations on a global scale.

On the panel were: Giulia Ajmone Marsan, Director, Energy and Partnership at ERIA for ASEAN and East Asia; and Etta Watts Russel, Founder at Lactamo (Femtech Startup), Australia.

(Reporting by Saloni Mishra)

Rethinking Trade and IP: Prospects and Challenges for Development in the Knowledge Economy

The session, jointly organised by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and the WTO’s Intellectual Property Division (IPD), aims to illuminate the economic development and economic growth inherent in the realm of intellectual property (IP)-driven digital trade.

The session highlighted the analysis and provided an in-depth examination of various aspects related to copyright industries and the creative economy in the context of global development. The copyright sector is found to be a significant contributor to the global economy, with the US copyright sector even surpassing the manufacturing sector in terms of earnings and employment. This highlighted the increasing importance of copyright industries in driving economic growth and creating employment opportunities.

On the other hand, the analysis sheds light on the challenges faced by low-income countries in their economic development. It is highlighted that these countries heavily rely on exporting to middle-income countries. Approximately 84 per cent of exports from low-income countries are directed towards middle-income countries. This dependency on neighbouring economies for trade creates a potential vulnerability, as the performance of their domestic markets might not be sufficient to generate purchasing power, and overseas markets might not be well-aligned with the genres or products they bring forth.

The session featured discussions on the role of IP in promoting economic and sustainable development in the digital environment. The speakers highlighted the transformative impact of digital technologies on the trade-IP relationship. However, the speakers also identified obstacles limiting development opportunities in the digital space. The digital divide and platform dominance were seen as significant challenges. These factors create disparities and hinder inclusive growth in the digital economy. Achieving reduced inequalities in the digital sphere was highlighted as a priority.

The speaker reflected that Singapore is actively engaging in negotiations for digital economy agreements with several countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Korea, the UK European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states, and the European Union (EU). These agreements aim to enhance digital trade, enable the free flow of data across borders, and foster trust in the digital economy. Currently, Singapore has four digital economy agreements with five countries, and they are in the process of negotiating two additional agreements with the EFTA states and the EU.

Digital economy agreements play a vital role in advancing the digital economy. By harmonising regulatory frameworks, protecting IP, and educating businesses, these agreements create an environment conducive to digital trade and innovation. Through these efforts, Singapore and other countries seek to foster economic growth and strengthen partnerships in the digital era.

On the panel were: JoyceLim, Deputy Director, Singapore; Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, Head of Section, Co-Editor,  Economics and Statistics Division, The Global Innovation Index (GII) at WIPO; Martin Møller Nielsen, CEO, Mdundo (Kenya headquarters, activities in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania or SA); Keith Nurse, President,  College of Science Technology and Applied Arts Trinidad and Tobago; Antony Taubman, Director, Intellectual Property, Government Procurement and Competition Division, WTO and Marcela Nectoux, Project Manager,  GreenPlat.

(Reporting by Srajan Tambi)

The Gig Economy: Positioning Higher Education at the Centre of the Future of Work

The session provided valuable insights into how higher education can effectively address the complexities of the gig economy, underscoring the importance of adaptability, relevance, and collaborative approaches in shaping the future of work.

The session aimed at understanding the evolving landscape of online learning and its potential impact on addressing the needs of individuals in the gig economy. The discussions highlighted the surge in online learning popularity, especially through platforms like Coursera, and the positive implications for achieving SDGs 4 and 8. It emphasised the potential of online education to bridge skill gaps and promote decent work and economic growth while acknowledging the need for further research to fully understand its impact.

The session began with an emphasis on the pivotal role higher education can play in shaping the future of work. It stressed the importance of relevance over prestige in curriculum development, addressing challenges in online learning such as limited Wi-Fi access, and promoting a sense of community. The discussion then focused on the impact of skills polarisation and the gig economy, raising questions about the role of higher education in this evolving job market.

The session then provided insights into the challenges faced by higher education institutions, emphasising the need for adaptability, relevance, and collaboration with private employers. The importance of practical experience, inclusivity in online learning, and global connectedness were highlighted. The discussions then addressed the challenges higher education faces in aligning with the gig economy, stressing the importance of flexible, agile learning, and the development of soft skills.

In conclusion, the speakers collectively highlighted a need for comprehensive effort in higher education’s critical role in addressing the challenges posed by the gig economy. They emphasised adaptability, collaboration, and relevance as essential elements for success. The need for ongoing dialogue, collaboration, and systemic changes in higher education emerged as recurring themes. The diversity of perspectives showcased the complexity of the issues at hand and reinforced the session’s overarching theme of positioning higher education at the forefront of the future of work.

On the panel were: Jack Elliot, Regional Director, Africa, Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture and Development; Jennifer Lebrón, Leader, USAID Higher Education Learning Network (HELN); Jennifer DeBoer, Professor, Purdue University; Adetomi Soyinka, Regional Director, Higher Education Programmes, Sub Saharan Africa Regional Director, British Council; and Ghazala M Syed, Senior Education Adviser, USAID.

(Reporting by Debashree Hazarika)